December 18, 2008 / Uncategorized

Yet another insult to women: Obama chooses a sexist pastor for his Inaugural


An almost all-male Cabinet. A speechwriter who thinks sexual assault is funny. A senior advisor who’s on record with his belief that innate inferiority, not discrimination, is what’s keeping women back.

And now, with another twist of the knife, President-elect Obama has invited Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural.

Rick Warren.

Most of the outrage surrounding this choice focuses on Warren’s opposition to gay marriage and reproductive rights. But there’s something else about Warren, something the women of America might like to ponder as they watch this worthy pray aloud at our new President’s swearing-in: this is a man who believes that wives should be subservient to their husbands. Marriage is not an equal partnership, in Warren’s view, but a dominance hierarchy, a union between a superior and an inferior. Kind of like a boss with one employee.

As explained on Warren’s Ministry Toolbox site by Beth Moore, a suitably submissive wife: “It is a relief to know that as a wife and mother I am not totally responsible for my family. I have a husband to look to for counsel and direction. I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional.”

(Does this remind anyone else of Larry Summers and the poignant saga of “Mommy Truck and Daddy Truck”?)

Now, some of you might be saying, “But Rick Warren is a Christian, so of course he believes that. He’s just going by what’s in the Bible, right?”


It is entirely possible to be a deeply committed Christian and simultaneously reject the old-fashioned notion that wives must obey and submit. Many Christian denominations have long since relegated the wifely submission business to the dust-heap of obsolete doctrine, along with various other antiquated rules and regulations. The New Testament, like the Old, is chock-full of archaic notions and sheer weirdness that no one dreams of obeying anymore.

Yes, there are verses in the New Testament telling us that wives must submit to their husbands. But there are also verses telling us that:

  1. Women must not pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:5)
  2. Women must not braid their hair (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)
  3. Women must not wear gold (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)
  4. Women must not wear pearls (1 Timothy 2:9)
  5. Women must not speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12)
  6. Men must not pray or prophesy with their heads covered (the reverse of the rule for women) (1 Corinthians 11:4)
  7. Men should not have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  8. People must not drink water (exclusively?) (1 Timothy 5:23)
  9. People must not take oaths (Matthew 5:34, James 5:12)
  10. Slaves must obey and strive to please their masters (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18)

And that’s not even getting into all the contradictory admonitions (pray in public or not? get a divorce or not?).

Rick Warren's wife, Kay Warren: speaking in church, wearing gold.

Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren:
speaking in church, wearing gold.

The plain fact is that each Christian denomination must choose which parts of the Bible to follow and which parts to ignore. The parts that don’t fit with a group’s modern understanding of faith are jettisoned as “not relevant” in today’s world. The parts that do fit are labeled “eternal truths.”

Some Christians take an intellectually rigorous approach to the issue. Southern Baptists like Rick Warren do not. They ignore the prohibition on gold and pearls, they allow women to minister in certain very restricted roles, and they seem downright carefree when it comes to oaths, drinking water, and hats. But wifely submission? Oh, that’s an eternal truth. Gotta keep that.

The bottom line is that men like Rick Warren insist on the doctrine of wifely submission because they want to. It suits their personal ideology of male supremacy. If it didn’t, they could easily find very good reasons for putting it aside, just as they’ve jettisoned the no-talking-in-church rule. (As it happens, the wifely submission and the “keep silent” verses in Paul are of a piece: most scholars regard these as later interpolations, probably designed to counteract women’s prominence in the early church.)

Rick Warren is a male supremacist. He’s a man who picks and chooses his Bible verses to buttress his preferred beliefs. Selecting him, of all people, to deliver the Inaugural invocation is yet another insult to the millions of women who voted for Obama, trusting — despite the sexism of the campaign — that Barack Obama would prove to be a champion of equality.

What might have been: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA

What might have been: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA

It’s not as if we have a shortage of Christian ministers in this country. Obama could have chosen a progressive, like Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, thus sending a powerful message of religious faith twinned with social justice.

Is Obama simply intent on wooing conservative evangelicals, six weeks after the election? Though even that speculation is a tiny bit unfair — to evangelicals. As we saw with Sarah Palin, it’s entirely possible to be a conservative evangelical Christian and still believe in gender equality. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Or is it something else?

The other day a friend asked me if Obama was actually going out of his way to insult the women of America. “Is he doing this on purpose?” she wondered aloud.

I’m starting to wonder myself.

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  • Anne-Marie

    I think there is no way of knowing if Obama did this on purpose, and no way of proving it. And even if you could, so what? How does it help us to accuse him? I think the most it proves is that he doesn’t share our passion and our vision of the kind of America we want. It may also speak to his beliefs about marriage and women. And if so, it’s too bad we have a sexist in the White House, but really what’s new?

    He is letting a lot of people down, not just us, so I’d say, don’t take it personally, just take action to move your goals forward. I don’t think it hurts to point out to the world that Obama does not represent our views, and hopefully between now and the next election, we’ll get women to see that it’s important to support a candidate who expressly cares and acts on women’s rights and advancement in society.

    Obama is compared to Martin Luther King Jr. by some, but I highly disagree with the comparison. Martin was not a politician, he spoke from the heart, without conflict of interest, without trying to win a popularity contest. But as far as I know, Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a feminist, or at least that’s not what he’s know for, so why do we expect Obama to be one?

  • Anne-Marie

    Violet, I should have also said above, thank you for the article. It upset me to read it, which is where those thoughts above came from. I hope they don’t sound standoffish or disrespectful to you.

    I realize we have to have expectations of him and definitely voice our disappointment and disapproval, but I just don’t want people to take this stuff personally and be hurt by it, like I have the tendency to do.

  • Lisa

    He must have to try really hard to be this insulting. He seems to be going out of his way. I don’t understand why.

    I sent a copy of this article to PB Schori’s email address. I hope she gets a chance to look at it.

  • Egallantry

    I would love to see a timeline of male supremacist teachings on the state and nature of females. Through history they have said and written many things about us. At what point did the majority of male supremacists decide to stop preaching the ‘only men have souls, women are soulless’ line, or the ‘wombs overpower brains in the ladies so schooling will make them hysterical/insane’ lie, or ‘we do not yet know that genetic material comes from both the mother and father so we will say that men provide it all and women are just incubators’ self-important fallacy…

    Some fringe wings will cling to these outlandish beliefs despite scientific proof and/or real-life contrary evidence.. Yet the mainstream of male supremacist philosophy has changed with the times. Looking back at some of the early press coverage on the suffrage of women and feminism reveals that this subset of men (and their slavishly devoted womenfolk) tried to block every step of every advancing woman (speaking out in public, riding a bike, getting a university education, voting, divorcing a violent man, running a marathon, taking a managerial-level job, etc)..

    Does anyone know of an online resource that connects all the dots and gives us the lineage of male supremacist thought?
    Show me the chain of idiocy In all of its incorrect (oops, silly willies, we got it wrong again), incoherent (logic smogic) and contradictory vainglory. I want to put the modern-day bigots in the context of their predecessors. Giggle-fest material in the making.

  • goesh

    There is despair over the change he promised to bring and he is not even President yet – change for some maybe, retrogression for women. I can’t imagine how women feel over this and so many other things that have happened during the primaries, the election process and the approach to his Presidency. I don’t understand why there are women who seem to believe this is their lot in life. How many women out there think like this and accept this kind of nonsense in their lives and wish it for their daughters? Surely to God the thinking and beliefs and attitudes shown in NA and allied organizations is not an extreme minority. I’m sending a copy of Violet’s article to my sister, who is (was??) an Obama supporter.

  • Marie

    Rick Warren also won his race on November 4th: he got Prop 8. So this is the victory lap for homophobes – center stage on the Capitol steps. Party time!

    This is what slavish devotion will get you, Obama fans. All adoration and no scrutiny. I remain at least vindicated by my refusal to join the Obama cult all year. And I have the scars to prove it.

    Hillary would never have deliberately slapped the gay community and rewarded this Neanderthal.

    What must be grasped is that Warren’s ascendancy is not a mistake and is a careful and deliberate insult to many constituencies. Obama is showing us who he is.

  • Amy Siskind

    I guess Ludacris wasn’t available?

  • Octogalore

    NIce post. I agree with a number of comments here. It’s good to be inclusive — up to a point. Sure, Obama is the president of both red and blue states, as he earlier proclaimed. But that doesn’t mean championing the worst of the values one disagrees with. Make alliances that make sense, including political sense, but don’t place in a position of authority a red-stater who not only disagrees about the means but also the ends — who specifically would deny the rights of fellow Americans. This is pandering of the worst kind.

  • KendallJ

    I’m not at all surprised about Obama’s pick. What astonishes me is that others are. This is a man who campaigned for Odinga, who ran for president in Kenya on a platforn to impose Sharia law. This is a man who has an iffinity for misogynistic rap music. This is a man who slapped his wife on the ass in front of several thousand people. This is a man who ran a campaign that promoted and facilitated misogyny and in some quarters, homophobia. This is a man who pays his female staffers 78 cents to his male staffers’ dollar. This is a man who denounced the mother and grandmother who raised him, in favor of the father who abandoned him. This is a man who had no compuncture to smear the finist living civil rights leaders in our country, from Jesse Jackson Sr. to Hillary Clinton. This is a man who race bated throughout his campaign for political gain. This is a man who is a bigot, but people don’t want to face it. Instead, after 8 years of Bush, they projected their dreams and desires into this mirror, who is without an inner core and was nothing more than a mirage. He was media made to be what we all wanted him to belong enough to get elected.

    It’s a shame that people didn’t learn from the media blitz that got us into the Iraq war. They know the public are sheep!

  • Lisa McCue

    Any women want to answer this call at ?


    I am starting a new group of women warriors, gorilla girls, female fighters…. call us what you will. Picking a name and a uniform will be the tasks of the first meeting. I want twenty-five women who are willing to fight beside me for women’s rights. Women who are willing to get arrested for women’s rights. Women who are not only willing to talk the talk but walk the walk. The group will make precision strikes at selected targets. Strikes might include sitting in the congressional gallery and holding up banners regarding women’s rights, picketing the White House, marching into Pelosi’s office single file, dropping bags of rocks off at an embassy after a woman is stoned, doing a visibility line on Massachusetts Avenue at rush hour or blowing up pictures of our nation’s currency and holding pictures of it outside the Department of the Treasury with sign that read, “where are the women?” We will take pages out of the playbooks of PETA, SEA SHEPARD, CODEPINK, and other groups that are at times annoying but very effective. Here is the job description:
    * Women — age 18 to 108, no minors allowed due to the risky nature of the operations.
    * Willing to attend weekly strategy meeting in DC.
    * Willing to protest at least monthly, maybe weekly in DC.
    * We need two photographers who can take photos of our actions.
    * We need one videographer who can video our actions and post on you-tube.
    * We need two media people who can make contacts with local media and advise them of our actions.
    * We need two communications specialists who can contact all the members of the group by text, email, phone, and coordinate communications.
    * We need two writers who can blog about our activities.
    * We need two lawyers who can advise us if our activities are illegal.
    * We need three researchers who help identify targets, research who they are and where they go.
    * We need two props people who can create and maintain props.
    * We need creative minds, lots of them, to help think of ways to strike effectively.
    * We need former military people who can help coordinate our activities.
    * We need you.
    Obviously, I’m serious. This is serious. If you have the kind of dedication and fighting spirit we need, please contact me at
    You must live in the Washington DC area. We need to show up where our leaders will and work.
    I need you. I want you. Are there 25 brave committed women out there? Let’s see.”

  • goesh

    It’s going to be interesting to see how all the women supporters of Obama spin this and justify it.

  • madamab

    I’ve thought it was on purpose for quite some time.

    I am supremely unshocked by this revoltin’ development. Obama has made his pursuit of the evangelical community quite plain for months and months. That means accepting and endorsing the misogyny and homophobia that many of these churches embrace and preach as doctrine.

    Obama doesn’t want votes or support from “those people,” meaning women who see through him. He has proven he can win without us, and it was the evangelicals that made that happen by staying home and not voting Republican this year.

    He owes us nothing. We’re under the bus, and Obama is giving us the finger as we choke on the fumes.

  • Sharon Arthur

    I ,am still stunned since reading it in the NYT. I am conforted knowing how this has affected others. I am not alone!! Rev. Rick Warren was a terrible choice.
    He is also going out of his way to avoid women at cabinet level. Apparently, second and third level will be good enough.
    Nothing surprizes me anymore.

  • Zee

    Thanks for this excellent article, Violet.

    I wonder if we’re going to hear the same howling of the mob who trashed Palin for being pro-life? My bet is we’ll hear … ::crickets::

    Oh, and Kendall…ditto!

  • votermom

    I think Obama really likes this stuff. It’s compatible with his worldview, it flatters his ego and reinforces his sense of entitlement.

  • pacific-cali

    There’s no doubt in my mind that this is yet another deliberate “F*CK YOU” directed at women.
    Clearly he is not going to stop his assault on the collective dignity and stature of women.

  • fsteele

    Despite reports to the contrary, I did not say, and I do not believe, that girls are intellectually less able than boys, or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science. As the careers of a great many distinguished women scientists make plain, the human potential to excel in science is not somehow the province of one gender or another. It is a capacity shared by girls and boys, by women and men, and we must do all we can to nurture, develop, and recognize it, along with other vital talents. That includes carefully avoiding stereotypes, being alert to forms of subtle discrimination, and doing everything we can to remove obstacles to success.

    January 19, 2005

    These are some clear words of Summers’ own that he is on record with as of January 19, 2005. More at

  • Anna

    Anne-Marie – I greatly appreciated your post.

    Zee – Good to see you. Hadn’t seen you around for a few days.

    Octogalore – I think you raise a very crucial point and one that is challenging to define. You state: “It’s good to be inclusive to a point.” Therein lies the rub. Where does one draw the line? I was thinking after I read the post about how important it is to lay a solid foundation and stick to one’s principles. So, I thought, TNA wants to be inclusive, to draw in women from all sorts of backgrounds, to find common ground, etc. So, in theory, whether one likes Obama or not (and I am a NOT fan), one could argue that he’s being “inclusive.”

    How would we, at TNA handle a situation where a member is conservative, perhaps evangelical, perhaps with strong feelings against homesexuality, and so forth. Is she welcomed into the fold in our commitment to inclusion?

    …But then I read on and the thread noted this particular pastor having views toward women’s place in society and that stopped me in my tracks since, if someone were to join TNA and share such views, this would likely not be the place for them.

    All of that said, I’d like to ask someone at TNA if they could post a link to a place where I might read some of what this pastor has said about women’s place in society for myself.

    Also, I’d delete the caption under the photo about his wife wearing gold. Just because there is a laundry list of do’s and don’ts in the New Testament doesn’t mean this couple ascribe to all of them and we shouldn’t make assumptions about it. It seems needlessly sarcastic and judgemental. I’d just deal with the known facts and leave the rest alone.

  • Anna

    PS Regarding his wife’s comments quoted in the thread, perhaps we’re reading them too much through a certain lens. After all, don’t women want their partners to be involved in child rearing? Don’t we want to feel out from under the enormous weight of knowing the buck stops with us when it comes to that job? I realize there is a context here regarding the pastor’s perspectives, but, truth be told, if I read her comments without that context, I might have a somewhat different take on them, i.e., a woman saying that it’s great to have a partner to share the responsibiliity, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to step in when I’m having a crappy day, etc. I realize her comments ARE made in a context, but I’m just saying. I look to my husband and my friends as well to lean on, to be the steady voice and hand when I’m losing it, etc.

  • Kiuku

    Obama is a political rapist.

  • Octogalore

    Anna — to my mind, and I know it’s a subjective concept, inclusive means having similar goals and possibly disagreeing on the means. For example, I don’t get involved in projects involving people who don’t want equal rights for all humans. I work on a couple of public interest projects with people who are both more and less conservative than I am, but who all are pro gay rights, feminists, anti-racists. Some are Republican — not just voting that way once, but all the time and want a flat tax — some are socialist. But since most of the work I get involved in on a pro bono basis deals with equal rights, that has to be the baseline.

    Like Jon Stewart said in interviewing Mike Huckabee — I don’t subscribe to the anti-choice position. I don’t think it’s feminist position. But I think it can be compatible with working on other feminist goals together, because I think someone who’s anti-choice can view her/his thinking as coexisting along with a belief in equal rights. I don’t think that’s true for someone with Warren’s views. He specifically does not believe in equal rights for women and GLBT.

  • fsteele

    Re inclusiveness of Pumas who differ on some details, I think we can work together on pressuring Summers to make amends by working FOR women in his new position (regardless of what different Pumas may think his original fault was).

    He has been recanting, apologizing, etc ever since January 2005, so now he may be very open to reasonable demands from us, and he’s certainly in a position to give us some very practical things.

  • pacific-cali

    Anna, maybe I’m missing something, but how does the belief that women should be subservient to their husbands jibe with our goals for gender equality?

  • Not Your sweetie

    I can’t help but wonder when did this alliance start. I remember all the B0bots growling about McCain having had the questions ahead during that Saddleback debate. Seems very unlikely, doesn’t it?

  • Violet Socks, Editor

    fsteele, here’s what Summers said:

    There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference’s papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I’ll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.

    A cached copy of the transcript is here, though it appears that Larry’s new PR firm is busy trying to scrub all versions online.

    What he was saying is that discrimination and bias are the least of the reasons for women’s low numbers on faculty — though in fact, research shows that that is the number one reason (and Summers himself is a prime offender, with tenure offers to women dropping by a third during his term at Harvard). What’s more important, sez Larry, is that 1) women would rather play “Mommy Truck’ than work hard and compete, and 2) there are more smart men than women.

    All the spin in the world cannot change what Summers said. There’s a reason Dr. Nancy Hopkins got up and walked out.

  • Violet Socks, Editor

    Regarding his wife’s comments quoted in the thread

    Those are not his wife’s comments. Those are from Warren’s Ministry Toolbox site, and the wife I quoted is ministering to other women about the joys of being submissive.

  • bruce nahin

    Ladies, why would you think Obama would act otherwise? His actions during the election predicted who he was, look how he allowed his people to treat Hillary and then Sarah…Perhaps the movt would have been better off with Sarah…I know many of you choke when you will read this, but in selecting Sarah we saw what McCain’s view of women were and in his treatment of Hillary we saw Obama’s

  • fsteele

    The full text of Summers’ famous “working lunch talk” is posted as a comment at http://pumaforsummers.blogspot.....quote.html

    The statement Summers made a few days later, which I posted above, is extremely clear: whether a clarification or a recantation may be a matter of opinion.

    In any case, it is the second statement that we can attempt to hold him to in his current situation; it is a committment to work FOR women in the future. That future has arrived. He did pledge to work for us (to make amends if you like), so let’s not waste this opportunity.

  • Zee

    Hey Anna…very stressful time of year, no? Add in the bad economy and I’m amazed any of us are here! :)

    Actually, I am very grateful my pressing problems are limited to economic and career. Time to grow….or I should say, past time to grow!

    I think Anna brings up very important questions.

    And I think Octogalore does a nice job of addressing it.

    It’s true that even bringing up a pro-life, anti-gay marriage preacher as a bad thing shows a progressive slant. However, The New Agenda does the right thing here, and restricts the commentary on Warren’s “women as second class citizens” ideology.

    We’re not going to agree on everything. We need to identify and focus on our common goals while not falling to pieces every time someone expresses or points out a particular slant. Acknowledging the differences should be enough for most of us to persevere with the common goals.

  • Thia, GA


    I don’t get it? I’m pretty sure in a previous article you posted that Favreau should be fired period. Why would you argue that Summers should be any different? I think men like Summers are far more dangerous.

  • fsteele

    Yes, I think Favreau should be fired (tho that doesn’t seem a practical goal, unfortunately). But the arguments for ‘rehabilitating’ Favreau apply much more to Summers.

    Summers WAS fired and has had several years to reflect on his errors. He DID apologize and recant immediately. He is now in a position to give us some very good practical benefits, if we make a reasonable case for them.

    Must go, family is calling.

  • Zee

    Thia, I’m glad you asked and fsteele answered.

    I was wondering, too. Maybe Summers should give a long interview to someone.

    Hmmmm…could The New Agenda conduct interviews?

    I still think we need to be syndicated and release articles that will be published locally across the nation!

  • fsteele

    Zee said: I was wondering, too. Maybe Summers should give a long interview to someone.

    I volunteer. :-) If it can be done by email.

  • Thia, GA

    Wouldn’t that be nice if Summers had to actually explain himself while being asked questions he couldn’t spin! To me Favreau is an idiot but men like Summers are much more dangerous idiots. I would love it if local papers would publish our articles. I’ve written emails to several in my area with links to various articles but no luck so far. I am going to add several of our best articles to the back of some of the flyers I am handing out to women owned businesses in my area and my local Business and Professional Women’s Organization has agreed to let me bring handouts to the next meeting. It just takes time to get the word out.

  • Cynthia Ruccia

    Violet—–In my humble opinion, it’s not that Obama is doing this on purpose to women, it’s that he has one big blind spot when it comes to women. The reason? Back to what people like you and I have been saying for all of 2008——-the impotent women’s group establishment has set a very low bar to define sexism. That bar is that as long as you are pro-choice, you are pro-women. That’s it. And for most of the lifetime of men like Obama, that’s all that they had to prove.

    That blind spot is lack of education about the things that really harm women on a daily basis. That PE Obama can get away with this is our own fault for thinking that this misogyny had gone away and also that we had counted on the others to stand up and say “enough” during the sexist assault of the campaign. That is why we formed The New Agenda, to start this education process. It sadly may already be too late for Obama and many like him (including women. They find our pointing out of sexism to be extreme. It’s actually laziness on their parts to not examine their own actions and reactions.

    As I said in my most recent blog piece, we used to think that those little black sambo statuettes were funny too until someone told us how damaging the image was.

    Here’s hoping that when we close out 2009, we can look back and be proud of how we educated the public. Together we can do it—–and we fight on!!!!!

  • Kiuku

    I think that Liberal men hold some blame for their particular misogyny which has been masquerading as Feminism, among women even. I voted the McCain/Palin ticket. But I think it is no use to blame anyone now except those in positions to do something.

    Obama didn’t accidently appoint only 4 women.

  • Kiuku

    Oh yea and the sexist media. How do we get rid of all these sexist white dudes running everything in the media, especially the all male panels congratulating themselves on how sexism is imaginary?

  • gxm17

    Obama does not have a “blind spot” when it comes to women. Like his pal Larry Summers, he believes that women are inherently inferior to men. Obama is not only a sexist, he is a misogynist. He has made this abundantly clear through his actions. His refusal to address Favreau, his invitation to Warren, these are just the latest displays of Obama’s lack of respect for women and women’s issues.

  • Josie


    I’ve just read the article by Wolfe in the New Republic about ‘Obama’s Pastor’

    Does anyone think there is validity in the argument that by choosing Warren, Obama will force the very right-wingers further out, thus making the US a better place for women and gays in the long run?

    Personally I think this is giving Obama too much credit – I think he just wants higher viewing figures on his big day – but I think it is good to try and see things from a non-feminist viewpoint, too.

  • masslib

    I remember feeling the same way when Bill Clinton had Billy Graham give the invocation at his inauguration(s). I can’t say I was wrong about it.

  • Jen

    Get over it. A lot of us Christian women are accomplished in our careers, highly educated, responsible AND submitting to our husbands. We can lead corporations, design aircraft, fight and monger peace as well as any man — that’s not the point. Michelle knows. Grow up and quit taking admonitions to women out of context. We are still all equally loved by God. Readers, read the bible for yourselves.