The Aftermath of Rick Warren’s Hypocrisy

This guest post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association. He usually blogs at Rant & Reason.

You almost feel sorry for Rick Warren. As Hemant among others has pointed out, he was recently caught making statements that could charitably be called misleading and uncharitably called bald-faced lies. He claimed to have never endorsed Proposition 8 but everyone found a video that showed him doing just that. As far as I can understand, his excuse is that his video telling people to vote for Proposition 8 wasn’t an endorsement. (No, it doesn’t make sense to me either.) Now he’s making excuses not to go on ABC’s This Week, citing exhaustion.

But things must be particularly bad when one of Rick Warren’s supporters starts calling him out on his bad excuses. Warren blamed Beliefnet founder Steven Waldman for phrasing a question poorly, saying, “I was asked a question that made it sound like I equated gay marriage with pedophilia or incest, which I absolutely do not believe.” Waldman responded in a post sarcastically entitled “Why Rick Warren’s Controversial Words on Gay Marriage Are Entirely My Fault”:

Judge for yourself. Here’s the full exchange:

“WARREN: The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that [some partnership rights] as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

BELIEFNET: Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

[WARREN:] Oh , I do. For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews — historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

Had he wanted to clarify that he didn’t equate gay marriage with those other relationships he might have slightly altered the wording from “oh, I do” to something like, I dunno, “oh, I don’t.” That might have been clearer.

This whole controversy could have been easily avoided if he’d taken a modicum of responsibility and said, “I’m sorry. I did accidentally imply that homosexuality and these other relationships were morally equivalent. That’s not what I believe, and I apologize for implying that.” Instead, he’s blamed other people for distorting his words.

Now, Steven Waldman is not my favorite person in the world (he doesn’t even crack the top 10), but I admire how he handled the situation. After criticizing Warren for failing to take responsibility, he ends his post saying “Having not learned my lesson, I want to close with another defense of Rick Warren. Despite his lack of self awareness on gay marraige [sic] (and the pain he’s caused gays), I still think that he deserves to [sic] great credit for his extraordinary work in fighting poverty and disease in Africa. This man is saving thousands of lives and we should keep looking at the full Rick Warren.”

Indeed. Let’s give credit where credit is due and blame where blame is due. Rick Warren has flaws, and those deserve condemnation. His excuses are wearing thin and his views on homosexuality are harmful. But he is also doing good works, and let’s not forget those.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • matt

    Some of the good works deserve scrutiny though, if Hitchens’ Vanity Fair articles have a shred of truth to them.
    Especially anything to do with Africa and AIDS.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Good works are not good works if you’re doing them for a bad reason. Then they’re just works, or even bad works, depending. For good works to be truly good, the motivations must be good too.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com Sabio

    Although good can come from bad emotions/intent or even from bad ideas, I agree with PrimeNumbers — we should always strive for and admire the combo of good ideas and good motivation. In the Dalai Lama’s book “Destructive Emotions”, he points out that in Tibetan Buddhism there is not a sharp distinction between thought and emotion — they are always considered intertwined. [ooops, sorry, mentioned a religion -- well, even they get it right often]

  • Cindy

    I also take exception with Warren’s line about 5000 years of marriage. I heard a snippet on the radio of him saying more fully that it has been only between one man and one woman and in every major culture and religion for 5000 years. Which is totally wrong. They still practice polygamy in Islam today, let alone in Judaism 3000 years ago. And there are cultures where women had multiple husbands. And I won’t even discuss how little love had to do with marriage until recently.
    In other words, cultures have defined marriage DIFFERENTLY for thousands of years…and marriage has changed as civilizations have changed. So, it’s changing again….deal with it.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Good comment Cindy. It’s only recently, and with no help from Christianity, that women are no longer considered property.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Sadly, religion is all too often bigotry wrapped in purple cloth.

  • phoenixphire24

    I completely agree with Cindy. Many cultures practiced (some still do) all of the things he listed. Lots of people, royalty especially, intermarried with cousins or brother and sisters to keep the family line “pure,” young women were married off to much older men, and polygamy has been documented in lots of cultures and, you know, IN THE BIBLE!!!!

  • http://frodology.blogspot.com/ FrodoSaves

    ‘This whole controversy could have been easily avoided if he’d taken a modicum of responsibility and said, “I’m sorry. I did accidentally imply that homosexuality and these other relationships were morally equivalent. That’s not what I believe, and I apologize for implying that.”’

    Or if he’d said “I did actually endorse Proposition 8 because I think gay marriage is wrong, and now I’m admitting it to universal scorn and outrage, but look at the size of my balls.”

  • http://aurorawalkingvacation.blogspot.com Paul

    Bravo, Cindy. Let’s continue to point out Warren’s lies whenever and wherever he makes them. The fish is wriggling, let’s not let him off the hook.

  • weaves

    Oh , I do. For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews — historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

    …Except…not.

    Many marriages are one man/many women. Some cultures also approve of “homosexual marriages”/third genders…and don’t forget man/wife/slave or man/slave/slave and many other marriages! Marriage, historically, has only recently become one man/one woman. Even the bible approved of multiple partners!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    …Except…not.
    Many marriages are one man/many women.

    When a muslim male has multiple wives, is this considered one marriage with multiple wives, or is it considered multiple marriages, each between one man and one woman?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews — historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

    Oops, he left out the Hindus.
    Boy marries dog to ward off tiger attacks

  • SarahH

    Any combination of two or more consensual adults should be able to marry, period. If there’s a close family relationship (brother and sister, for example), I don’t think that disallowing marriage is going to stop them from having children if they’re dead set on it, so that has to be handled differently if the government wants to make that sort of thing illegal. Anyway, “consensual” and “adults” are the key words, and any church that wants to apply a more narrow description is free to do so; but our governments shouldn’t.

    Warren and people like him just try to play on public stigmas and disgust in order to further his agenda. Equating pedophilia/child abuse with any of the other types of relationships he listed is just sick.

  • http://www.shaesplace.com/blog Shae

    “marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion”

    Yeah, often as…

    “one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage”

    Does he even listen to himself?

  • GullWatcher

    What good works? People might want to look a little further before congratulating him for that. From what I have read, pretty much the opposite. Warren and his associates have been encouraging the spread of AIDS while pretending to fight it (‘abstinence only’ works as poorly for AIDS prevention as it does for contraception), publishing the names of homosexuals in the newspapers and lobbying to make being gay a crime and imprison people for it.

    I don’t call that good works.

  • http://alifewithoutbelief.blogspot.com/ Roe

    Why on earth should we ignore his flaws? We don’t ignore the flaws in anyone just because they do a nice thing here and there.

    In the public eye, for the most part, people are defined by their flaws. Bill Clinton was a good president but you know what comes to mind when someone says his name, that’s right his flaws, not the good he did or the laws he passed, but his inability to keep his fly zipped.

    This is also true from a moral standpoint, we don’t allow a child molester to escape prison just because he/she donates to a lot of good charities, or does some other good stuff to negate all their evil actions.

    (I saved the more colorful language for my blog post.)

  • http://www.CoreyMondello.com Corey Mondello

    I was disgusted at Steven Waldman when I read about his standing up for Warren.

    Just showed be BeliefNet is not for me, infact, I posted on he article that I threw his book in the trash…I was planning on reading it because he seemed to have a lot of information about the founders relatioship with religion.

    I havent looked at any follow-up he has to his defense of Rick Warren, but I lost all interest in him and BeliefNet.

  • http://www.myspace.com/youreundoingmybeltwronghun Tim D.

    Rick Warren is an unadulterated Douche Bag, with a capital “D” and “B.” That’s all I have to say.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog
  • http://www,McFaddenArts.com Elizabeth McFadden

    “For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews — historically, marriage is a man and a woman.”

    I have to agree with Cindy, Hoverfrog, and others. Warren is simply wrong.

    Some quick research produced this information regarding just one of his subjects: polygamy. WARNING: long post. But it’s interesting reading.

    In about 80 percent of the world’s societies, some form of plural marriage, called polygamy, is also allowed. The most common form of polygamy is polygyny, in which a man is married to two or more women.

    Some global examples of polygamy:

    Polygyny is permitted in Judaism. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah (960 C.E to 1030 C.E) issued an edict against it. The Jewish Sephardic communities living in Muslim countries continued the practice till as late as 1950, until an Act of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel extended the ban on marrying more than one wife. The State of Israel has made polygamy illegal, but in practice the law is not enforced, primarily so as not to interfere with Bedouin culture, where polygamy is common. Provisions were instituted to allow for existing polygamous families emigrating from countries where the practice was legal.

    In Islam, polygamy is allowed for men, with the specific limitation that they can only have up to four wives at any one time. In the modern Islamic world, polygamy is mainly found in traditionalist Arab cultures — Saudi Arabia, and parts of West and East Africa (In Sudan it is encouraged from the president as female population is high)[44]. Among the 22 member states of the Arab League, Tunisia alone explicitly prohibits polygamy.

    In Christianity, polygamy has been uncommon, but not unheard-of. On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years’ War, every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them.

    In Sub-Saharan Africa, there has often been a tension between the Christian churches’ insistence on monogamy and traditional polygamy. In some instances in recent times there have been moves for accommodation; in others churches have resisted such moves strongly. African Independent Churches have sometimes referred to those parts of the Old Testament which describe polygamy in defending the practice.

    Early leaders of the LDS (Mormon) church practiced and in some cases encouraged polgyny, which they called “plural marriage.” The practice caused controvery, and was officially denounced by the mainstream LDS church in 1890, though splinter groups are known to continue the practice.

    Polygamy existed all over Africa as an aspect of culture or/and religion. Plural marriages have been more common than not in the history of Africa. Many African societies saw children as a form of wealth thus the more children a family had the more powerful it was. Thus polygamy was part of empire building. It was only during the colonial era that plural marriage was perceived as taboo. It is very common in West Africa (Muslim and traditionalist).

    In South Africa, traditionalists commonly practice polygamy. The leader of the ANC, Jacob Zuma is also openly in favor of plural marriages, being married to numerous wives himself. The wives live in small houses in a circle around the master compound.

    In India, it was legal for Hindu men to have multiple wives until the 1954 Hindu Marriage Act.

    Polyandrous marriages (women with multiple husbands) have been recently documented in Tibet, Bhutan, and Ladahk.

    In Mongolia, there has been discussion about legalizing polygamy to reduce the imbalance of the male and female population.

    In Thailand, until polygamy was outlawed by King Rama VI in the early 20th century, it was expected that wealthy or upper-class Thai men were historically recognized to maintain mansions consisting of multiple wives and their children in the same residence. Among the royalty and courtiers in the past, wives were classified as principal, secondary, and slave. Today, the tradition of minor wives still remains, but the practice is different from that of the past. Due to the expense involved, minor wives are mostly limited to the wealthy men.

  • Erp

    I should point out that the Nürnberg polygamy law of 1650 seems likely to be legend not fact.

  • DeafAtheist

    He’s exhausted from trying to keep his lies straight.

  • Robin

    There are lots of ways to create families world-wide. Recently contacted tribes sometimes give us interesting ones. Like people ho believe that each child has two to three fathers. (They get them the way that you would imagine.) Or tribes where it’s not terribly important who your father is, because brothers raise their sisters’ children. It makes you realize that, in the mists of history, marriage probably had many forms, or didn’t exist in any recognizable way.

  • http://www,McFaddenArts.com Elizabeth McFadden

    After Erp’s comment above, I went back to my sources … the veracity of the Nurnberg law does indeed seem questionable; my apologies. I pulled the info quickly from the New World Encyclopedia site, and didn’t look for a corroborating source. Wikipedia lists the same info, but in the footnotes it’s clear that the accuracy is suspect.

  • llewelly

    “WARREN: The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that [some partnership rights] as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage.

    Now wait a minute here. Bishop James Ussher showed Earth was created in 4004 B.C. What was marriage like in the first 1013 years? I’m particularly interested in the kind of marriage Cain and his wife had.

  • llewelly

    Fixing up my comment:

    “WARREN: The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that [some partnership rights] as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage.

    Now wait a minute here. Bishop James Ussher showed Earth was created in 4004 B.C. What was marriage like in the first 1013 years? I’m particularly interested in the kind of marriage Cain and his wife had.


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