U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama promised throughout his presidential campaign that, if elected, he would unite Americans and affirm a role for religion in public life. He cemented that vow with an assurance that he would expand President Bush’s “faith-based initiatives.”

The decision today by congressional Democrats to have evangelist Rick Warren give the inaugural invocation is the latest signal that the Democratic Party is friendly to evangelical Christians — even if that means slapping American religious minorities in the face.

First, I want to be clear: I believe that evangelical Christians deserve the same opportunities and freedoms as anyone else. And yet the notion of equal time for conservative Christians does not entitle a celebrity to serve as the sole official prayer-giver for all Americans at a signature federal event.

As Steven Waldman details for BeliefNet:

  • Warren is the type of Christian who calls socially responsible Christians closet Marxists.
  • Warren is the type of Christian who asserts that Christians cannot be free so long as gay couples are free, and then he rallies throngs of followers to deny to gays the very freedoms that he falsely claims are threatened by the existence of married gay couples. His admission that divorce is a more serious threat to “traditional marriage” is unconvincing — he made no effort and rallied no souls to enact a constitutional ban upon divorce.
  • Warren is the type of Christian who claims to oppose abortion — but calls efforts by liberals to help women avoid abortion a “charade.”
  • Warren is the type of Christian who worships a god of war and assassination instead of the Prince of Peace.
  • Warren is the type of Christian who points to antigay religious activists and ex-gay pundits Tim Wilkins and Chad Thompson as experts on HIV/AIDS
  • And Warren is the type of Christian who revises the Bible when it seems convenient to oneself or damaging to one’s supposed enemies. (Worthy of note: Chad Thompson agrees that Warren is a Bible-verse cherry-picker.)

But Warren is not all bad.

Warren says he supports hospital visitation and private insurance-sharing for couples — provided these freedoms are not packaged as civil unions. He condemns torture (though he does little to stop it). And Warren doesn’t damn non-evangelicals to hell.

(Correction, Dec. 21: Warren damns Jews to hell.)

Warren is not as intemperate, sadistic, tyrannical, greedy, or emotionally disturbed as Donnie McClurkin or James Dobson, or a racist like Tony Perkins — but he claims to be different from Dobson only in tone, not substance.

I am troubled by his selection to give a presidential, inaugural invocation. Warren’s frequent use of strawman arguments against rival religious and atheist communities, his willingness to assassinate foreign leaders on the basis of religion, and his smug judgmentalism make him a poor choice to be granted such an honor.

Presentation of the inaugural invocation is a privilege, not a right.

If America has matured enough to elect an African-American as president, then surely it has matured enough to select a Reform rabbi, a Quaker, or a Unitarian to give the invocation:

Someone, in other words, who is:

  1. loyal to the central tenets of one’s own religion, and yet
  2. fully affirming of American families from other religious or secular backgrounds

Warren, unfortunately, seems to be neither.