Editors' note: Guest blogger Matt Hennie is a freelance journalist in Atlanta. A product of the legacy media (those printed newspaper no one seems to be reading anymore), he jumped into the blogosphere in September with the launch of Project Q Atlanta, Project Q Atlanta, a site aimed at LGBT Atlantans.
It's not so much that Rick Warren is coming to Atlanta next month that bothers me. It's that he's trampling all over the annual services celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. and doing so with the blessings of those entrusted with protecting King's legacy.
A new chapter in Warren-gate is being written, this one with a setting in the South. Long before President-elect Barack Obama invited Warren, the evangelical mega pastor from California, to deliver the invocation at his swearing-in, organizers of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service asked Warren to headline their event at Ebenezer Baptist Church where King once preached. News of the Atlanta invite hadn't surfaced until Warren-gate became a national story and now gay activists here are plotting their next steps.
Already, a coalition of black LGBT leaders in Atlanta is taking a clear stand: the church should pull its invitation.
Rev. Warren's hateful opposition to civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and reproductive rights for women, and his intolerance of diversity contradict the values of freedom and equality that this day represents.
Bestowing Rev. Warren such a prominent role does not foster greater understanding between divided communities. Instead it drives more wedges between disenfranchised communities that are continually pitted against each other by the agents of racism and homophobia. In effect it enables oppression and implies that there are still some people acceptable to hate.
The annual MLK holiday service is a star-studded event that draws national media attention and the likes of politicians, former presidents (and occasionally current ones and wannabes), celebrities and civic leaders. Handing the keys over to Warren delivers to him a stage that is well, second only to the one that Obama provides him the next day. Yes, the MLK event is Jan. 19; the inauguration is a day later.
Like in D.C., there are likely to be protests in Atlanta led by gay groups and other progressive organizations opposed to Warren's positions and disturbed that King's church would invite him. The church, by the way, takes almost the same position Obama does in defending its choice - we love our gays but can't exclude people.
"Rick Warren represents for most people the more conservative side of Christianity, but is also part of the beloved community that my uncle [the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] talked about," [King Center President Isaac] Farris said. "We are very supportive, and have been, of the gay community," he said. "But we cannot exclude people. We cannot do to others what the gay community is accusing others of doing to them, meaning ... they should not foster others being excluded."
Warren is no Fred Phelps, the anti-gay pastor from Kansas who spews hateful rhetoric and protests the funerals of those he believes were supportive of LGBT causes. But Warren is certainly more dangerous than his big smile and Mike Huckabee-like charisma let on.
Like Huckabee, it's that well-polished image that makes Warren so troubling. People outside the gay and progressive blogosphere and those not aligned with gay organizations probably know little about him. Instead they are schmoozed by the guy that wrote The Purpose Driven Life, a book that has sold more than 20 million copies because of its inoffensive and white-washed version of faith.
But beyond Warren's support of Proposition 8 - I mean, heck, even Obama doesn't support marriage equality, right? - is the insidious notion that his Saddleback Church won't accept gay members unless they repent. Warren has been in damage control mode since the furor over his inaugural invite surfaced. But try as he might to clean up his image when it comes to "loving the gays," he can't overlook the fact that his church doesn't want us. When that's the line he draws in the sand, it's almost impossible to open a dialogue. Not that either side in Warren-gate is looking to do so.
Obama and King's church want to go post-partisan. They want opposite sides to come together. Even some gay bloggers say that banning Warren from the inaugural is practicing the same sort of exclusion that we complain has been aimed at us for years. But Warren gets an invite to Atlanta and D.C. without a seat at the table being offered to a gay speaker. We shouldn't be making the case for excluding Warren; instead, we should be arguing that we should be included.
So protest. Rally. Call attention to Warren's anti-gay stands and, hopefully, educate some folks along the way that think he's not so bad. Protests and rallies are great for the media and fundraising.
But let's talk, too, and push for something more constructive than a sound bite for the evening news. Let Warren speak. But let us talk, too. And once the speeches are delivered, how about we shut down the rhetoric, set the loaded language aside and open a dialogue. It's difficult to think progress can be made with a guy that won't open his church doors to us. But we've been there before, right?
The King family's history on gay issues is mixed. King himself had senior advisers, including Bayard Rustin, who were openly gay. His wife, Coretta, supported gay marriage and HIV/AIDS fundraisers. But daughter Bernice led a 2004 march in Atlanta supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Martin Luther King III has said he did not want marriage redefined, but did support same-sex partnerships.
That's not unlike most families that need more conversation about the issues. So let's push for our place at the table and open a dialogue rather than spending all our time pulling out the chair from under someone else while caught up in the moment of our shrill chants.