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Controversy A Lesson On Tolerance

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Controversy A Lesson On Tolerance

Controversy A Lesson On Tolerance

Controversy A Lesson On Tolerance

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President-elect Barack Obama drew the ire of many liberals and gay rights groups for selecting evangelical pastor Rick Warren to offer the Inaugural invocation. The program's host offers a commentary about the controversy and why she believes it offers a lesson about tolerance.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Finally, I was thinking about a conversation I had some time ago with a friend of mine, a very talented religion reporter who also happens to be a white evangelical Christian. For some reason, we were talking about the various slights and bruises society sometimes inflicts on people that can make it hard to get through the day. She said, I have one. She told me about a time she was editing a story with some colleagues in New York, and for some reason, the subject of the Resurrection came up. And her colleague said to her, you went to college and you believe that?

Here's a news flash: millions of people do. I was thinking about this conversation as I was thinking about the controversy over Barack Obama's decision to ask evangelical pastor Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration. Now, I don't mean to in any way minimize the genuine hurt many people feel about this decision. At the root of it, of course, is Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in California and which Warren supported. I don't think it's hard to understand how folks who had just begun to appreciate a right that had been enjoyed by others would feel at suddenly finding that right taken away.

I'm thinking about an historic analogy, and although it isn't a perfect one, it calls to mind the Reconstruction era. Now as I said, this isn't a perfect analogy. The law and culture of this country are simply not being organized for the purpose of segregating, torturing and killing gay people in the way blacks were treated at the turn of the century, but I can imagine the sense of grief and loss and achieving a new level of inclusion and possibility, only to see that possibility taken away.

But can I just tell you? There's another side of this story, and that is the disrespect that many committed Christians believe they experience at the hands of cultural and intellectual elites. Notwithstanding the fact that Christians are a majority in this country and conservative Christians a significant plurality, many Christians believe they have only to turn on the television or open a newspaper to find their values mocked, their beliefs and practices treated as evidence of ignorance at best and psychosis at worst.

Now let me say here that being patronized is not the same as being persecuted, and the faithful do not help themselves when they get confused about this fact. The worst disagreement my religion writer-friend and I ever had was over her contention that Christians suffer more discrimination than minorities do. And I just had to tell her that I would buy that argument when she could name me one Christian in this country who's been followed around in a department store, pressured into a predatory subprime loan or profiled by the police for being a Christian. And Christians also don't help themselves when they abuse their majority status by ignoring or dismissing the very real concerns of those who practice other faiths or none.

But in my own experience, I believe that Christians do make a case when they point to a culture in entertainment, in intellectual circles where marriage is routinely derided as merely the necessary pre-condition for infidelity, that treats parents as dolts(ph), and they point to a society that shows more respect for any religious practices except those practiced by millions of people in this country. Too many of the smart set would be oh, so delighted by an invitation to a spiritual retreat involving a Navajo Sweat Lodge or an Eastern mystic but who would cringe at the thought of a visit to the the Pentecostal Church down the street.

Tolerance runs both ways, and it seems to me that Obama is onto something if he continues to insist that progressives and conservatives each have the responsibility of respect for the other. Americans have a proud history of figuring out how to accommodate the kinds of differences that people kill and die over elsewhere, and it seems to me this could be the time to make history yet again.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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