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Obama defends choice of Rick Warren for inauguration

World News

U.S. president-elect Barack Obama has defended his selection of evangelical leader and best-selling author Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at his 20 January inauguration, a move criticised by some gay groups and supporters of abortion rights, saying Warren opposes what they stand for.

"I am a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on in my presidency," Obama told reporters in Chicago on 18 December. "What I’ve also said is that it is important for American to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."

The previous day, Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group for gay and lesbian rights, had, in a letter to Obama, called the invitation to Warren "a genuine blow" to gay and lesbian Americans.

"[By] inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table," Solmonese said, arguing that Warren supported a recent ballot initiative in California that banned same-sex marriage.

Warren is a Southern Baptist pastor who heads the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, the site of an August presidential forum, which featured both Obama and the Republican Party presidential candidate, John McCain.

In recent years, Warren has been seen as trying to expand the agenda of US evangelical Christians, columnist Eddy Evans noted in a commentary for Pink News (pinknews.co.uk) a gay-oriented news service.

"He has also done a service to America, and particularly to moderate Christians in what remains a very religious nation, in helping to shift the focus of what defines the religious political movement away from just abortion and homosexuality toward AIDS in Africa, the plight of the poor, climate change and human rights," Evans wrote in his commentary headlined, "Gays should give Obama a break over inauguration preacher."

Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, made reference to his differences with Warren in his remarks to reporters, but said it was important that dialogue by those who disagree on issues "has been part of what my campaign is all about".

At the inauguration the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who has been described as the "dean of the civil rights movement" and a supporter of same-sex marriage, will join Warren in offering prayers.

(c) Ecumenical News International

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