One Way Street
I saw something very interesting today on MSNBC. Barnicle, filling in for Matthews on Hardball, hosted Reverend Eugene Rivers, a well respected, uncontroversial African American preacher, and Mike Rogers, strident gay activist.
Loaded for bear, Rivers came out firing, very aggressively and derisively attacking the gay community for being intolerant and asserting that Warren is a thoroughly acceptable mainstream preacher. ("This is a pseudo-controversy that's been fabricated by the anti-religious left. Fact: Rick Warren is not a divisive figure, there's not one shred of empirical, statistical data to support this unfounded
claim.") That's obviously untrue, but that's not what made me take note of the interview.
The problem was that Rogers took a very unusual tack and said that Rivers coming on the show to defend Warren shows how powerful the gay community is and that he was very happy to see Warren changing his web site just today (to hide his more outrageously homophobic content.) He characterized this as a big victory for gay rights. ("I compliment Rick Warren on seeing the error of his ways and changing his web site.") Rivers was agitated by this and seemed to be frustrated that the dialog wasn't taking the predicted path, rather sarcastically saying things like "well we're all happy now, I guess."
But the really interesting reaction came about when Rogers suggested that if Warren is to be seen as a man who builds bridges between the right and the left that he should quietly and without any kind of fanfare meet with leaders of the gay community and listen to their concerns. Rivers reacted very badly.
Rogers: What I would like to see, and I'd like to hear you agree with it, is that Rick Warren convenes and sits down, again, behind closed doors, not on the stage trotting everybody out, but sits down with the leadership of our community, the gay leadership, and says "I'd like to build a bridge." Sit down with the Human Rights Campaign, sit down with National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Roundtable, and show me that your speech is really about reaching out and that it's really about uniting America. And if you can't sit down and have those meetings with the community, then I think that shows what you're really about.
Rivers:(upset) No, no, no. Mr Rogers, listen ...
Rivers: It would be presumptuous of you to suggest that if Reverend Warren doesn't sit down with your particular crew, that's an act of bad faith. That's a political trick...
Rogers: If Warren is a so-called leader in the evangelical movement who represents the evangelical movement on a national level, certainly it's appropriate for him to sit down with the national leaders of the gay and lesbian movement...
Barnicle interrupted there to close the segment.
Rogers' suggestion seemed eminently reasonable to me (and his tone was exceedingly measured) but Rivers went ballistic. Now, I would suspect that this is because he knows very well that Warren is unlikely to agree to such a thing, thereby proving that his thesis about Warren being the reasonable one is complete nonsense. But there's no reason why Warren shouldn't be asked to do such a thing. If President Obama is going to reach out to evangelicals in a spirit of cooperation and comity, shouldn't America's new Pastor be willing to do the same thing?
Earlier in the day on the channel, New York Magazine reporter John Heileman and some others were all sniggering like grade school bullies knocking younger kids down on the playground over the fact that Barack Obama did himself immeasurable good by kicking liberals in the teeth. Perhaps Rivers heard that exchange and expected some more of that good fun and was disappointed. But one could also be forgiven for suspecting that he was also upset because Rogers failed to be the proper foil thus proving that the gay community is a bunch of intolerant freaks while he and Warren are the reasoned, middle of the road Real Americans. It certainly appeared that way.