In a move to reach out to progressive evangelicals, Barack Obama extended an olive branch to Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to speak at today’s presidential inauguration.
Significantly, Warren and Obama differ on two vitriolic issues: homosexual marriage and abortion. Already, Warren’s selection has provoked the ire of several liberal organizations, some of which refuse even to attend the inauguration. To his credit, however, Obama realizes that he needs the support of evangelicals if the Democratic party –and the nation– is to press forward in its social agenda.
Evangelicals, too, understand that a Republican majority, while favorable, is not sufficient to permanently advance its socially conservative agenda. There are certainly areas for evangelicals and liberals to reach a common ground, especially on issues that do not stir the waters of abortion or same-sex marriage. But compromise in the former does not oblige evangelicals to reciprocate in the latter.
Arguably, there needs to be bipartisan cooperation in advancing a unified agenda. Republicans and Democrats both desire to recession-proof the economy, strengthen social justice, and secure our national borders. While the means of accomplishing such goals will vary, Republicans and Democrats needn’t be seen as strange bedfellows. Best epitomized was the national and bipartisan cohesion after the September 11th terrorists attacks.
But unilateral cooperation must be measured with a healthy dose of caution, especially with the emergent group of progressive evangelicals who are concerned about the environment, AIDS and education. Emphasis toward such laudable goals should not come at the expense of relinquishing the protection of the unborn or ceding ground to same-sex marriage proponents – basic bedrocks of the evangelical movement.
By focusing on the “important” issues of the current generation, Obama managed to sweep nearly a third of white evangelicals between 18 and 31 years old – double what John Kerry attained in the 2004 presidential election. The problem for conservatives is that by putting tangential goals (e.g. global warming) in the forefront, progressive evangelicals are side-tracked into supporting an underlying liberal agenda. In other words, social conservatives win the battle but lose the war.
Rick Warren’s speech should certainly be viewed as one step forward for the progressive evangelical movement. But given that Obama stands diametrically opposite to evangelicals on key issues, his administration may unfortunately result in two steps back for the conservative agenda.