Monday, December 21, 2009

Time Magazine's take on Rick Warren

Last week, well-known Evangelical pastor Rick Warren denounced the new anti-gay law put into place in Uganda. He told pastors in Uganda pastors that the bill was "unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals."

Now, if you were to write an article about this for a major media outlet, say Time magazine, how would you frame it? Perhaps applaud him for taking a strong moral stance? Chuckle, chuckle... there's no story in that. Instead, the Time Magazine article focused on criticizing Warren for not having done so soon enough. The article claims, without attribution, "that Warren was castigated for not denouncing the proposed law" when it was first put into place.

Now, I realize that Warren plays a prominent role in American Evangelicalism, but criticize him for not immediately commenting on other countries' domestic policy seems a bit far-fetched. Has he become the State Department? If he in fact started becoming heavily involved in other countries' law-making process, then there would probably be a story about him being too involved.

Remind me not to become a famous Evangelical pastor--too much bad press.


Nick said...

The reason why the criticism is justified is due to what Warren said nearly twenty days ago when he was told about the Uganda homosexuality law on Meet the Press.

“The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”

Really Rick Warren? It is above your pay grade to comment on a law that executes people. His half-assed cover up later on doesn't change the fact that he couldn't muster up the courage to denounce it earlier. It doesn't take half a month to denounce a bill that will kill gay people. What strong moral stance could you be talking about?

Brad Wright said...

Well, let's see.. there are about 200 countries in the world, and figure each passes how many laws a year? Say 1,000? (Probably a lot more). That's 200,000 laws a year. Is Rick Warren responsible for not commenting on all unjust laws? Are other religious/ atheist commentators held to this same standard?

Injustice comes in a lot of shapes and forms, and there is a lot of it in laws.

I think that Rick Warren is right, that it's not his job to use his position as a pastor in SoCal to address the laws of foreign governments, and I applaud his courage in doing so.

Your comment about "above pay grade" is worth thinking about, because when Obama used it, he declined to weigh in on an issue. Warren didn't decline.

Warren's delay in commenting could be charitably understood as taking time to access whether he wants to enter this type of country-specific, law-specific engagement rather than a lack of courage or feeling ambiguous about the law itself.

Nick said...

Of course Warren cant comment on all laws because he isn't aware of all the laws but in this case he was painfully aware of the Uganda law.

And please, lets not be too soft on this issue. If it were a law in Uganda that subsidized and promoted free abortions for everyone, Warren would be all over it claiming how injust said law would be, commenting on how that foreign government is wrong. See pay grade comment by Obama.

His non comment on the issue smacks of cowardice in an attempt to save some face among conservative circles.

"I think that Rick Warren is right, that it's not his job to use his position as a pastor in SoCal to address the laws of foreign governments, and I applaud his courage in doing so."

It Rick Warren job as a Christian to address morals issue of humanity, whether it be foreign or domestic governments/cultures.

Brad Wright said...

Nick, you write that "If it were a law in Uganda that subsidized and promoted free abortions for everyone, Warren would be all over it claiming how injust said law would be, commenting on how that foreign government is wrong."

This gets to the heart of the matter... if Rick Warren routinely comments on specific governments laws and policies, then he certainly should comment on Uganda's homosexual-discrimination law.

If he doesn't however, then he has to think about entering into this realm of discussion.

Since numerous nations have laws & policies very supportive of abortion, by your logic, we would have expected Warren to comment on them. Are you aware of such country-specific critiques by him?

I don't follow him closely enough to know the answer myself, but your comments suggests a familiarity with his previous statements.

Nick said...

The situation is slightly different. Again of course Warren is not being presented with every pro-choice bill on the books but if in a television or news interview he was prompted to share his views on XYZ bill which was pro-choice its obvious he was speak his mind, reiterate his commitment to his pro-life viewpoint. The criticism would be unjustified if Warren had not heard about this bill or had not heard of it up front. However, when prompted to give a comment about a bill that kills gay people for being gay, all he can say is I have no comment.

Brad Wright said...

I guess that highlights our different take on the situation. You say that he would "be all over" countries with pro-abortion laws, but I don't think that's the case (but I might be wrong).

Since he's certainly aware of countries with pro-abortion laws, do you know that he's made critical comments about those countries?

Nick said...

I guess you might be missing what I am saying.

There already are laws which execute homosexuals in many other countries (Iran and Saudi Arabia for instance) and also countries with strong pro-choice laws. I am not saying that Warren is at fault for not commenting on these laws in general. I am faulting him for not commenting when prompted by a reporter. Its all to obvious that he speaks his mind about abortion all the time, once even comparing abortion to the Holocaust and pro-choice people as holocaust deniers.

Lets set up a hypothetical situation.

If by chance I found myself in one of your religious sociology
classes and you asked me a question about a government which just instituted or is considering a law which executes Christians for practicing Christianity. If i responded with "It is not my call to comment about the laws of another government", how would you respond?

I can tell you right now that that supposed hypothetical answer is both cowardly and disgusting.

Another question you could ask, Is it morally reprehensible as a Christian to not speak your mind or to shrug away from commenting about a law from another nation which runs counter to the moral norms/laws of your religion? How can you claim that God's laws are universal but then turn around and claim almost cultural relativism?

Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting exchange of ideas. It leads me to think about two issues.

1. What other laws and policies ought Christians speak up about, beyond just homosexuality and abortion? Wouldn't it be amazing if we were the ones taking the lead criticizing abusive banking practices that have disproportionately hurt the poor, or demanding a more just and well-functioning immigration system and set of rules? These issues are more explicitly related to the "red-letters" of the New Testament.

2. Second, if Warren "blinked" at first, failing to criticize a law that he later realized he should criticize, but he then got it right, I'm willing to forgive that and not just see it as a new position based on public opinion. I can't tell you the number of times that as a Christian in the classroom or just around town I've refrained from saying what I should, and then later thought better of it. So, even if he's worthy of being criticized for failing to answer firmly when asked, I'm willing to cut him some slack if he is willing to publicly correct himself. In this case, changing his mind in public is more honorable than sticking to a weak position in the interest of appearing consistent.

Mark in Oregon

Brad Wright said...

Mark, I think that you're on the mark :-) on both counts. In addition to which laws Christians should be responding to, it would be worth thinking about which countries' laws we should respond to.

As for Warren's comments, that's what I find remarkable, that he's criticized not for what he said, but for being a few weeks late, at least in the minds of some.

There's certainly enough wrong things being said, or right things not being said, by others to keep us busy, I would imagine.

Corey said...

Having not seen the Meet the Press segment referenced by Nick, nor having invested time to read the Time piece cited by Brad... I will still intrepidly stick my nose into the fray (cuz, that's just how I roll).

I don't think you can fault Rick Warren for initially being cautious in answering the reporter's question. It looks like it may have been one of those "gotcha" questions that journalists like to use to trap interviewees and make them look: (a) stupid and/or vapid [see Palin, Sarah w/Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric]; or (b) hypocritical [see any clip from the daily show].

I think Warren was caught by surprise last year when the LGBT (apologies for not knowing the current appropriate acronym) let the Obama transition team know how unhappy they were that Warren was going to do the prayer... As I recall, he tried to reach out to the community without much success.

Assuming that my assumptions are relatively close to reality, I see no reason not to cut Warren slack. [& I write this as someone who thinks that Warren is kind of an obnoxious self-promoting windbag.. but that's a trait he shares with most of the megachurch leaders]. Until I see evidence to the contrary, I'm willing to believe that this is a guy who is trying to stay true to his convictions in a political arena that makes doing so almost impossible.

Also, I like Mark, would welcome more Christians to speak up on matters of principle that fall outside of the institutionalized "christian issues".

Brad Wright said...

Good points, Corey.

I'm probably more cautious about Christian leaders wading into controversial social issues... I think that we're still recovering from that having been done in the 1980s and 90s by Falwell et al.