Bullying Rick Warren

The roles of Newsweek and its religion reporter Lisa Miller’s as reporter (conveyor of information) and pundit (advocacy) have been blurred for a while now. One minute, Miller is reporting on a story, the next, she’s offering her personal opinion on it.

This week’s target is California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who is being connected to the proposed legislation in Uganda that would, among other things if it were passed in its original version, execute homosexuals who are infected with HIV. On Thursday, Warren condemned the legislation. Miller responds in a column titled, “What Took You So Long? Rick Warren does the right thing.”

Excellent. Righteous, even. But I can’t help wondering: what took him so long?

Since when is Miller setting the standards for righteousness?

Also, it boggles my mind how Miller and others were connecting Warren to this legislation before he made his statement. NPR and Foreign Policy wrote that he was under fire by critics, but by whom? Andrew Sullivan counts as “critics”? NPR and FP seem to be taking Miller’s cue that Warren should have reacted long ago, but let’s reexamine whether Warren should be connected to this legislation. Warren has worked with a pastor on HIV/AIDS in the past who happens to now support legislation against homosexuality. I’ve been trying to think of an American equivalent: Say President Obama works with a pastor in Chicago to promote responsible fatherhood; on a separate occasion the pastor also happens to oppose same-sex civil unions; therefore, Obama opposes same-sex civil unions. No one would make that stretch, so why are reporters doing the same to Warren? Perhaps there is a reason why Warren is relevant. We know that he has been active in Africa for a while now, but my understanding is that he’s only been there to fight HIV/AIDS. Instead of following Miller’s example, perhaps reporters should dig a little bit more to find correlation or causation because I’m not seeing it.

Should reporters expect a statement from pastors like Warren on every single outrageous piece of proposed legislation in another country? That seems like media bullying to me. Lots of ridiculous ideas are proposed and never passed, right? Also, I’m guessing Lisa Miller would not have written the same column, if, for example, Warren had condemned Spain for proposing that 16-year-old girls can have an abortion without parental consent.

Let’s take a look at some of her logic, and I’ll give a few quick reactions:

But what did Warren–who believes that homosexual acts are unbiblical and yet has devoted himself to solving the problem of HIV/AIDS–think about the law?

Does she really think that it’s incompatible to oppose homosexuality and work against HIV/AIDS?

“It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”

…Moreover, it simply wasn’t true. Warren has spoken out on politics, most recently on Meet the Press over Thanksgiving weekend, when he called abortion “a holocaust.”

Miller did not read his statement. He says he doesn’t want to comment on the political process of other nations. She gives an example of him commenting on abortion, which is hotly debated within the political process in America. He didn’t attack a specific piece of legislation in another country.

The generous interpretation here is that Warren is working within the mainstream evangelical tradition. Following the model of Billy Graham, Warren has long proclaimed himself “a pastor, not a politician.”

Memo to Miller: Graham does not necessarily represent “mainstream evangelical tradition.” That’s a fairly sweeping generalization for a pretty fragmented movement. Also, reporters’ comparison of Billy Graham and Rick Warren always make me a little uncomfortable because while Graham was a global evangelist, Warren is a local church pastor. Also, Graham may have condemned proposed laws in other countries, but Miller doesn’t provide any specific examples besides slavery more broadly. Did Graham ever condemn another nation’s law that allowed slavery?

The problem for Warren is this: his positions on homosexuality are controversial. Articulating them too clearly might alienate his allies who disagree with him, as I do.

Uh oh. To alienate Lisa Miller is like alienating…the world? I think the problem for Warren was articulated in his earlier statement: he does not want to dictate policy for other nations. For example, there’s this reoccurring debate among Christians over whether missionaries should speak against a country’s culture or whether they should work within it. What if the roles were reversed? How would Americans respond if an African pastor spoke against same-sex marriage legislation? Did Miller stop to think that maybe a statement from him or other American pastors would push the legislation closer to being passed? It’s not always well received when Americans (in some people’s eyes, the epitome of unchristian values) try to dictate international law. I’d be curious, for example, what she would write if Uganda were an Islamic country.

Also, what if Warren was trying to change the legislation quietly behind the scenes? A tweet from Warren suggests he had been working to kill the bill. “DThanks Bob! It seem our quiet effort helped kill part of the Uganda b so it was worth being misjudged, but our job isnt done yet.” This seems pretty relevant if this is indeed the case.

Here’s how Miller concludes:

Warren arrived on the world stage through his authenticity. So to him I make this plea: Your Uganda statement was a good, brave start. Continue to say what’s on your heart, and earn back the trust of your opponents.

Does she really think that Warren’s goal is to “earn back the trust of your opponents”? What if what’s on his heart is something she happens to disagree with, like on homosexuality? Perhaps Lisa Miller should do the right thing and stick to reporting.

Print Friendly

  • Peter

    If you think that Andrew Sullivan is the only Warren critic relating to Uganda, you need to expand your reading list or bookmarks. Since before Thankgsiving, there has been a constant drumbeat of critiicms from the right–like Warren Throckmorton–the middle–Jeffrey Goldberg–and the left–pretty much the entire progressive blogosphere and press.

    So Lisa Miller–and NPR’s and FP’s–point that there is widespread criticism is based in fact.

    In terms of whether it’s bullying, this is really a subjective view. One perspective is that Warren can spend millions of dollars, fund churches and ministries, and work on AIDS/HIV issues in Uganda without being accountable for the people he funds and supports. Others think that he has moral obligation to oppose the death penalty for gays in a country where he has poured millions of dollars into HIV/AIDS work and where the death penalty bill is advocated by the same people he pays to advocate for his causes.

  • Martha

    Oh, it always amuses me when the same folks who are adamant that religion should stay out of politics then demand that religious leaders speak out about Issue X, Y or Z.

    The most recent example I saw was a long discussion (and not by secularists) about the Manhattan Declaration and how civil society can’t be dictated to by holders of religious beliefs; also I’m sure everyone has seen something about the Catholic bishops shouldn’t be sticking their oar in about the health plan since that’s none of their business.

    Yet the same site that thought religious leaders shouldn’t be moulding public policy then had someone wondering why the Catholic bishops of Uganda hadn’t (to date) released any statement about the proposed bill.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  • Martha

    “(W)here the death penalty bill is advocated by the same people he pays to advocate for his causes.”

    Peter, do you have any evidence that Rick Warren has given money (as political donations, chicken dinners or whatever) to the member of Parliament, David Bahati? Or any other members of the Ugandan parliament?

    As distinct from hospitals, churches, health clinics and the like?

    Because it sounds as if you’re saying that he’s paying politicans to push his version of Biblical Christianity in Uganda, and if I’m mistaken in my interpretation of what that sentence meant, please correct me.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    A basic question: Is there evidence that any American group has supported the legislation?

    Also, in the past, this kind of legislation has often been the result of compromise, a mid-point between a pro-Western view and an even worse alternative. Does anyone know if — horrific as it is, drawing the opposition of just about everything — there was even worse legislation considered.

    What is the current status of the Uganda legislation?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BTW, folks, let’s avoid URLs to advocacy groups and media on left and, well, I was going to say right, but is anyone on the right in favor of the Uganda bill? Even the Savages of radio land?

  • Brian

    It says a lot about modern Christianity in America that you are more concerned about the pressure applied to a pastor who has a large following and is influential in a country that is about to pass a bill legalizing the genocide of homosexuals to speak publicly against the coming genocide, than you are about the genocide itself.

  • Jerry

    The roles of Newsweek and its religion reporter Lisa Miller’s as reporter (conveyor of information) and pundit (advocacy) have been blurred for a while now.

    Of course this goes far beyond her and includes blurred lines, bias, agitprop and yellow journalism from all political persuasions from the left to Fox and the WSJ on the right.

  • Peter

    Warren has a long relationship with Archbishop Henry Orombi and Pastor Martin Ssempa. While he has distanced himself from Ssempa, he once was invited to Saddleback and worked with groups that received Warren, and U.S. government, money. Warren’s main emphasis in Africa has been in Uganda, which was once considered a model of HIV/AIDS prevention.

    As for your question, TMatt, if the death penalty against homosexuality is a compromise, what would the worse alternative be?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    It’s only “political” if “liberals” disagree with it.

    When a new state constitution was on the ballot in New York, the Queens Federation of Churches sent its director to my church (then) to tell us to vote “No”, and the only objection I heard, then or ever, was my own.

  • Dan Crawford

    Sometimes, and it pains me to write this, a reporter like Miller is just a jerk.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com Nancy Reyes

    Wonder why they are blaming “Evangelicals” for the rape law, since Uganda is 43% Catholic, 35% Anglican, and 12 % Muslim…

    And I wonder why a Newsweek Reporter didn’t bother to check African opinion on what was behind the law?

    YesMulungiBlog has a good discussion of what is going on from an African point of view. The law is not due to Warren as much as an overreaction to a local rape case by a pastor; other pastors can’t get him arrested, since he is famous and even wined and dined by the US Evangelical community.

    Of course, similar sexual demands on women and boys occur by businessmen, teachers, and employees, and rarely punished. In traditional Africa, the powerless smile and adjust, because they have no choice…This leads to simmering anger by the powerless, which tends to come out as overreaction when the anger is released.

    The law is overreaction, but the hysteria is not due to Warren.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I noted one major difference in the responses in the media– left and right– to things they objected to or disagreed with when religious leaders and people speak out.
    For example, when the right was obviously upset at some religious leaders opposing the war in Iraq, the right for the most part shut up and never–that I saw–questioned the right of religious leaders to strongly oppose them. On the other hand, when religious leaders don’t agree with the leftist party line and have the temerity to speak out–all sorts of insult and invective usually follows, including a constant questioning of the rights of religious people–especially religious leaders–to dare to exercise their rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

  • Peter

    The law is overreaction, but the hysteria is not due to Warren.

    No one is saying it’s Warren’s fault. Instead, what Miller was suggesting was that there is no U.S. Evangelical who has more influence in Uganda than Warren. So his complete silence, a silence matched by U.S. Anglican conservatives who have aligned themselves with the Anglican church in Uganda, should be saying something when a major human rights crisis is at hand.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    Miller is echoing Rachel Maddow, who has been maneuvering to claim that she and her program “made” Warren take this step, while also stating that he did so “too late.” In fact, Warren quickly disavowed Ssempa when that pastor got behind the anti-gay law, and took an intermediate step of saying that he didn’t get involved in other nations’ internal affairs, which i can well imagine he didn’t and doesn’t want to set himself up as doing. I don’t have access to a specific timeline, but my sense is that for a pastor who is much more focused on a SoCal congregation than a global organization, he moved from disavowal to distance to an explicit condemnation with remarkable alacrity.

    As Sarah’s post set out to say, who are these people to define narrowly what constitutes Warren’s, or anyone else’s acceptable response time? And then to make further assertions (as Maddow does) about what failing to keep up with these “created” timetables means?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Please keep comments focused on journalism. Thank you.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Just to clarify, I am interested in how Lisa Miller responds to Rick Warren’s statement and whether reporters should connect him to this legislation, not whether he did the right thing or not.

  • Hank

    I don’t Warren being bullied here as much as the American Press, the ‘Fifth Estate’, doing it job and getting out the facts.

    No one can disagree that the Uganda legislation is just crazy. So if Rick Warren in fact has been a big supporter, financial and spiritual, of the Ugandan Right Wing Christian Conservatives who initiated this legislation, he should be called out.

    Quit trying to suppress the media for bringing out a story like this. That all Christians should be ashamed of this kind of mischief. The fruits of misguided missionary work of the likes of Rick Warren and the C-Street theocrats are this absurd legislation.

    Americans need to know this stuff. While you might disagree with attempts to smear, its worse to hide the sinister.

  • Chris Bolinger

    The name Lisa Miller in a byline is like those time-honored words uttered by a police officer at the scene of an accident, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”

  • blestou

    Hank, Americans should know facts, not the ramblings of Hank and Lisa’s fevered minds. “Smear” is always illegitimate for a journalist.

  • Susan

    Such haste to ignore this story highlights its importance. Its big news when Rick Warren has had to come out to condemn this legislation in country he highlighted just last year in his tour of this “purpose driven nation.” This law is a severe civil rights calamity spurred on by an Ugandan evangelicals.

    Folks dong missionary work there like Warren in having to condemn the law are forced to recognize sexual preference is very much a civil rights issue and demonstrably can be used as a tool of hate.

    If this was just an accident, then someone should look into the nasty intersection where it happened. The facts are that some American evangelical organizations have been aggressively trying to be influential in Uganda, particularly politically.

    Maybe this law was just an aberration, certainly a idea that should be killed before it sees the light of day, but it begs this question whose feeding these notions to the Ugandans.

  • antropovni

    For further reading, consult Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion.

  • Ugandan

    What an American-centered view of the situation! It sound like, without the anti-gay Americans’ visit & conferences, We Ugandans never would have come up with this anti-gay sentiment on our own. Like we’re a bunch of idiots with no original thoughts; blank slates just waiting to be indoctrinated by the white man. What a completely condescending view of Africans! The truth is, many Africans, all over the continent – without the proselytizing of the American evangelicals, have such views. Why not analyze this fact? Why do you always make it about YOU, America?? Get over yourselves!