December 26, 2008

a manoeuvre!

My first reaction to Rick Warren being selected as speaker was something like this:

Listen, it's my right to marry that Rick Warren wants to take away. I hate the man, for his sexist opposition to women in positions of authority, his stand for forced pregnancy, his homophobia.

But I find it pretty persuasive when a Balloon Juice commenter points out that anointing Warren as the next evangelical leader puts Dobson out in the cold and means that we'll have some evangelical leaders who aren't dead set against all progressive politics. We'll peel some evangelical votes off by emphasizing poverty and the environment, and we'll get more Democrats in Congress and more progressive programs on those issues. We'll get better policy out of it, so I'll swallow that symbol.

Ezra is right about the use Warren will make of that power, but that's only a concern insofar as Warren giving the invocation will give him a larger audience. I'm betting not. I'm betting he already has the audience and congregation he's going to get - that the major effect of tying Warren to Obama will be to make the Democrats more acceptable to evangelicals rather than the evangelicals more acceptable to the Democrats. So ok. I'll trust Obama to make that decision right now. If we start getting bad policy out of the deal, that'll be the time to get mad.
I've changed my mind, partly. I believe Amelia that there are other, real progressives out there on the evangelical scene - people for whom poverty isn't an afterthought, but same-sex marriage is. And I also find Amelia's argument compelling: that Obama is supposedly someone for whom scripture has some real meaning, and that choosing Warren suggests either that he cares rather less about theology than he has claimed, or that Warren is in line with his theology. So I don't think this was such a great decision anymore: this wasn't his only option, or even his best option, and it suggests that he is not serious about things which he claimed to be serious about. Like gay rights, women's rights, and science.

(I'm not saying, by the way, that Obama should never talk to Warren. Just that delivering the invocation is a much larger public honor than inviting him to dinner at the White House. Though the day when Warren's views are considered as socially unacceptable as David Duke's cannot come too soon.)

I also, in thinking that this was a clever piece of triangulation, had argued against being angry about the pick. I was wrong. We should be furious. One, having all these straight people online being angry about queer issues cheers me up. I love knowing that queer issues are not peripheral for my straight friends, but something that actually is close to their hearts - and I'll say that I was surprised and warmed by the reaction to Prop 8, even among people I'm close to. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight mentioned the increasing engagement on queer issues earlier this week as well, and points out that we're seeing a rapid transformation in public opinion. Eight years ago, neither candidate for president favored civil unions; this year they both did.

Second, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is the person who really has it right on this.
My job isn't to make Barack Obama's job easier. And--as I'm sure he knows--his job isn't to his marching orders from the bloggers who have no political capital to lose. Jelani talks about Adalai Stevenson putting segregationist John Sparkman on the ticket. I think about Lincoln promising to unite the country, blacks be damned. And now Biden defending the Warren pick. I want to be clear--in the context of who they are, national politicians, these people are not "wrong." I think Biden, like Stevenson, and like Lincoln make a solid, political case.
But that doesn't make Frederick Douglass wrong either. That doesn't make black leadership wrong for denouncing Stevenson. And it doesn't make those of us who believe that a man who bans gays from his church should not be giving the invocation, wrong. Obama and co. have the job of building national consensus. We have the job of expanding the boundaries of that consensus. We are in conflict, and this is as it should be. Seriously, what is one without the other?
And not just that, true as it is. Obama just pissed off a lot of queer people, and a lot of our already pissed off straight allies. He owes us. And he just burned up all his queer-friendly cred: not just because he chose Warren, but because people - some of them straight - made a gigantic fuss about it. Because we expected something better. So now Obama owes those of us who care about queer rights. We have the chance to get better policy precisely because people got mad about Warren. There's more about gay issues on the site than there was on the campaign website. Baby steps. But now he's got something to prove. I have to say, I don't mind that as an outcome.


libhom said...

Warren's talk about poverty isn't as benign as it might seem. He wants charitable donations funneled through his church and similar churches. This is a form of empire building where he can amass an ever growing religious bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, Warren opposes government programs to fight poverty. Never mind that government programs lift large segments of populations out of poverty. Charity only alleviates some of the pain of poverty. It doesn't cure the disease.

amelia said...

libhom, that's a good point. it's stuff like this about "faith-based" "solutions" to poverty that really gives me the willies.

North said...

That *is* a really good point. It's also what often bothers me about large religious organizations. Fight poverty, but make me more powerful at the same time! It's also inherently anti-pluralistic.

Also, I just wrote something else about institutional incentives.

Frank said...

Let's not set up a false dichotomy that aid and relief are best provided by either faith-based groups OR government donors. If you're living in a refugee camp, theories about What It Means that your food/medicine is coming from CRS or WorldVision or Mormons (or JICA or USAID or CIDA) don't make a whit of difference. (Unless that medicine is birth control, in which case you might be better off if the Norwegians are in town.)

And let's not assume that faith-based endeavors are inherently less effective than government strategies. The most successful smallpox eradication strategy was devised by a missionary doctor whose very effective but outside-the-box idea was not supported by the aid bureaucracies of the time. Ditto Partners in Health - they're diametrically across the political spectrum from the Warren crowd, probably, but the founders were initially theologically inspired.

Libhom, I think we should all be for charity alleviating the pain of poverty, especially considering that a lot of those charity dollars being raised by popular evangelists as recently as the '90s (and even continuing today - ask Senator Grassley how his investigation is going) were going to much, much less worthwhile causes. Addressing the immediate need doesn't necessarily mean you're ignoring underlying causes or longer-term issues.

And finally, if we're really going for effectiveness in terms of numbers and long-term change, neither donor governments nor church groups are the holy grail -it's money from private foundations and development banks, private-sector entities and companies making investments, and decisions by leaders of aid-receiving countries that will uplift people the most.

Some of Warren's criticism of government programs is spot-on and it's unfair to assume he's Wrong Wrong Wrong all the time just because he is Wrong Wrong Wrong on marriage equality.

North said...

Let's differentiate between two hypothetical religious leaders' views on aid:

Pastor 1 argues that government programs (run by donor countries or recipient countries) are inherently suspect, and proposes that aid should primarily arrive through faith-based groups. Pastor 1 opposes more government-funded aid.

Reverend 2 argues that some government programs are wasteful or bad policy, and that programs based in religious communities can be useful. Reverend 2 also argues for the expansion of some government aid programs, as well as expanded services (schools/development/whatever) by aid-receiving countries.

I took libhom's claim to be that Rick Warren is closer to Pastor 1. It seems unrealistic to me that church programs could be an effective primary form of aid, because of the pluralism issues, because clinics funded by Warren's church aren't going to offer contraception, and because of concerns about universal reach that are best addressed by aid-receiving countries. If Warren's more like Reverend 2 - seeing a role for government programs (run by donor countries or by recipient countries), but also a role for church programs - then I'd be far more sympathetic. I don't know which position Warren actually holds. Do you?