- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008



In the middle of all the ritual brickbats flying back and forth across the national living room this Christmas season, let me say a word in praise of Rev. Rick Warren.

He and President-elect Barack Obama together have exhibited that increasingly rare virtue that Peggy Noonan dubs “patriotic grace.”

Neither the right nor the left likes the imprimatur they believe that each confers on the other - President-elect Obama in inviting Rick Warren to pray at his Inauguration, Rick Warren in accepting his invite.

In the Los Angeles Times, nation editor Katha Pollitt called it “an insulting choice” to Mr. Obama’s supporters. After all, how can a man who urged his flock to vote for Proposition 8 in California, which overturned a state Supreme Court decision imposing gay marriage, be invited to pray at Mr. Obama’s inauguration? Are not those of us who worked to overturn Proposition 8 just like people who oppose interracial marriage? Isn’t such a person supposed to be radioactively bigoted - akin to George Wallace, barring the schoolroom door with dogs and raised billy clubs?

Yet here is President-elect Obama, in a fit of patriotic grace, busting the hard left’s new narrative line about how scary it is that voters are “taking away rights” by voting to support marriage. Here the president-elect instead is acting as if gay marriage is… what? Well, an important moral issue about which we disagree, not the dividing line between good and evil running through every human heart. (Memo to gay marriage supporters: Don’t worry, Mr. Obama will still nominate the Supreme Court justices most likely to impose gay marriage for you across these 50 states.)

The president of the United State is the chief executive, but he is also head of state - the symbol of our nation. The Inauguration of a new president is the time we come together to celebrate the nation we share. We do this every four years, and have done so ever since any of us can remember - though we often forget how extraordinary this moment is:

Every four years - or eight years at most - the single most powerful man on the planet (the one with his finger on the nuclear button) and the leader of the most powerful country on the planet (for the moment, anyway, by the grace of God), voluntarily hands the keys of this power over to an untried stranger, often his political enemy. Two hundred and twenty years of peaceful transfer of power as a result of a free and fair election - well, that is something to celebrate together.

President-elect Obama understands that. So does Rev. Rick Warren.

And not only Mr. Obama. Rick Warren has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service on Jan. 19, 2009, at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Black leaders generally, it appears, won’t stand for the idea that Rick Warren or the 70 percent of black Californians who voted for Proposition 8 are just civil rights bigots.

Symbols matter. They are the outward visible signs that the invisible things that matter most are real.

The things that divide us are great and important, and are worth fighting about. But they are worth fighting about, in part, because this thing that unites us - this idea we all share called America - is worth fighting for.

And Inauguration Day is the day for both sides in the culture war to lay down their arms. (Don’t worry, it’s only for a moment.)

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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