A place at the table isn’t good enough?

God never gets it wrong. The church often takes a long time to get it right. It is a human institution, but one capable of self-correction.

Once again, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson nails it. These self-corrections have happened throughout the history of the church, and they will continue to happen as long as there is a church.

The occasion for this happy reminder is that Robinson will be opening the inaugural events with a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. “It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the ‘I have a dream speech’ was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,” he wrote to friends in an email. “It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people.”

I know that many people in our community are angry and insulted by the invitation to bigoted Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, and that the inaugural invocation is an honor that he, as an unrepentant exclusionary figure, does not deserve. Even Bishop Robinson has said that the announcement was like a slap in the face, and that such an honor amounts to more than “a place at the table.”

But you have to admit that this situation has a positive side. A place at the table is all that any community has the right to expect – and just look at the behavior of the Christianist right when they have been graciously offered even more than that.

The nature of their delusional sense of entitlement couldn’t be clearer. They don’t want a place at the table; they don’t even want special rights. They want absolute exclusivity and dominionist rule. Nothing short of that will satisfy them.

I think this was clear even before the invitation to Robinson, but the Christianist response to this news has left no room for doubt. Janet Parshall (of the often unintentionally hilarious radio talk show “Janet Parshall’s America” – the graphic on the left is actually from the website) was positively unhinged yesterday. She is simply outraged that an “open, unrepentant homosexual” has been invited in any capacity to participate in the Inauguration. After an extended rant in which Parshall is equally horrified that there will be a “homosexual marching band” in the parade, quote, “parading their deviance down the streets of our capital,” she proceeds to insult Robinson, calls him names, attributes motivations to him, suggests that he isn’t actually an elected bishop (“he represents himself as clergy”), and declares that he “has rejected God and worships himself.” Parshall then assures listeners that “Christians won’t be protesting this prayer,” won’t be “name-calling,” or putting up “hateful websites and that sort of thing,” because “we don’t do that.” Good to know. I’m especially relieved to know that these nice folks won’t be showing up:

“Lord Jesus, forgive us, Father, for allowing the prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight,” screamed one protester, interrupting a 2007 invocation at the US Senate by a Hindu guest chaplain. US Capitol Police said the three protestors, “apparently Christian religious activists,” were ejected from the chamber and charged with an unlawful disruption of Congress.

In fact, these extremists call themselves “Christian Patriots” (note the similarity to “Parshall Patriots,” those who pay 49.99 per year for access to the content on the JPAmerica website), and traveled from North Carolina representing a group called Operation Save America, a dominionist organization whose logo is a cross obscuring the American flag. I really am glad to hear that “Christians don’t do that,” and that Parshall has the authority to assure us that it won’t be happening on Sunday. If what she’s trying to convey is that these folks are not Christians, I couldn’t agree more. However, my working theory is that’s not what she meant, since she used the same language just moments before.

In a final tribute to her battiness, Parshall attacks Gene Robinson’s statement that his prayer will be ecumenical, wanting listeners to believe that he cannot deliver a Christian prayer because of his orientation.

“I am very clear,” [Robinson] said, “that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.”

Anything other than that would be wildly inappropriate for the occasion, but Parshall doesn’t understand why any more than her “Operation Save America” friends do. Parshall and other figures on the Christianist right are pressuring (although it’s not clear that pressure is needed) Rick Warren to deliver an explicit sectarian prayer “in the name of Jesus Christ” – in other words, to respond to the honor he has been graciously offered, not with reconciliation and humility, but with aggression.

And seriously, would the truth about Rick Warren be getting this exposure if he had not been invited to give the Obama invocation? Given the way this is unfolding, I think this is the best thing that could have happened. How long would the fraud have gone on, otherwise? How many more well-meaning evangelical Christians would have been fooled into thinking that Warren represents some kind of cuddly, compassionate new face of Christianity, which has for many people come to be synonymous with “culture war”?

If he had not received the invitation, and was not now being required to explain himself, we might never have seen gems like this:

“I’m naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.” The trying-not-to-look-aghast look on Ann Curry’s face is absolutely priceless.

Thankfully, being promiscuous is not a sexual orientation. Rick Warren does not get a free pass for committing adultery in his heart (clearly condemned by the Scripture he purports to follow) by pretending that it is. Being inclined to have sex with “every beautiful woman” he sees when he has presumably entered into a covenant with one woman is a mark of extreme immaturity, and frankly, very concerning. If his wife has been convinced that this is normal male behavior, someone needs to get her some help. Someone this immature, this shallow, is supposed to be “America’s pastor”? Please.

In case it’s not clear yet, I am not making the argument that we shouldn’t be protesting the invocation pick because Rick Warren isn’t that bad – he is. Rather, it seems to me that this has created conditions under which the Christianist right is painting itself into a corner. A huge part of their branding, fundraising, framing of policy positions, their very identity, is founded in the idea that “Christians” are “under attack.” If they are prohibited from discriminating against those of other faiths or GLBT people, they are “under attack.” If kids are allowed to form gay/straight alliances or learn medically accurate information about human sexuality in school, they are “under attack.” If they are required to coexist with others who may disagree with them, they are “under attack.” In fact, anything that requires them to accept having the same rights as everyone else, and not more, is construed as “attacking” them.

Given this, a magnanimous offer of reconciliation is not going to result in reconciliation – it’s going to result in more demands (e.g., it’s wonderful that you’ve invited a Christianist pastor to give the invocation, now get rid of the gay marching band.) There’s no give and take here. All of the giving, all of the offers of compromise, will come from Obama. So how does this play out?

The approach Obama appears to be taking with regard to these unreasonable people is this: Here, you have a place at the table. Sit down, and let’s see if we can address your concerns. Gay marriage is your biggest concern? What’s that, you’re afraid that churches will be forced to perform gay marriages? That’s what you told everybody in California. It’s reasonable to make sure that doesn’t happen, you can have that. Extending the hate crimes act bothers you, too? Because you’re afraid that religious speech will be prosecuted as a hate crime? We can make it perfectly clear that only violent acts are prosecutable as hate crimes – that’s reasonable, and you can have that. Abortion? We all want there to be fewer abortions. Here’s a plan to dramatically reduce unwanted pregnancies, let’s work on it together – the only thing is, it has to be evidence-based.

Of course, the truth is that the reasons cited for opposing equality are lies – the truth is that anti-gay activists want to create a world in which being openly GLBT is risky and dangerous. The truth is that what Christianists mean by being “under attack” is simply that they must coexist with us. That, obviously, is not reasonable.

There’s a view that Obama should have chosen someone for the invocation who is ideologically aligned with the majority that supported him, that he should have used his mandate to signal a change in direction from the last eight years in which Christianists have had disproportionate access and representation (see, for example, Patrick Henry College). What would the Christianist messaging look like then? Not noticeably different, is my guess: “Christians are under attack!” But if he had chosen someone differently aligned there would be no evidence to the contrary. This way, there is. What do they mean, “Christians are under attack”? Rick Warren was just given the highest honor; they have a place at the table with everyone else, and their reasonable concerns are being addressed. What more do they want?

Gene Robinson was quoted at the beginning of this post as saying that his selection to open the inaugural events with a prayer shows that Obama is committed to being the president of ALL the people. “All the people” has to include the Rick Warrens and Janet Parshalls as well. Yes, they are paranoid, unreasonable, selfish, fearful, and arrogant. And as Rick Warren might say, we are all sinners. They get their place at the table – and if a place at the table isn’t good enough, that sends a more powerful message than excluding them could ever send.

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