CHICAGO - Calling on Americans to "come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues," President-elect Barack Obama defended his choice yesterday of conservative evangelical Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, a choice that had angered supporters of Obama who see the minister as intolerant of gays.
"We're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common," Obama said.
"There are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented, because that's what America is about," he said. He noted that civil rights activist Joseph Lowery would also speak at the inauguration.
Warren, pastor of the "megachurch" Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., is widely known for The Purpose Driven Life and other books. His selection this week to give the inaugural invocation drew protests from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group.
This year, Warren angered the gay community by endorsing California's successful Proposition 8, which amends the state constitution to declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Obama opposed Proposition 8, even though he, like Warren, opposes same-sex marriages. Aides said Obama believes such state constitutional amendments can also threaten same-sex civil unions, which he does support.
In a written statement yesterday, Warren commended Obama "for his his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue, to offer the invocation. ... Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America."
Obama said that he had been invited to speak at Warren's church in recent years despite the pastor's "awareness that I have views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues about abortion."
"That dialogue is what my campaign was all about," Obama said. "The magic of this country is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated."