I’d commend E. J. Dionne Jr.’s piece in the Washington Post today. An excerpt:
American politics took an important turn last week at a church in the foothills of Southern California’s Santa Ana Mountains.
When Rick Warren, one of the nation’s most popular evangelical pastors, faced down right-wing pressure and invited Sen. Barack Obama to speak at a gathering at his Saddleback Valley Community Church about the AIDS crisis, he sent a signal: A significant group of theologically conservative Christians no longer wants to be treated as a cog in the Republican political machine.
And thus it came to pass that when Warren called a conference at his church last Friday on World AIDS Day, among those he invited were two potential presidential candidates. It was unsurprising that one of them was Sen. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican and a loyal social conservative who has taken up the AIDS issue with passion and commitment.
But when the other invitee turned out to be Obama, parts of the old evangelical political apparatus went after Warren as a heretic. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, declared that Obama’s views on abortion — Obama is pro-choice — represented “the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality” and insisted that Warren had no business inviting him to Saddleback.
Warren’s church issued a statement reaffirming its strong opposition to abortion, but Warren did not back down. Indeed, he seemed to revel in rejecting the old evangelical political model. “I’m a pastor, not a politician,” Warren told ABC News. “People always say, ‘Rick, are you right wing or left wing?’ I say ‘I’m for the whole bird.’ “
When it came his turn to speak, Obama took on the moral message of evangelical AIDS activists — and then challenged them.
“Let me say this and let me say this loud and clear: I don’t think that we can deny that there is a moral and spiritual component to prevention,”he declared. “In too many places . . . the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down and needs to be repaired.”
Then Obama got to what “may be the difficult part for some,” as he put it, that “abstinence and fidelity, although the ideal, may not always be the reality.”
“We’re dealing with flesh-and-blood men and women, and not abstractions,” Obama said, and “if condoms and potentially things like microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, then they should be made more widely available. . . . I don’t accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence.”
That Obama received a standing ovation suggests that Warren is right to sense that growing numbers of Christians are tired of narrowly partisan politics and share his interest in “the whole bird.” In their different spheres, Warren and Obama are both in the business of retailing hope.
Great ending paragraph, too:
One more thing: If you read Obama’s speech, you’ll realize he demonstrates a much truer Christian spirit than the GOP masterminds who have recently tried to push people away from Obama by pointing out that his middle name is Hussein.
If you’re curious about that last reference, you can find more info, among other places, at Joshua Micah Marshall’s TPM Cafe.