Which is all to say, I don't have a need to come to Rick Warren's defense. That which threatens him does not necessarily threaten me. And still less does he need me to come to his defense!
Pastor Warren has been in the spotlight over the past few days since the President-elect invited him to deliver the invocation and next month's inaugural ceremonies. Portions of Mr Obama's liberal base were disenchanted with that announcement, the problem being an apparent disconnect between Pastor Warren's views on certain social issues, which are decidedly conservative, and the President-elect's views, which are ... not so conservative.
Now, I don't really have a dog in this hunt. I was not among the jubilant on election night. But, by virtue of being an Episcopalian, I do have a stake in what some of the leading voices in my church are saying about this tempest. Pastor Warren was a visible supporter of Proposition 8 in his home state of California, and this has not set well with the guardians of gay rights orthodoxy in TEC. Some of the participants on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv (HoBD) have suggested substantial similarity between Pastor Warren's views on homosexuality and those of Fred Phelps. (Click on the link and see for yourself, but I cannot bring myself to reproduce any of his truly vile and hateful screed.) They are incensed that he has used the term "holocaust" in connection with the number of abortions that take place in this country. They have labeled Warren's views extremist and resisted suggestions that he simply represents the mainstream of contemporary American evangelicalism.
To all this I have to say . . . poppycock. Let's take the "abortion holocaust" issue first. Critics treat it like it's a comparison Rick Warren invented from whole cloth and is the only one using it. Has the Roman Catholic Church suddenly become invisible? As long ago as the ealy 1980s, John Powell, a popular Jesuit with a sort of cult following beyond church circles, published a book with the title Abortion: A Silent Holocaust, and the comparison has been part of Roman Catholic polemic on abortion ever since. My point is not to defend the language--although I think a cogent case can be made for its appositeness--but to point out that it's standard rhetorical fare. It can only be branded as extremist if one is willing to also so consign several tens of millions (at least) Americans. Rick Warren has lots of company on this.
But the bulk of the anti-Warren invective, including that emanating from Episcopalians, concerns his views on the place of same-sex relationships in American society. On the basis of this interview, his critics accuse him of trying to draw a moral equivalnce between committed same-sex relationships and relationships such as incest and pedophilia. This is tabloid jounalism of the worst sort. In fact, one could quite plausibly accuse him of not being hard enough on incest and pedophilia, since all he says is that they should not be labeled as "marriage"! If I were to denounce the suggestion that the definition of "lung" can be stretched to include "part of the digestive tract," does that make me an opponent of "equal rights for lungs"? I hope not! All I would be saying is that lungs should be allowed to be lungs and stomachs should be allowed to be stomachs, without confusing the two.
So, yes, the man has conservative views. But we're clearly not talking about some redneck bigot parroting unreflective prejudices. He supports gay rights on the concrete issues that actually affect lives (e.g. hospital visitation, inheritance). He opposes stretching the definition of marriage in ways it would never have occurred to anyone to stretch it before quite recently. In his opposition, he is neither mean-spirited nor unreasonable, and is not not only part of mainstream evangelicalism but enjoys the company of 52% of the California electorate, across sectarian lines.
It seems worth adding that, while Rick Warren's views diverge from those that are apparently regnant at this time in the history of the Episcopal Church, they are solidly in the mainstream of global Anglicanism, both historical and contemporary.