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Three Cups of Tea for Rick Warren

Rick Warren is providing the invocation for the presidential inauguration. As a pastor whose books have been read by tens of millions of Americans and whose voice is respected by an equal or larger number, he has tremendous influence and power. And as an open homophobe who aggressively works to wound gay people in this country (as well as pretty much anybody else who doesn’t believe with his own particular and peculiar recently-invented version of Christian theology) he should be the guy with the bull’s-eye on his back for the progressive movement.

But consider that metaphor for a moment. In Pakistan there are entire regions filled with people who not only hate gays but hate Americans as well, regardless of religion. We've tried bombing them (as the Soviets did, and the British before them). Three consecutive Western empires have tried threatening them, starving them, poisoning them, infiltrating them, and overpowering them - all without success.

And then Greg Mortenson came to one of their villages, had three cups of tea with them (a metaphor for hospitality - they nursed him back to health after a mountain climbing injury - and the title of his best-selling book), and now in dozens of these formerly Taliban-controlled villages the people are rejecting the Taliban, embracing modernity, and openly proclaiming themselves as our friends.

His "weapon" for this conversion? He built schools for their children, particularly their previously-banned-from-school girls.

We pushed the Palestinians on the West Bank to have open and democratic elections, assuming that because they were using the tool of our culture (the secret ballot) they’d vote in people reflecting the values of our culture. Instead, they voted in Hamas, a group that is openly hostile to us and our allies. Hamas’ “weapon” for winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinians? They supported schools, hospitals, and fed and clothed people.

You’d think that we’d have learned from these experiences - particularly those of us who call ourselves “progressives” - that you get your desired results faster when you embrace, engage, and nurture your “enemies” than when you physically or rhetorically bomb them.

Barack Obama has learned that lesson, and is applying it in inviting Rick Warren to perform the invocation for his inauguration. In doing so, he is reaching out a hand to those who today are - out of fear and ignorance - pushing away gays the same way their intellectual ancestors pushed away African Americans when anti-miscegenation laws were supported by most of these same “fundamentalist” Christian churches in the 1950s and 1960s.

Joseph Lowry, who is providing the other bookend to the inauguration with the benediction, is the other side of the balance Obama is bringing to this inauguration. Lowry has said, for example, “The same folks who are against progress for black folks are the folks who are against progress for women and gays and farmers and young people and peace activists. We have to understand it’s one struggle. This is ONE AMERICA, and the sooner we learn that the more effective our world will be.”

And the more effective we will be at changing the hearts and minds of people like Rich Warren and his followers. This is a tremendous first step, and I congratulation Barack Obama on his wisdom, walking metaphorically in Greg Mortenson’s shoes to eventually bring the enemies of America’s true values of love and tolerance over to our side.

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