Some Liberals Upset Over NFL Coach's Presidential Invite

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When news came that President Obama had invited former NFL coach Tony Dungy to join his advisory council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, some liberals expressed outrage about the decision. Dungy, famous for taking the Indianapolis Colts to a Super bowl victory, is an evangelical Christian and an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, the Black Power movement forced the country to confront racial injustice head on. Now members of the movement explain its triumphs and mistakes. Black Power revisited, that's just ahead. But first, our regular faith matters conversation, where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. This week, President Obama runs into more trouble with the political left over his determination to reach out to diverse communities of faith.

The White House has not confirmed this but news reports say that the White House has invited former NFL coach Tony Dungy to join its advisory council for the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Dungy is famous of course for leading the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory two years ago, the first African-American head coach to take home the trophy. But he is also well known for his Evangelical Christian faith and for acting on those beliefs in the public sphere. In 2007, Dungy campaigned for a gay marriage ban in Indiana. And that has prompted some liberal groups to scold the White House for extending the invitation.

To talk more about this, here with me in the Washington, D.C. studio is religion writer Sarah Posner. She is the author of the book, "God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters." She's among those who has criticized the invitation to Dungy. Welcome.

Ms. SARAH POSNER (Author, "God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters"): Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: First of all, it has to be said that Tony Dungy's publicist has confirmed that he's been invited to join this council. The White House, as I said, hasn't confirmed that. We don't even know whether he's accepted the offer. But the news has sparked some strong reactions. And Sarah Posner, you wrote that the invitation is mystifying. Why is it mystifying?

Ms. POSNER: Well, Obama has said that he wants to have a diverse group of people on this council. He's already invited a number of Evangelicals, a number of Evangelicals who are opposed to gay marriage. And yet he is inviting yet another Evangelical who is opposed to gay marriage. He hasn't balanced this out with people who come from a different faith perspective that supports gay marriage.

MARTIN: No, none, none yet? I mean, as I understand it, 10 of the 15 have been named or the names have been floated.

Ms. POSNER: 15 of the 25…

MARTIN: 15 of the 25.

Ms. POSNER: …have been named and then there's 10 more. And he is - Dungy is one of the 10 more that are going to be named.

MARTIN: None of them - none of these people are progressive?

Ms. POSNER: Well, I think that it depends on you definition of progressive. You know, I think that one of the people who's been held out as very progressive is David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, the Reform Judaism. And he is pro-choice. I'm not sure whether he actually supports gay marriage but he is not opposed to it for sure. But there are many other faith perspectives out there, mainline Christian denominations for example, who are supportive of gay marriage, supportive of abortion rights. And there are a number of people who represent that point of view that Obama has not yet tapped.

MARTIN: But, you said in your blog posting, the real issue is that someone's religious faith provides them cover for bigotry. Are you saying that by definition if you oppose same sex marriage you're a bigot? I mean, isn't that like saying if you oppose affirmative action you're a racist?

Ms. POSNER: I don't think so. I mean, I think that, you know, you are denying certain segment of the population the same rights as another segment of the population. And so, religion is often given, is the cover that people are given for expressing that point of view. People aren't given that cover for expressing it from another perspective. So, Obama is basically saying, it's okay.

MARTIN: But for some, I'm sorry, within a certain perspective it's not a right, it's a sacrament, which is a different thing. There's a difference between civil rights and sacramental obligation.

Ms. POSNER: Right and…

MARTIN: So, so I mean, I guess, I really want to press the question, are you saying by definition, if you oppose gay marriage then you're a bigot?

Ms. POSNER: Well, you're opposing…

MARTIN: Is it a litmus test? You're saying this should be a litmus test for participation in this administration's public activity?

Ms. POSNER: I'm not advocating that he have a litmus test. I'm advocating that Obama take a leadership role on this question. Gay marriage amendments, allowing gay marriage in the states does not require churches to perform a sacrament that they don't want to perform. It just gives the civil right, the same civil right to marriage to gay couples as to straight couples.

MARTIN: But he doesn't support gay marriage. He supports civil union. So, so is he a bigot?

Ms. POSNER: He is not taking a position that he could take. He could…

MARTIN: But he is a bigot?

Ms. POSNER: I'm not saying that Obama is a bigot on this. But I think that people who come out and campaign for gay marriage bans and support the position of groups like Focus on the Family, and Dungy worked with the Focus on the Family affiliate in Indiana. And they express extremely bigoted points of view about gay people.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this, there are other points of view on this even within the gay community. We had a round table of activists to talk about this issue recently. Here's with commentator Jasmyne Cannick had to say. She is openly gay. She is also African-American. Here is what she had to say.

Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Gay Rights Activist): For some reason I guess it's the thinking within the gay civil rights movements that once we achieve gay marriage, you know, all will be well. There will be - everything will be equal with heterosexuals. Well, I have a news flash. I'm getting married tomorrow but I'm gonna tell you what, I'm gonna still get pulled over for driving while black. I'm still going to be the last to be hired and the first to be fired.

MARTIN: Her point, which she has written about extensively, and I think you're familiar with her work as well as, is that gay marriage is a particular priority for a particular group of people within this constituency. And that there is an unwillingness to engage in the priorities of other people. And it does go back to this question of a litmus test. So, my question to you would be, how do you think as a - that this question should be resolved, if the question is to resolve competing points of view? Are you saying that people who just have a different point of view should not be heard from at all, to be true to a certain value system?

Ms. POSNER: Well, first let's be absolutely clear that the mandate of the advisory council for the faith-based office does not include addressing this issue. It includes addressing abortion, teen pregnancy, poverty, global interface relations.

MARIN: Okay.

Ms. POSNER: So, he's not mandated to shape policy on that.

MARIN: Okay. I get the feeling this is a really rich topic and we should talk about it again.

Ms. POSNER: We probably should?

MARTIN: All right. Sarah Posner is a religion writer and blogger for the American Prospect. You can find a link to her blog on our Web site, the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org. She was kind enough to join us here in our studio. Thank you.

Ms. POSNER: Thanks, Michel.

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