By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, will deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration next month, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced today.
The selection of Warren, whose Saddleback Church in California was the site of a candidate forum with Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain in August, is an early taste of the Democrats' post-election effort to reach evangelical Americans. The effort continues even though Obama's evangelical offensive during the presidential campaign yielded only modest results on Election Day.
White evangelicals supported McCain over the Democratic nominee by 73 percent to 26 percent, which for Obama represented a 4-percentage-point improvement over John Kerry's showing among white evangelicals four years earlier.
Another reason to be mildly surprised by the Warren pick: Many Obama backers felt their man was bamboozled at last summer's candidate summit, when both candidates were supposed to be kept in the dark about the questions Warren would be asking. With Warren sitting down with Obama first, the pastor asserted that McCain was being kept in a "cone of silence" that prevented him from hearing the questions. It turns out that McCain wasn't even in the building and that he might have had an opportunity to catch wind of the questions. Some Obama supporters were pretty sore over it.
And yet, Democratic evangelical outreach marches forward, setting its sights on the movement's biggest players, like Warren.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies also announced that Joseph Lowery, who cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., would deliver the benediction.
Warren and Lowery make for interesting bookends to Obama's inauguration: a reminder of liberals' faith-based past and a promise for what they hope can be a faith-based future.