Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

So -- two inaugurations, two potential chaplains forced to withdraw.  Rick Warren then, Louie Giglio now.  What are you going to conclude from this?

You could, we suppose, conclude that there is a vigilant homosexual lobby that watches your every move, and pounces when it doesn't get its way.  That being the case, you'd have two choices:  defy them or placate them.  So far, you've done neither very well.

However, a likelier conclusion is that you've got some bad instincts where religion is concerned.  This seems pretty likely; your Chicago pastor was ... an oddball, even within the most liberal of American church bodies.  Your party has grown so accustomed to fighting off the Religious Right that its leaders are prone to a defensive secularism.  Many don't seem to know what to do with the fact that millions of Americans vote Democratic for reasons that are inseparable from their faith.  Actually, sir, despite the faith that clearly informs your own life, you're also one of those uneasy leaders; we all remember your dumb remark about "clinging to guns and religion."

All this being the case, we applaud your effort to find common ground with Warren and with Giglio, who shares your determination to end human trafficking.  But, as you can see, his views on one of the most divisive moral questions of the hour puts him at odds with a lot of your constituency -- and with many of your own public statements.  Frankly, as far as most of your constituents are concerned, guys like Warren and Giglio are playing for the other team.

So let's make it simple for you.  If you want to honor a minister by asking him, or her, to bless your service to our nation, how about choosing somebody from your own team?

Heaven knows you have plenty of choices.  Roman Catholicism is the traditional backbone of the Democratic Party, and -- even after all these years, and after the death of Rembert Weakland -- there are still plenty of notably left-leaning bishops.  Of course, they're no help to you with the gay thing, and may well bring their own baggage, abuse-wise.

Which leaves mainline Protestantism.  Specifically, it leaves you the "liberal" side of the mainline -- ELCA rather than Missouri Synod Lutherans, American rather than Southern Baptists, and so forth.  We get a lot of abuse these days, for being "NPR at prayer," for being less influential than we were a few decades ago, and so forth.  But there are still tens of millions of us, all together; and even though we aren't, by any means, all Democrats, we certainly have a big Democratic membership.  It's especially big among our leadership; indeed, one of the problems we have failed to address is that our pastors and denominational executives frequently lean a good deal further to the left than the people in the pews.  For us, this is a problem -- for you, it is an opportunity.

You've got plenty of Democratic-voting, poverty-fighting, gun-control-supporting ministers to choose from.  A fair number of these will also marry or ordain gay people.  As a member (at least for many years) of the UCC, the first historic American denomination to marry and ordain gay people, you might very well invite Geoffrey Black, its General Minister and Church President.  Failing that, there are the presiding bishops of two other well-known churches, Katharine Jefferts Schori and your fellow Chicagoan, Mark Hanson.  And of course, there are an almost unlimited number of politically engaged lesser clergy, some with stellar good-works cred to impress your secularist cohort.

So, yes, reaching across the aisle is a display of good faith and leadership.  We get that.  But sometimes, Mr. President, it's wisest just to dance with them that brung you.

The Department of Homechurch Security

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