So the president-elect has asked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. It's an interesting decision. Warren, a Southern Baptist, is pastor of Saddleback, the evangelical megachurch in Orange County, Ca. When I was at the church in August for the debate between Obama and McCain that Warren moderated (and in which Obama did badly), one of his congregants told me that church members would vote overwhelmingly for McCain (and it's hard to imagine they didn't). On issues, Warren is pro-life and against defining marriage as other than between a man and a woman. But his agenda, which extends worldwide, also includes items Obama approves--such as confronting poverty, AIDS, climate change, and genocide in Darfur. Warren is not your usual religious conservative, and in fact some years ago declined to assume a leadership role as such. Obama and Warren do count each other as friends, and there is no more prominent pastor in America or, for that matter, the world, than Warren. Obama has best-sellers but Warren's The Purpose-Drive Life has sold more than 22 million copies. Obama has picked to do the first prayer (so to speak) a man about as big in religion as Obama is in politics. It's a choice that if you polled on it would doubtless do very well, and you could even call it a unifying choice, since Warren is to Obama's right theologically and culturally.
Still, the selection of Warren is understandably frustrating religious liberals who expected something else. Note that Obama did not choose a pastor from his denomination, the theologically liberal United Church of Christ. Nor a preacher trained up in black liberation theology--the theology of his former church (Trinity, in Chicago) and his former pastor (the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) and, to infer from what Obama himself has written, the theology he knows best. Nor did Obama choose a pastor known for his work in the inner city. Nor a black or Hispanic or female preacher in an effort to score some diversity points. In sum, in picking Warren, Obama didn't confirm what liberals thought Obama's election might signify--a religious left revival.