Rick Warren on the Gay Marriage (Union) Issue
By Norman L. Geisler
A Brief History of the Facts As We Have Them
Recently there has been controversy over Pastor Rick Warren’s views on the Gay Marriage (Union) Issue. First, let’s state the facts as we have received them.
In the Fall of 2008 Warren told his church: “We support Proposition 8 [which opposed Gay marriages]– and if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8.” Warren informs us that this was only after being prodded by members of his congregation to give them guidance and state his views on the issue. This was in view of the impending vote in California on Proposition 8.
On Monday night (April 6, 2009) on CNN’s Larry King Live, Pastor Rick Warren said: “I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never — never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop. 8 was going.”
The next day Warren appeared on the Hugh Hewitt show and said this: “First place, anybody who knows me knows I am not a political activist. I am not an anti-gay activist. When the Prop. 8 issue thing started a year and a half earlier before the thing, I never made a single statement, I never went to any meetings, never released an endorsement. It’s just not my agenda. Everybody has an agenda they’d like for me to promote, but my agenda is the Peace Plan, and the churches and the training, and all of the stuff we’re working on, and it just wasn’t my agenda” (from the Show’s transcript).
Further, Warren said, “On the very last week before the vote, I had five or six letters come in from members saying Pastor Rick, how do you want us to vote on this? What do you think? Give us the basis. Well, I do a video newsletter for our own people. And in that, I said I don’t believe that the historic definition of marriage should be changed. Okay, I’m not saying that people of the same sex don’t love each other. I’m sure they do. I’m saying marriage is a term that historically should not be redefined, because if you redefine it once, it’s going to get redefined over and over. For an example, if there is gay marriage, what does that do for a bisexual person?”
What is more, Warren tells about being on Belief Net where Steve Waldman who asked Warren “…would you consider gay relationships a marriage. And I said no, I said no more than I would consider incest to be a marriage, or no more than I would consider, and I just gave him a bunch of other relational things. And his follow up question was so you consider those things all to be the same? And I said oh, of course I do. Well, it sounded like I was equating homosexuality with pedophilia and… HH: Incest. RW: …incest, which I totally disavow. I don’t believe that at all, never have believed it, and don’t believe it.”
Then Warren acknowledged: “Obama called me the first week of December” and ask him to pray at his inauguration. Warren agreed. Then Warren said, “I was thrilled to be a part of it. But I knew I was going to take shots. And so what I did is I made a commitment [to whom?] that I would not publicly speak about any reaction, I wasn’t going to fan the flames between that offer when it got out, and I didn’t put it out, he put it out, and when I actually did the inauguration.”
Then Warren said, “And so I didn’t say anything about it. I did write an apology to the major gay leaders that I happen to know personally, friends of mine, and I said hey guys, this thing about me saying I believe gay relationships are the same thing as pedophilia and incest, I do not believe that and never have believed that, and I don’t. I don’t believe you should call gay relationship marriage. I would oppose that. But that’s not the same thing. And somehow, we’ve got to learn that you can love somebody and still disagree with them.”
Sorting Out the Apparent Conflict
When I received all this information, I wrote Rick Warren and asked him to explain the apparent conflict between his two statements:
- In Oct, 2008 Warren told his church: “We support Proposition 8 — and if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8.”
- On Monday night (April 6, 2009) on CNN’s Larry King Live, Pastor Rick Warren said: “I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never — never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop. 8 was going.”
I have not yet heard from him, but to be charitable one could interpret the second statement as meaning he had not released any public statement on the issue but merely spoke privately to his own church. Other may challenge whether a pastor’s statement to his whole church-which includes how they should vote-is merely a private pastoral statement.
What is Warren’s View
First of all, it seems clear that Warren is opposed to Gay marriage and that he was opposed to legalizing it in California. He has not changed on this issue.
Second, in the above statements Warren leaves open the door for legal Gay unions as long as they are not called “marriages.” He needs to clarify his position on this matter since, for there is little more than a semantical difference between the two. After all, the “union” would provide virtually all the legal privileges that a “marriage” would.
Third, Warren’s claims not to be “a political activist” is problematic at best. For one thing, he informed his whole congregation how to vote on this Gay marriage issue. Not only is this one of the largest congregations in the country, but through this grape vine Warren’s views went out to much of the rest of the country. What could be more effective political activism than this! For another thing, if it is viewed as a non-public statement, it reveals a lack of moral courage not to take a public stand on crucial moral issues of the day. Warren has one of the biggest “bully pulpits” in the land. After all, he is viewed by many as “America’s pastor.” He was chosen to give the prayer at the presidential inauguration. Not to use his pulpit to America for moral good is moral cowardice.
Fourth, it does not take much reading between the lines of what Warren said in these interviews to see that he is more concerned about making peace between opposing moral view points than taking a stand on the one he believes is right. After all, he admits not being a “political activist” on the issue. He admits not attending any meetings of the anti-Gay marriage groups. He admits trying to appease Gay leaders on his view. He admits not releasing any statement to the public on the issue. In his own words, “I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never — never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop. 8 was going.” Well, shame on him. Indeed, Warren admits not even giving his congregation guidance until after he was prodded to do so by members of his congregation. But as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” For better or for worse, Rick Warren is the de facto leader of evangelicalism. And, in my humble opinion, I would much rather have someone with the convictions and courage of Jerry Falwell emerge on the scene. As far as evangelicalism’s public voice is concerned, Moses is dead and there is as yet no Joshua to replace him.
On Sunday September 6, 2009 I met with Rich Warren in his office after the morning service at his Saddleback Church in California. I found him to be a very friendly, gracious, and generous man. We had a friendly conversation about several things. I asked him about the conflict in his views on the Gay Marriage issue (mentioned above). He explained that he did not consider a private communication to his church to be a political campaign. He said he did not wish to get involved in political issues since he was an evangelist. As such, he wished not to take partisan views so as not to alienate any whom he wished to win to Christ. I found him a man passionately concerned about evangelizing the whole world. Indeed, his church has a ministry in over 160 or the 190 some countries in the world.
I pointed out that homosexuality and abortion were not politically partisan issues but were moral issues on which Christians should speak out. He agreed. He brought up the issue of speaking to non-Christian groups as part of his evangelistic outreach. I pointed out that I believed that it was not wrong to go to these groups, provided that we give them a Christian message when we are there. Again, he agreed.
My own conclusion to the conversation is essentially what I concluded in the above article, namely, that Christians do have a moral obligation to speak out publicly on these moral issues, such as homosexuality and abortions. And I believe this is possible without being politically partisan. Thus, a man with such as national and global pulpit as Rich Warren has could have a tremendous influence, should he chose to exercise it more vigorously and extensively. This could be done without taking political sides or closing the door for the Gospel.
Copyright © 2009 Norman L. Geisler – All Rights Reserved
Can Atheists Justify Being Good Without God ?
by Norman L. Geisler
There is a new atheist’s ad out with a picture of Santa Claus and the words: “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” This is clever, but is it possible? Let’s analyze it more carefully.
First, if there is no Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good.” Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.
Second, what does “good” mean? How is good to be defined.? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone. It is total relativism. Being “good” for some (like Nazis) can mean killing Jews. But for Jews it is evil. Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil.
Third, what does “goodness” itself mean in the atheist slogan. Being good “for goodness sake” implies that something is just plain good in itself. That is, it is an ultimate goodness. But this by definition is what Christians mean by God. Everything else hasgoodness, but only God (the Ultimate) is goodness. In this case, the atheist is using “goodness” as a surrogate or substitute for God.
This maneuver is not uncommon for atheists. Before the Big Bang evidence, atheists were fond of doing this with the word “universe.” It was supposed to be eternal and, hence, needed no Cause since only what begins needs a Beginner. Carl Sagan employed the term “Cosmos” as a God-substitute. He said, “the COSMOS is everything that ever was, is, or will be.” It sounds a little like what Psalm 90 declares: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Bertrand Russell attempted the same tactic in his famous BBC debate with Father Copleston. When asked what caused the universe, he replied that nothing did. It was just “there.” But how does an eternal, uncaused universe from which everything else came to be differ from an Uncaused Cause (God)?
However, in the light of the Big Bang evidence that the universe had a beginning, these answers lack scientific support. As agnostic Jastrow put it, “The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.” And “This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth'” (God and the Astronomers, 115).
Fourth, Dembski and Wells give another objection in recent bookn(How to be an Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist (or not), 115): “Atheism is a belief with scientific pretensions but no scientific backing.” It has no scientific backing for believing in an eternal universe, The Second Law of Thermodynamics still holds. The universe is running out of useable energy and, therefore, cannot be eternal. And it has no scientific backing for the spontaneous origin of first life. Again, as Dembski notes, “Until science can show that physical process operating under realistic prebiotic conditions can bring about full-fledged cells from nonliving material, intellectual fulfillment remains an atheistic pipedream” (ibid.).
Fifth, the truth is that many of the great atheists themselves understood well that without God there is no basis for being good for goodness sake. The famous French atheist, Jean Paul Sartre said, without God, “I was like a man who’s lost his shadow. And there was nothing left in heaven, not right or wrong, nor anyone to give me orders” (The Flies, Act III). Nietzsche said that when God died (see the “Madman” in Gay Science), then all objective values died with Him. And a subjective understanding of goodness to which everyone can assign their own relative meaning, is not goodness at all–let alone being goodness for goodness sake.
Sixth, atheists fail to make an important distinction. One can be good (as many atheists are) without believing in God. But one cannot be good without there being a God. That is, they can believe in a moral law (and live accordingly) without believing in God. But they cannot justify this belief without reference to a Moral Law Giver (God). This leads to one last observation.
Seventh, the fact is, that you cannot have an objective moral law without a Moral Law Giver. But atheist are the first to insist there must be a moral law–otherwise, how can they mount their argument against God from the injustices in this world. C. S. Lewis sais this clearly when he wrote, “[As an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line” (Mere Christianity, 15). Thus, he reasoned from this objective moral law to a Moral Law Giver (God). The atheist must make his painful choice: Either he loses the basis for his argument against God from evil, or he must admit there is an objective moral law which leads to a Moral Law Giver. One thing is certain: without God, the atheist cannot have objective goodness for goodness sake. Indeed, since “for goodness sake” is a euphemistic phrase meaning “For God’s sake,” then the atheist ad, both literarily and logically, should be rendered, “Why believe in God? Just be good for God’s sake.” In other words, it is precisely because there is a God that we can really be good. Without an absolutely good God, there is no real objective basis for being good.