A (Partial) Defense of Rick Warren
This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
April 14th, 2009
It seems inconceivable that Pastor Rick Warren would tell Larry King that he “never once even gave an endorsement” of Proposition 8. We all had seen him on TV. He had prepared a video to his church specifically instructing them that he supported Prop 8.
What was he thinking?
Well, I sort of understand what Warren was saying. And while not technically correct, he wasn’t that far off.
We think of Rick Warren as anti-gay – because he does not support equality. But Warren doesn’t see himself that way at all – because he doesn’t actually advocate against gay rights.
The leaders of Proposition 8 would have loved to have Warren as part of the team. He has a huge church, a prominent position in Christendom, and respect from non-believers. If Warren had wanted to, he could have mobilized a much larger volunteer base and generated millions more in contributions. He chose not to.
He answered a question in an interview and he videotaped a message to his church. Compared to what he could have done, this was minimal. So in his mind, he was never an anti-gay marriage activist.
But there are two reasons why Warren is misunderstanding the extent of his role:
- The strength of the language used in the interview was excessive. He could have just chuckled and said, “Well now as a Christian minister, of course I support the traditional definition of marriage”. No one would have been surprised and there would have been almost no reaction.But he made comparisons to incest, polygamy, and child molestation.
And even if those were unintentional comparisons that he later regretted, once they are out then you have an obligation to correct the situation. And writing to some “gay friends” doesn’t tell Californians that Rick Warren thinks that gay marriage is different from marrying your sister.
- Warren told his church his opinion on the Proposition. He sought to influence votes on a civil matter using his authority as the shepherd of his flock.
Rick Warren may not have intended to be an anti-gay marriage activist, but his behavior put him in that position.
And Warren’s long history of supporting and affiliating with some of the most brutally anti-gay forces in Africa place him – at least – as an enabler of anti-gay bigotry and human rights violations.
But now the good news and the defense of Rick Warren.
Warren is highly respected. He is considered “America’s Pastor”.
And America’s Pastor has just made it clear to America that there is something a bit shameful and embarrassing about being an anti-gay activist. His statements tell Christians – and voters – that one can have a view about homosexuality based on one’s religious beliefs without having to be politically anti-gay. That one can be a Christian without having to set aside time and money to go after gay folk.
And this is a message that it is very good for Christians in America to hear today: Rick Warren doesn’t want to be an anti-gay activist… and you shouldn’t either.