I'll admit. As a tweener, I loved the movie "Trouble With Angels" because I loved Hayley Mills who was always coming up with an idea that she thought was "scathingly brilliant."
President-elect Obama may have come up with such an idea in asking Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Warren is not the least inoffensive evangelical a liberal could want, but he's close. Still, although he apparently favors domestic partnerships, he is not down with same sex marriage and, notwithstanding the fact that this is, more or less, the position of the President-Elect, it is quickly becoming unacceptable in the Democratic Party. Obama (who I rather doubt is committed to it) will almost certainly be the last Democrat leader who espouses, even if only for a while, such a view.
Critics have tried to twist Warren's comments into a hostility toward homosexual couples. In a recent interview, after essentially endorsing domestic partner benefits for same sex couples, he said that he opposed redefining marriage and noted some other relationships that he would argue shoulf not be included within the definition of marriage, including relationships between brothers and sisters and older men and younger women.
Here is where the villification comes in. Gays and lesbians say that he is likening our relationships to incest and pedophillia.
We can't expect more from Rick Warren that he can deliver. He's a guy whose talent lies in taking concepts that are simple and true and translating them for his age and for the masses. That's no mean feat and he has done it well. Warren has probably done more for most families than almost any of our self proclaimed "compassionate" political leaders.
But that doesn't mean that he can manage to be converant with the complexities of the larger issues that engulf his age (even as he gets them right) or that his responses to an interviewer exhausts his views on the subject.
I've used the brother/sister analogy on same sex marriage and it has nothing to do with incest. No one really argues that the basis for extending marriage to gays and lesbians has anything to do with sex. No one says that a gay couple should have the legal protections and obligations of marriage because, like heterosexual couples, they engage in genital intimacy. To the contrary, they emphasize, as they should, the loving and mutual dependency of relationships which they may also form.
But that begs the question. Why extend marriage to same sex relationships involving genital intimacy, but not to a variety of equally loving and dependent relationships (like that between a brother and sister or bachelor son and mother living together) which do not? This is what Warren was trying to get at and, given a chance to explain, may have made more clear.
The example of an older man and younger woman was poorly chosen, although I can see how he got there. Relationships of that type used to commonly result in marriage. We learned - or changes in society came to show us - that this was not a good idea.
My larger point is that Warren is not ignorant or some type of bigot. He is trying to address these issues publicly because his ability to reach out to the faithful on less controverial issues has made him a prominent figure. Given his success at the latter task and resulting prominence, he is an obvious choice to lead prayer at a major national event.
Obama is right in recognizing that, but then there's the scathingly brilliant part.
He knows that his left flank will be upset with him, but not enough to cause him damage. He knows that the larger population will see their attack on Warren as nasty and unfair. His resistance will be seen as reasonable. Not a huge thing but, still, scathingly brilliant.