Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rick Warren: stuck in the middle - like most?

Warren: From Peacemaker to Lightning Rod
Unlike many evangelical leaders of recent decades, the Rev. Rick Warren doesn't want to be a lightning rod. When I asked him before the last election whether the Christian right had tarnished the image of American evangelicals, Warren didn't blink: "without a doubt."

"I never was a part of it," Warren said of the Christian right. "I'm trying to stake out what I call a common ground for the common good."


After Warren's recent CNN appearance, his critics on the right are as miffed about his warmth toward "all my gay friends" as they are about his specific misstatement on Proposition 8. "I hope he is not intimidated by the tactics of homosexual activists," says Concerned Women for America's Wright. "He has a unique ability to present biblical truth on marriage to a wider audience."

Gay rights groups, meanwhile, have also ratcheted up their criticism of Warren. "Rev. Warren is not a moderate pastor who is trying to bring all sides together," the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group, wrote in a letter to Obama protesting Warren's inauguration role. "Instead, Rev. Warren has often played the role of general in the cultural war waged against LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Americans."


But Warren's defenders argue that his critics on the left and right give him credibility with the majority of middle-of-the-road Americans. [...]

It would seem that Warren wants to be a bridge builder, but the extremists on both the Left and the Right want none of that; they have no use for bridges, or people who would try to build them. I can only wonder if he is like the majority of Americans; stuck in the middle, willing to compromise on some things, but being battered by extremists on both sides.

We will never all agree, nor are we meant to; a healthy democratic-republic requires debate and strong political opposition, so it's not wrong or even bad that we have that. But we also need to find common ground sometimes, to keep the extremes on either side from pulling us too far in one direction.

One thing that has allowed the left to steadily gain ground in this tug of war is that they often grudgingly compromise; they take whatever they can get, even as they denounce that it isn't enough. They still TAKE it.

The Right too often draws a line in the sand, and says "ALL or NOTHING". And they often end up with nothing. Thus the Left steadily advances incrementally, and it's gotten them quite far. The Right could do the same, if they would only abandon the all-or-nothing strategy that has not been serving them well.

For years when I lived in San Francisco, I would hear hard-core Leftists say that the best way to defeat the Right in America was to encourage the Religious Right to make demands and to be as loud, vociferous and inflexible as possible. The idea was, that if you give the Religious Right enough rope to hang themselves, they will, AND they will take the Republican party with them.

I would not paint the entire Religious Right with that brush; there are several variations of the Religious Right theme. Yet it does seem that there is at least a segment of the Religious Right that is extra loud and inflexible. If they were to adopt a less strident and more flexible, incremental strategy towards getting what they want, we might all benefit more.

But I don't see that happening; you can't force people to change. That being the case, I don't see that it's wise to let them take the lead of the Republican Party. I don't say kick them out; we need a big tent, not a small one. I just mean, that whoever sits at the head of the table, whoever leads the party, ought to be flexible and moderate enough that a broad coalition can gather around them, and around the issues that most of us can agree on.

Flexibility is a survival asset. Inflexibility often equals death.

Rick Warren may not be someone you agree with. I may not agree with him either, on all issues. I'm just saying, he deserves a place at the table. Our tent needs to be big enough. We need to take what we can get. If growing, and even surviving, as a political force, means anything to us anymore.

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