So, fingers crossed, it looks like I may actually get press credentials to cover Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony, thanks to my editor back at Charlotte Magazine.
Little did I know when I applied that Rick Warren, evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and vocal supporter of California's Proposition 8, would be chosen to deliver the invocation at the ceremony. Never mind that the preacher giving the benediction, renowned civil rights leader Reverend Joseph Lowery, supports gay marriage, or that Obama himself opposes gay marriage (as presumably do a fair number of the people reading this blog). Warren is not a Dobson or a Fred Phelps--he supports civil domestic partnership rights and he's a Melissa Etheridge fan... Saturday night they both appeared on stage at a Muslim Public Affairs event, and she even agreed to autograph her Christmas album for him. Warren champions an admirable range of global antipoverty initiatives, and the friendship between the two public figures seems genuine. (Back in 2002, Obama asked Warren to review the chapter on faith for his book, The Audacity of Hope.)
But still. Warren did compare gay marriage to polygamy and incest. (Side note: I wish religious leaders would stop making that polygamy argument. It's irrelevant, since the Bible, not to mention Islam, actually sanctions polygamy. Marriage has not always been between one man and one woman, and in many parts of the world, it's still not.)
This isn't just any prayer breakfast or round table discussion. These are the opening moments of a historic presidency. I understand what Obama is trying to do with this big tent strategy. I applaud him for trying to find common ground with groups that did not vote for him, and honestly, are not very likely to vote for him the next time around. I don't think it's about short-term politics. I think it's about trying to get the entire country behind him, FDR-style, in a time of economic crisis.
And yeah, I agree that being "diverse and noisy and opinionated" is what makes this country great. That same impulse to create dialogue between people who normally don't speak to each other was what got me started on Southern Cross.
Except then I think of my younger sister, Anne, and her partner, Julia, and the photo album that they sent me commemorating Election Day 2008. The pictures show them standing in line at the polls and rejoicing that night with their friends at home in Minneapolis.
"We get to vote for this guy!" reads one caption.
They were so excited, so optimistic, so filled with trust in their candidate. Of course, that trust was bound to be let down. This is politics, after all.
This book took me through ten states and over 10,000 miles of highway, to rural Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, prosperous New South suburbs and New Orleans after the flood. I talked to pretty much anyone who would talk to me—black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Catholic.
I witnessed protest rallies and Pentecostal tent revivals. I visited megachurches and a pacifist Christian commune. I met a few scary people and many more kind, hospitable ones.
I heard some stories you might or might not believe...