Monday, December 22, 2008

Much Ado About Rick Warren

I have no personal investment in Rick Warren. I only skimmed A Purpose-Driven Life, so I could talk about it semi-intelligently when it was all the rage, but, while I found its contents quite sound and commendable and well-stated, they did not strike me as either original or remarkably profound. And while I cannot help but admire his accomplishments as a pastor and leader, he and I are in some very different places theologically (it's not a liberal-conservative thing, more of a catholic-evangelical thing). 

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. 


Anonymous said...

Just for reference, is being gluttonous better or worse than being gay? Being an obvious glutton, I have a stake in the question.

I propose a proposition to constitutionally outlaw desserts for Rick Warren and I. If we're going to base our laws on the cockeyed views of a fundamentalist minority, why shouldn't they be my cockeyed views?

This Prop 8 thing grinds me. I don't see the benefit of the government sanctioning any marriages. The primary Baby-Boomer-Era byproduct of the government's involvement in marriage was an explosion in divorce. How could gay people do any more damage to marriage as an institution than straight people already have?

Marriage should be exclusively a religious institution. If some folks (straight or gay) need a contract for how to divide jointly-held property in the event of a separation, let them find their arrangements in the courts.

Anonymous said...

I find President elect Obama's inclusion of Rick Warren appropriate and hopeful. While I am not a particular fan of Warren, it opens a dialogue between conservative evangelicals and the rest of the world. There is much middle ground which has been ignored for the last eight years. One can oppose abortion, but not wish it to be illegal. Likewise one may not particularly fond of the concept of gay marriage, but do wish gays to have the same rights married couples have. The question becomes one of finding the via media. I find Rick Warren's path hopeful, in that he has not consistently used language which is deliberately offensive to those who hold opposing views.

Undergroundpewster said...

Comparing Bishop Robinson's quote about Pastor Warren,

"And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

to your,

"...he and I are in some very different places theologically..."

You win.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

It is also worth noting that in that same interview, Warren said that divorce is hands down far more of a threat to the institution of marriage than same-sex marriage. He also notes that we are often far more interested in highlighting someone else's sins than in dealing with our own!

plsdeacon said...


Gluttony is as serious a sin as homoerotic sex. Being gay is not, by itself, any more sinful than being human.

Sex between two men or between two women is sinful.

The difference is that gluttons are not trying to get the church or society to bless their sin or to sanction it.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

Au contraire, Phil. The Church loudly blesses gluttony (yours and mine) and greed and exploitation of the poor and heterosexual promiscuity every time it promotes its anti-homosexual agenda. By selecting one (debatably sinful) sin to divide the church on, all other behavior is implicitly blessed.

The anti-gay agenda is easy for church leaders to exploit because it piggy-backs on the deep anti-gay biases held in our broader society. Gay people are a politically expedient and socially acceptable target, just as black people were 50 years ago.

No mainstream religious leader preaches about "miscegenation" anymore because the majority of church-goers no longer openly espouse or publicly embrace racist views. Similarly, once your generation is out of the way (and the clock is ticking, friend), we'll be able to move past your biases, embrace all of God's children with open arms and build a better church.

Anonymous said...

Wow -- talk about irrational to the point of incoherence: "The Church loudly blesses gluttony (yours and mine) and greed and exploitation of the poor and heterosexual promiscuity every time it promotes its anti-homosexual agenda."

The Church "blesses gluttony" every time it points out that same-gender sexual relationships are in violation of clear scriptural instructions, which in Jerry's rhetoric is "anti-homosexual"?

Uh -- okay. With "logic" like this, no need to debate.

And with "logic" like that, then let's go ahead and stipulate that when TEC progressive activists want to offer same sex blessings that's not "promoting" anything, oh no.

And when NASA launches space shuttles they're not "promoting" space travel either.

But when the New York tourism board "loudly blesses" tours of the Statue of Liberty it is clearly promoting "its anti-Wall Street agenda."

[roll eyes]


Anonymous said...

Apparently you feel it is appropriate to be rude and loudly ignorant on Christmas Day. I am going to pass on the opportunity to reply in kind* and instead I will work to make you a better human being.

Suffice it to say that we live in a world of scarce resources and scarcer time. Every second and penny squandered debating the intimate acts of the private citizens of the first world is time and money that could be used feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in the third world.

Here's a potential new year's resolution for you, Sarah: resolve to shed your ingrained biases, shelve your disgust and make a real difference in the lives of some actual human beings.

Merry Christmas!

* Except for this: Don't bring a rhetorical knife to a rhetorical gunfight. Tack on about 35 IQ points before the next time you come out to dance with me. Your limited intellectual capacity and social awareness will no longer be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

RE: "rude and loudly ignorant . . . "make you a better human being" . . . "ingrained biases" . . . "disgust" . . . . . . "I am going to pass on the opportunity to reply in kind . . ."

I assume that you mean you are going to pass on the opportunity of responding with a rational counterpoint to my point? But . . . that's kind of obvious, huh? ; > )

RE: [non sequitur about The World's Poverty inserted as red herring in order to avoid originally poorly reasoned "argument" about gluttony ignored]

RE: "Tack on about 35 IQ points before the next time you come out to dance with me."

Feeling a little insecure there, Jerry? But why? And . . . where's the response? So far, all you've done is attempt to offer a couple of insults, albeit weakly.

But hey -- if it's the best you can do, that's okay.

RE: " Your limited intellectual capacity and social awareness will no longer be tolerated."

Oooh . . . I'm positively shivering in fear.

But . . . when does it start? Give me some advance warning, okay? So I can steel myself. ; > )

And many happy returns of the day to you, Jerry -- may you have a touch more fun than you seem to have had.


Jerry said...

For a follower of Christ, how can the poverty of the world ever be a non sequitur?

It deeply saddens me that so many folks in our church are so consumed with other folks' sex lives that they are blind to any of the real, actual problems that exist in the world.

New movements of loving action are growing that will fill the void left behind when your self-centered destructive generation is done spreading fear and dividing people. The Dobsons of the world are approaching a dead end.

Anonymous said...

RE: "For a follower of Christ, how can the poverty of the world ever be a non sequitur?"

Only when the man who introduced the "the Church loudly blesses gluttony" when it-points-out-that same-gender sexual-relationships-are-in-violation of-clear-scriptural-instructions argument realizes the rational incoherence of that assertion and has to insert the poverty-in-the-world assertion into the conversation as a distraction. ; > )

RE: "New movements of loving action are growing that will fill the void left behind when your self-centered destructive generation is done spreading fear and dividing people."

Hmmm. I could die young, I suppose -- that's always possible. But my generation -- Gen-X -- will most likely be around for a long time.

RE: "The Dobsons of the world are approaching a dead end."

Yes, thankfully the Rick Warrens are taking the Dobsons' place. I'm sure that Rick will be an acceptable New Voice for you.


Jerry said...

Your "violation of-clear-scriptural-instructions" is a bold leap into interpretation that I will not allow to go unchallenged. The modern, stable, consensual, gay relationship was not an existent entity in biblical times. Those guys in Leviticus weren't "the hairdresser and choir director who live down the street and like to have consensual sex with each other and want to get married." The closest modern equivalent to happened at Soddom and Gommorah is prison rape. Those fellas were rapists who chose not discriminate between property (women) and men, and therefore were acting in an unacceptable manner in their culture. Even if God was specifically talking about our modern gay neighbors, friends and relatives (who wouldn't even really exist in society for nearly 2000 years), why didn't He give us a heads-up about Hitler or the Hydrogen Bomb or electricity or cell phones? Was "watch out for gays" the most important prediction He could work into the new testament? That strikes me as unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Father Dan,
Nice piece on Rick Warren. What makes me a bit nervous about him is penchant for politics. Hosting a political debate is more political than pastoral even though it was the best of the debates. Warren and Obama each lost and gained some political capital in the inaugural match up.

p.s. Jerry, don't ever underestimate your blog opponent!

Dcn Dale

Anonymous said...

RE: " The modern, stable, consensual, gay relationship was not an existent entity in biblical times."

Of course it was. As with today, people who engaged in same-gender sexual relationships were sometimes non-consensual, sometimes consensual, depending on the relationship. Both Plato and Plutarch speak of the consensual same-gender sexual relationships and such a relationship was perfectly well-known in Greek and Roman times. Further, of course, scripture speaks against same-gender sexual relationships between females, so unless you are going to claim that same-gender sexual relationships among females was solely characterized by "exploitative and non-consensual" sex, you're on doubly weak ground.

RE: "Even if God was specifically talking about our modern gay neighbors . . . why didn't He give us a heads-up about Hitler or the Hydrogen Bomb or electricity or cell phones? Was "watch out for gays" the most important prediction He could work into the new testament?"

As He wasn't talking about "our modern gay neighbors" -- and as such people existed in spades in those days, He had no need to "make predictions" about "modern" [sic] gay people at all. He merely needed to do precisely what He did do which was to point out that sex between same genders was unnatural and wrong.

Why not skip to the ultimate end-point of your "arguments," Jerry, rather than travel through all the "stop-gaps" that you are doing in full view here on this blog: the church doesn't treat the sins equally as they should, the church does so bless gluttony!, we should care more about the poor anyway, and scripture wasn't speaking about consensual same-gender sexual relationships.

The end "argument" is Walter Winks's and that of so many other "scholars" of integrity: "okay, Scripture clearly is opposed to all same-gender sexual relationships and I simply don't care because you know -- the Bible is passe." It would be far less tedious.


Jerry said...

Sarah -- I think you really should take stock of your life. How much of your time and effort have you dedicated to regulating the sex lives of consenting adults?

At some point, doesn't this obsession say more about you than them? I don't know the totality of your life, but from what I've perused online over the past few days, it might be time to get a new hobby.

You're fighting a losing battle against a tide of tolerance and love. Even George Wallace changed his tune late in his life. Stop now, find a way to make a positive contribution to humanity and save the precious years you have left.

Dale -- After a bit of research, I think I may have been overestimating my opponent. I was taking the average Episcopalian IQ (around 110), then subtracting 10 points for general bigotry and a 3 points for living in South Carolina, leaving Sarah with 97 or so points to play with. My last valid IQ test resulted in a score of 138 ( So, for the record, I was being generous (as is my nature).

Anonymous said...


You're still making an assumption about Sara's level of intellectual functioning and I might add about her personal life. Since you claim to have a 138 IQ then you should also know that scoring high on a measure of intellectual functioning is not a predictor of social fit and adaptability, nor are high scores a measure of wisdom and in your case in particular, humility.
Dcn Dale

Undergroundpewster said...

Cease and desist!

This thread has been highjacked by a fraud. Anyone who subtracts 3 points from an IQ score just because of place of residence ain't been learned right. Subtract 15 points from Jerry's IQ.

Jerry said...

From my direct experience, IQ is strongly negatively correlated with fitting in socially.

Humility and wisdom? You've got me there, too. On the upside, most of my assumptions turn out to be right.

My standard IQ estimation adjustment for "the old south" is 5 points. I gave 2 points back to South Carolina for having a decent coastline.

plsdeacon said...


You would be a bit better received if you kept to the topic or to one of the branches of the topic.

Ad hominen attacks (such as attacks on the intelligence of your opponent) are signs of either weak argumentats in favor of your position or weak debating skill. I'll let you decide which one fits you.

Phil Snyder

Jerry said...

What you call an "Ad hominem attack", I will call "afflicting the comfortable". Do I sometimes take pleasure from poking a bully in the eye? Guilty as charged, but it doesn't reduce the societal value of bully poking.

Since I don't get the chance to interact with a pack vicious homophobes very often, can you help me with one other question? Why do so many vocal, angry "upstanding Christian" opponents of homosexuality turn out to be gay?

Ted Haggard and Sen. Larry Craig stick out as the prototypes, but it seems to be a recurring theme in your movement. Any theories why?

Oops... Am I afflicting the comfortable again?

Anonymous said...

Heh -- you've lost at every turn, so far, Jerry. And it's a pleasure to watch the flailing.

And now you're back to the insecurity which, judging by your rhetorical or debating skills, is understandable.

RE: "You're still making an assumption about Sara's level of intellectual functioning and I might add about her personal life."

You know, Dcn Dale . . . he's not even making an assumption; I'll give you a hint -- he doesn't even believe what he's saying. He's just desperate at this point -- and he's got to say something, and it's certainly not going to be anything, er, substantive or rational. So all he can do is just lash out with some weak attempts that merely evoke a chuckle.

RE: "What you call an "Ad hominem attack", I will call "afflicting the comfortable".

So the question is . . . when do I get afflicted yet?
I'm all eager expectation . . . but so far, I'm feeling so . . . comfortable!

First, though, Jerry's going to have to somehow figure out a way to properly insult me. And in order to do that . . . he'll have to be someone whose opinion I actually am concerned about.

So far, it's been a bit like Stalin calling someone a fascist . . . or Nurse Ratchett calling someone a power-hungry sadist . . . only, you know, without any of the power. ; > )


Jerry said...

I had been told by a number of folks that Father Dan is relatively moderate, but never really believed it until I met some of his "friends" from the blog world. This has been interesting exposition of the lunatic fringe of conservative episcopal thought. Obviously, Dan is not the worst case scenario.

Honestly, I don't understand you folks and probably never will. I guess all that's left is for me is to continue to pray for you - that your hearts and minds might be opened by the love of Christ.

Anonymous said...

I am indeed honored to be associated with Phil Snyder, Sarah, and the underground pewster. Father Dan may not claim us as "friends" but I believe he would claim us as brothers and sisters in Christ. As for your prayers, I personally covet them.

YBIC Dcn Dale

Anonymous said...

Dcn Dale, earlier you spoke about a lack of humility in Jerry. But I'd like to challenge that a bit.

Typically a person who is proud tries to be covert about his pride. There's very little open trumpeting of whatever it is he wants people to notice or that he is proud of. Often, the prideful are actually secret in their pride and at least, when they are willing for their assets to be noticed, at least subtle in their advertisement.

So I think I would postulate that in the case of someone exhibiting the traits of Jerry, you'd find a severely wounded ego, around which he is gathering the fragments of a cloak, which in this case appears to be one central thing that he believes to be particularly wonderful that he can display to the world. That's often the case with people who are insecure -- they might bloviate a lot but it is often a shield to ward off the blows of the world, or a cloak to hide behind.

In this sense, it is little different from an insecure jock showing off his muscles, or an insecure rich person attempting to let everyone know about his wealth, or an insecure classic name-dropper. Generally, the secure intelligent person, or rich person, or beautiful person, or athletically gifted person, or well-connected person recognizes that none of those things will particularly lead to success or popularity or happiness or good character.

But the moment someone flaunts something like that, they're compensating quite a lot. At that point, you've beyond the sin of pride into something else that I would not particularly call "sinful" so much as wounded.