Gay Marriage Backpedaling by Rick Warren Leaves Religious Right in an Uproar

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Apr 9, 2009

Megachurch pastor Rick Warren seems to have departed from the religious right script regarding marriage equality--and the faithful appear to have turned on a dime against him for it.

Even the mainstream publication US News & World Report noted the seeming turnaround in an April 7 blog posted by "God & Country" writer Dan Gilgoff.

Gilgoff noted that the previous night, in an interview with Larry King, Warren--leader of the Saddleback megachurch, and world-wide best-selling author of "The Purpose-Driven Life"--reiterated that he thought marriage should be between one man and one woman, but also claimed never to have been "an anti-gay marriage activist."

Gilgoff provided a transcript in which Warren was quoted as saying, "I never have been [anti-gay], never will be."

The pastor, who had been reported as an active proponent of California's anti-gay ballot initiative Proposition 8, went on to say, "During the whole Proposition 8 thing, 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."

Rather, Warren said, "I sent a note to my own members that said, I actually believe that marriage is-really should be defined, that that definition should be-say between a man and a woman.

"And then all of a sudden out of it, they made me, you know, something that I really wasn't."

Added Warren, "I wrote to all my gay friends-the leaders that I knew-and actually apologized to them."

Warren also said that gay and lesbian families in Iowa having won marriage equality was "not even on my agenda."

The pastor outlined what he was more concerned with at the moment, saying, "My agenda is two things.

"One, today is the 15th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. It's a national day of mourning, which I-as you know, I've been heavily involved in-in Rwanda and helping rebuild that nation and I'm very concerned about that.

"And the second thing is, I'm interested in what the recession is doing to the spiritual climate of our nation."

When King asked Warren, "[D]id you not encourage your flock to vote yes on Proposition 8?" the pastor replied that he had, but that was as far as his involvement in the pro-Proposition 8 movement went.

"It's not high on your road of issues?" asked King.

Responded Warren, "No, no, it's very low.

"In fact, I am working with a number of gay organizations on issues that we care about, in saving lives," continued the pastor, who has been active in international efforts to combat AIDS.

Right-wing religious leaders and pundits promptly denounced Warren's comments, questioning whether the pastor had been cowed by GLBT equality activists.

The president of The National Organization for Marriage, which kicked off a $1.5 million ad campaign this week targeting states where marriage equality has been, or may soon, be approved, wrote an op-ed for the April 9 edition of New York Post.

"Many religious people and groups will bow to, if not exactly endorse, the power of gay activists. Witness Rev. Rick Warren, who on 'Larry King Live' this week came very close to recanting his support for Proposition 8," wrote NOM president Maggie Gallagher.

Gallagher, who claimed that "Same-sex marriage asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief.... the idea that God himself made man male and female and commanded men and women to come together in a special way to image the fruitfulness of God," went on to assert that Warren's apparent flip-flop was emblematic of what American citizens are now doing "in the face of the massive campaign of intimidation and harassment designed to silence Christians and others of good will who support marriage."

Added Gallagher, "The deal they will be offered by the government and the culture dominated by same-sex marriage is: Mute your views on marriage so you may continue your other good works.

"Many good and brave people, to preserve their ability to save lives in Africa or to protect the poor in this country, will take that deal."

The National Organization for Marriage this week launched a TV ad that has already generated controversy for the vague claims it makes, to the effect that marriage rights for gay and lesbian families will lead to religious liberties being stripped from heterosexual Americans.

Actors in the ad speak of various "punishments" that have been inflicted on the faithful because of marriage equality, but the incidents they reference involved anti-discrimination laws in various states, most of which do not allow marriage equality.

The organization's executive director, Brian Brown, has vowed that the ad, in which a group of actors are shown standing beneath a storm cloud saying they are "afraid," is "just the beginning."

At the anti-gay religious Web site World Net Daily commentator Joseph Farah wrote an April 8 op-ed in which he contrasted the moral certainties of the pastors at the time of the Revolutionary War with Warren's perceived backpedaling on the issue of gay equality.

Wrote Farah, "What a difference two centuries, combined with affluence and the corporatization of the 501(c)3 church culture has made."

After quoting extensively from Warren's comments to King, Farah wrote, "What are we to make of such mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy, namby-pamby hokum?"

Added Farah, "There is nothing prophetic or biblical or courageous or principled about this kind of Christian witness."

Farah then quoted from various Biblical passages regarding homosexuality, and offered an interpretation of the words of Jesus (called "Yeshua" by Farah) in which heterosexual marriage was discussed.

Wrote Farah, "Followers of Yeshua have a choice: They can please God or please men. They can accept God's laws, which are not burdensome, and obey them, or they can reject them and try to tickle the ears of men. They can offend God or offend men.

"But followers of Jesus cannot find some happy medium where they can please God and please the world. Nobody can."

Farah called for definitive action against gay equality from religious leaders, writing, "It's time for America's pastor class to decide where they stand--with the world or with the God of the universe."

An April 8 article at anti-gay religious site OneNewsNow took aim at Warren personally.

The article recalled what it said were Warren's own words to his megachurch congregation shortly before the vote that saw California voters narrowly approve the anti-gay measure: "The election's coming just in a couple of weeks, and I hope you're praying about your vote.

"One of the propositions, of course, that I want to mention is Proposition 8, which is the proposition that had to be instituted because the courts threw out the will of the people. And a court of four guys actually voted to change a definition of marriage that has been going for 5,000 years."

The transcript continued, pinpointing Warren's support for the ballot initiative. "Now let me say this really clearly: we support Proposition 8--and if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8.

"I never support a candidate, but on moral issues I come out very clear."

The transcript continued, quoting Warren as having said, "Now here's an interesting thing. There are about two percent of Americans [who] are homosexual or gay/lesbian people.

"We should not let two percent of the population determine to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years."

The transcript further quoted Warren as saying, "This is not even just a Christian issue--it's a humanitarian and human issue that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love, and procreation."

The OneNewsNow article cited religious leaders, including a leader in the push to pass Proposition 8, Dr. Jim Garlow, who said, "Historically when institutions and individuals back away from convictional biblical truth, it is driven primarily by one single factor--and that is the respectability of other people.

"In other words, much more caring about what other people think about them than what God thinks about them."

A Saddleback Church media representative told EDGE that Pastor Warren's comments to Larry King were consistent with his comments to Saddleback congregants.

"When Dr. Warren told Larry King that he never campaigned for California's Proposition 8, he was referring to not participating in the official two-year organized advocacy effort specific to the ballot initiative in that state, based on his focus and leadership on other compassion issues," wrote media representative Jim Anderson in an email.

"Because he's a pastor, not an activist, in response to inquiries from church members, he issued an email and video message to his congregation days before the election confirming where he and Saddleback Church stood on this issue," Anderson's email continued.

The media representative also indicated that the apology issued by Pastor Warren had to do with an issue other than the anti-gay ballot initiative.

"During the King interview, Dr. Warren also referenced a letter of apology that he sent to gay leaders whom he knew personally," Anderson wrote.

"However, that mea culpa was not with respect to his statements or position on Proposition 8 nor the biblical worldview on marriage.

"Rather, he apologized for his comments in an earlier Beliefnet interview expressing his concern about expanding or redefining the definition of marriage beyond a husband-wife relationship, during which he unintentionally and regrettably gave the impression that consensual adult same sex relationships were equivalent to incest or pedophilia."

In January, Pastor Warren delivered the Invocation at President Obama's inauguration, drawing criticism from both GLBT equality advocates and the religious right.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-04-09 22:21:18

    Gilgoff provided a transcript in which Warrenw as quoted as saying Huh? Warrenw as???

  • , 2009-04-11 08:23:23

    Kilian, son, what you so enjoy denigrating as the "religious right script" is by tens of millions of people thought of as their "religion." If you think that you are going to destroy Christianity in your monomaniacal drive for holy matrimony rights, you are sadly overestimating the power of sexual orientation.

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