I won’t get into the discussion of why or why shouldn’t there be an inauguration prayer on January 20 when Barack Obama is sworn in as the next President of the United States. It is interesting to me, however, the amount of attention and criticism that has been levelled against Saddleback Church’s pastor Rick Warren for accepting an invitation to deliver this prayer. Warren has accomplished the rare feat of getting attacked from all sides of the political and religious spectrum.

Conservative, right-wing Christians are vehemently opposed to Warren because his acceptance of this historic request is being interpreted as affirmation of Obama’s views and policies. Those on the oppositive side of the divide are upset with Obama for selecting a pastor who has openly and actively opposed homosexual marriage, most recently in a ballot initiative during a California vote on the issue. They think Obama’s choice of Warren to offer this prayer is a message that the president-elect  won’t be supportive of their goals and agenda.

The only knowledge I have of Warren is his book “The Purpose-Driven Life” which has sold millions and millions all over the world. So, it’s not like this is some controverial minister with a questionable track record. Warren is well-known in America for being a spiritual leader, and I for one am grateful for his putting a kinder, gentler face on conservative values. What is surprising to me is that Warren is a Southern Baptist who has a serious social awareness and has brought a great deal of attention to global crises like poverty, AIDS, and hunger. He is willing to work with anyone to ease the suffering of children around the world. I heard him speak to a Muslim leadership dinner on C-SPAN where he said we should work at finding those areas of common ground in order to improve our world.

I haven’t examined all of Warren’s theology or doctrinal statements. I’m certain there would be areas for disagreement. Still, the man gives away 90% of his income and doesn’t take a salary from his church. He strives for agreement through working hand in hand rather than head to head. This reality illustrates exactly what Obama and Warren are trying to demonstrate on January 20th. It is possible to show respect and civility for each other while having disagreement on certain issues.