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