Guest Blogger

Rick Warren is trampling on MLK Day and it's OK

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 26, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Atlanta, Barack Obama, Bayard Rustin, Coretta Scott King, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Georgia, inauguration, Martin Luther King Jr., rick warren, south

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.

hennie_headshot.jpgIt'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.

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Welcome to my home away from home. It was great to see you. As you and I both know, the after parade speeches (not in the church) have had LGB AND T people speak. Only one of the King children are homophobic. I'll keep my ears to the ground on this one.

It's going to be a fun January in Atlanta, that's for sure!

Great info. When you have details for the protest, let us know and we'll publish it.

Hello there,

How is Rick Warren trampling on the event when he was invited? No one becomes the keynote by just showing up!

Rick Warren is anti-gay marriage legislation.

Newsflash to the uninformed: So is the black church.

Rick Warren is anti-abortion.

Newsflash to the uninformed: So is the black church.

Rick Warren doesn't want "unrepentant" gays or lesbians in the church membership.

Newsflash to the uninformed: Neither does the black church. And quite a few of them say so - but not on the web site!

(Just start blogging with black gays and lesbians who have been in ANY black churches in the last 50 years.)

The fact that King had advisors who were openly gay doesn't mean he was pro-gay. It doesn't mean he would be pro-gay marriage if he were alive today. It means that he did not exclude gay people from working with him on the objectives of the Movement.

It amazes me when people mention Coretta Scott King's views. Just because she was married to Dr. King, Jr., doesn't mean that the views she held were the views of her husband on every single issue.

I am not at all surprised that Rick Warren was given the invitation to be the keynote speaker. The only people who are shocked are those who have VERY LITTLE exposure to the climate of the black church concerning gays/lesbians. I will go on record in saying that, for the most part, the black church is unapologetically anti-gay and anti-lesbian. (Before people start emailing me, let me state that I am NOT SAYING that every single black congregation in America rejects gays and lesbians! I am saying the black church as a collective is staunchly anti-gay and anti-lesbian.)

And I say this as a member of the clergy.

I never said MLK was pro-gay. But the fact that he so embraced gay folks including Bayard Rustin shows that he was more accepting and progressive in the 1960s than many folks are today.

And I didn't say Coretta Scott King shared the views of her husband. But she was pro-gay and didn't shy away from making that clear. Her voice was (and still is) respected in civil rights circles and among activists and progressives today.

I'm also not shocked that Warren got the invite. He's a big name and has sold 20 million copies of his book. MLK's church always gets big names for its commemorations -- last year it was Barack Obama.

But when it is someone like Warren that is divisive, there should be an opportunity for some equal time. That's what I'm arguing -- gay folks should make this a teachable moment. Millions wil be watching and we ought to do more than just protest his visit.

Yeah, but....John McCain embraced gay Mark Buse as his Chief of Staff. Maybe we should admit McCain was more pro-gay than not?

Before people start emailing me, let me state that I am NOT SAYING that every single black congregation in America rejects gays and lesbians! I am saying the black church as a collective is staunchly anti-gay and anti-lesbian.
It's rather ingenuous to suggest that the "black church" acts and believes as if it were a monolithic entity while claiming that you don't think every single black congregation is acting in a monolithic fashion.

Also, how many white congregations are truly welcoming of gays? I'm willing to bet that the majority of white congregations are anti-gay. Yet you don't hear people talking about "the white church", but rather of different denominations. You wouldn't confuse the Presbyterians with the Catholics or the Assemblies of God with the Metropolitan Community Church congregations.

Newsflash: there are different black congregations. Jeremiah Wright's historically black church is one of the few black UCC congregations, the historically black congregations include pentecostal ones like COGIC, there's AME, CME, there are missionary Baptist churches, there are black Church of Christ congregations, etc. So which of these congregations, exactly, comprise the "black church"?

The world would be a much better place if people just said no to religion.

And do the black churches support the actions of Akinola in Nigeria, imprisoning gays, enslaving them with sentences of hard labour for doing something as innocuous as reading this blog, as Warren has?

Do they support violating international law and treaties that the US signed and ratified by assasinating the leader of a nation that the US is not at war with, as Warren has?

Putting myself hugely out on a limb, but believing in the correctness of my position, I will say plainly that if they do then their leaders have no business being clergy.


Race does not give you a pass on human rights, dignity and international law.

Margot, Northern California | January 1, 2009 11:37 PM

Check out what Rev. Rick has been doing in Africa with his 'Purpose Driven' self-engrandisement, siding with the anti-gay Anglican split and Lambdeth boycott, and encouraging homophobic Archbishops in Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. In March 2008, he sided with the anti-gay factions on his trip to Uganda, the purpose of which was the indoctrination of his program to Rev. Orombi, who has been described as 'rabidly homophobic.'
- Dr Warren said that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. "We shall not tolerate this aspect at all," Dr Warren said. --

Uganda - 7/1/08 The Archbishop has taken the "Purpose Drive Life" and scriptures to its fundamentalist extremes. Women's rights are now virtually non-existant. A women who is abused is to pray to be a better wife to her husband. Homosexuality has been outlawed. The cure for HIV/AIDS - No more medicine. For those who are sick? Pray. Birth control? No way. Condoms have been burned.