No one should be surprised that President-elect Barack Obama would choose self-promoting Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inaugural. Warren has been hustling for years to make himself the “new Billy Graham” — seeking to fill the vacating role of spiritual adviser to presidents, be they born-again Republicans or born-right-the-first-time Democrats.
Obama, always on the watch for ways to broaden his base of support, has been developing a relationship with Warren for many years, as he has with other fundamentalist preachers who try to put a smile on their intolerance.
Back in December 2006, when he was merely a senator with unannounced presidential ambitions, Obama delivered a smart, sensitive address at Warren’s “2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church,” a high-profile event on the pastor’s Saddleback Church campus in Lake Forest, Calif.
Twenty months later, as the soon-to-be Democratic presidential nominee, Obama went back to Saddleback for an unfortunate joint appearance with Republican John McCain — the last major misstep of the senator’s bid for the nation’s top job.
Past is prologue, and Obama’s dalliances with Warren, for better or worse, always pointed to the placement of this particular pastor on the inaugural stage.
What will be significant about Warren’s remarks, however, is that they will be so insignificant.
Warren’s invocation will be forgotten five minutes after it is finished.
Indeed, the only “news” that will come from his appearance at the inaugural is the controversy surrounding it — and the protests that controversy may spark.
Far more significant, and encouraging, than his off-putting selection of Warren to deliver the invocation is Obama’s choice of a genuine spiritual progressive to deliver the benediction.
It is the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery who will present the far more uplifting and meaningful religious message on Inauguration Day. And in his appealing selection of the 87-year-old Lowery, Obama has made a choice that is far more adventurous — even, dare we say, radical — than his unappealing designation of Warren.
Lowery was the longtime president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he co-founded in 1957, before Obama was born, with the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. An essential player in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Lowery was sent by King to deliver the demands of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march to Alabama’s segregationist governor, George Wallace, and it was to Lowery that Wallace apologized three decades later.