Like President-elect Barack Obama, I disagree with many of the views espoused by the Rev. Rick Warren. Pastor of an Orange County megachurch and best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life," Warren vehemently opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. He has gone so far as to compare gay marriage with incest, polygamy and pedophilia, which I find deeply offensive.
But as a member of the Christian left, I would still bow my head for a prayer led by the Rev. Warren (assuming he doesn't disparage any group in the process). There are some important issues on which we agree, after all: Christ's ministry emphasized an obligation to help the needy; Christians ought to be good stewards of the planet; and, most important, God's love is for all.
Gay-rights activists are outraged that Warren has been invited to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration, a platform which, they believe, legitimizes Warren's discriminatory views. Some even seem to think that Obama agrees with Warren's offensive rhetoric about same-sex marriage.
That's ironic. Gay-marriage advocates have adopted the same overwrought logic that many conservatives applied to Obama's relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. "How could Obama listen to Wright's offensive rants all those years unless he agreed with them?" they asked.
Among Obama's several admirable qualities is his ability to sit and converse — debating, but also listening — with those with whom he strongly disagrees. That's why he stands a better-than-even chance of tamping down the harsh partisanship that has dominated domestic politics for the past 15 years. He won't silence partisans determined to see only differences, but he can forge coalitions of interest with those looking to cooperate where they can.
That spirit of cooperation is frail right now, bruised and bloodied by the wedge politics that found favor over the past several years. Karl Rove and his ilk cynically used hot-button issues such as gay marriage to drive elections, caring naught about the hostility and hurt such campaigns left behind.
Obama seems to be sincere about looking for ways to revive not only bipartisan cooperation but also ecumenical cooperation. He's right to try. There are millions of people of good will who believe climate change demands a wide-ranging government response; that all Americans should have access to health care; that government ought to do more to help the poor. Those people can be found in mosques, synagogues and churches, listening to clerics whose views run the spiritual and ideological spectrum.
While genuine and deep-seated disagreements will remain on some issues, such as abortion and stem cell research, there's no reason to believe broad consensus can't be reached on others, such as broadening the social safety net for children from poor families. Or intervening to stop genocide in Darfur. Or helping victims of HIV/AIDS.
In a press conference last week, the president-elect pointed out that Warren invited him to speak at a conference on AIDS at Saddleback Church in November 2006. Warren, it should be noted, endured blistering criticism from fellow social conservatives — Phyllis Schlafly, among others, signed an open letter of protest — for extending the invitation to a pro-choice senator from Illinois.
"Nevertheless," Obama noted last week, "I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign's been all about — that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but ... we have to ... create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."
In a lifetime of Christian worship — including a childhood spent in Alabama, among the reddest of the red states — I've sat and listened to countless ministers with whom I disagreed, some railing against abortion and homosexuality, some disparaging the ordination of women, others questioning evolution. Still, I have usually found their prayers sincere, hopeful and uplifting. Let's hope Warren can convey those qualities in what will undoubtedly be his most-scrutinized prayer.
Cynthia Tucker is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.