Rick Warren on Gay Marriage

I saw on Twitter last night a clip of Rick Warren being interviewed by Chelsea Clinton on Rock Center with Brian Williams. The topic was gay marriage. After watching the clip I had a few thoughts:

Early in the interview Warren noted, “[People] all don’t have to agree with someone to love them…if I don’t agree with you that means I hate you or am ‘phobic of you, etc.”  

I couldn’t agree with that statement more. As I’ve said a million times, the biggest misnomer in contemporary society is that we have to agree in order to love well. However, the biggest variable in that statement is what Warren, or myself, or anyone else defines “love” to be? My version of love? Incarnational relationship where there is no separation between living your faith in daily life while simultaneously living in the tension of relationship with a variety of my LGBT brothers and sisters in the neighborhood – holding me accountable for the authenticity of what we have together.

Before I go further, let me set the record on a few things: I know Rick Warren and his wife Kay, not well, but I have had a few interactions with them over the years in a variety of settings – from their local Saddleback church community to DC intersections regarding government work to being very good friends with two former pastors at Saddleback.

Now, the problem I have with what I perceive as Warren’s version of “love” is that he has no accountability in regular interactions with LGBT people. I have said to both he and Kay that it is problematic that they insist on flying thousands of miles to Africa to give tens of millions of dollars to help with HIV/AIDS, and yet for the most part ignore their own local HIV/AIDS community in Southern California. I have worked closely over the years with the lesbian who runs an HIV/AIDS clinic just down the street from Saddleback, and to this day she cannot get even a meeting with Rick or Kay. I am not suggesting that the Warren’s move to Long Beach or West Hollywood like I have to Boystown, but no one will ever take their word “love” seriously without them removing themselves from the walls of their church and start investing into their local HIV/AIDS community, like they do in Africa, for a topic I genuinely believe they care deeply about. What I question though, do they care deeply about HIV/AIDS with only Africans who will not talk back to them and take their assistance no-questions-asked? Or do they care deeply about HIV/AIDS period–specifically with their local HIV/AIDS community that has much distrust towards them and will definitely talk back…

Next, Warren noted that “Jesus loves us but doesn’t approve of everything I do.” Following that logic, this should mean if a LGBT person, whom Jesus loves, decides to enter into a committed monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex, and then decides to solidify that relationship through a commitment ceremony, regardless if Warren approves of it or not (or where he believes Jesus’ approval falls), that LGBT couple is still loved by Jesus. Then, just as Warren, who is loved by Jesus, continues to “sin” with Jesus still loving him while he is cognizant of his sin acts, how then can Warren dictate to another people group what they shouldn’t do, even if he believes LGBT relationships are sin, because according to his logic (and conservative theology) Jesus loves LGBTs even if they are cognizant of their sin–just as Warren is of his. So, within the construct of theological sin and free will, what then separates Warren and his daily interactions from LGBTs? Nothing. The question then becomes, what then gives Warren the dictation power over a theological construct no different than his own ongoing experiences?

Third, the last segment of the interview was Warren talking a lot about the word marriage. At one point he said, “civil unions might be a term [LGBTs] could use [that Christians could agree to].” I fully understand the conservative argument for defending the term marriage: “Marriage is a biblical term, and thus, should not be separated and redefined from its biblical roots.”

Ok, now contextualize that to contemporary society and the conservative argument about the term “marriage” vs. “civil union” is ultimately a linguistic semantic whose outcome provides the same result, regardless of what it’s called: 14th amendment protection and equal legal protection, among others.

I totally believe in the freedom for social, theological and political conservatives to have strong convictions that marriage is only between one man and one woman (and visa-versa for liberals). That is the freedom we have in this fine country of ours; and I genuinely mean that. But what I don’t think fruitful from the conservative perspective is the linguistic argument. On a scale from 1-10 on the cultural effectiveness of said argument, I would have it hover around a 1 or 2. No one other than conservative Christians believe that linguistic argument is legitimate.

But unfortunately our society seems to only function in a system that loves to present their arguments only to others who already have a high level of buy-in to their specific worldview. Hence, Rick Warren going on national TV and having his talking points geared only towards other conservative Christians. How does he think what he said went over with LGBTs? And why does that matter?

Because the gospel is about reconciliation. It is impossible to be a reconciliatory agent when one does not concern themselves with the other worldviews inhabiting the same space. This doesn’t mean one must have a weak conviction. It does mean that there needs to be a dualistic filter in everything that is communicated (e.g. How what I say will simultaneously be received by People Group A and People Group B, who are both hearing it for the first time at the same time in a recorded public forum).

Responding to questions geared toward only those who already have a high level of buy-in does nothing to build bridges or help the reconciliation process, which ultimately, is the full extent of “to love another does not mean we have to agree.”

A much better argument I believe conservatives should be investing in regarding gay marriage, is that regardless if gay marriage is federally legalized, they should start vocalizing their intent to preemptively protect their right to practice their interpretation of their Holy Text as they see fit–making specific in the courts that when gay marriage does happen across the country, conservative churches, synagogues and mosques have specific legal protection to marry whom they choose according to their Holy Text–all of which is clearly messaged in the courts. Looks like Newt Gingrich is now saying something I recently said in this post. Huh.

Do you think Warren’s linguistic argument is applicable?

And what would you see as a legitimate plan for conservatives moving forward? (and for those LGBTs or liberals who read my blog, “conservatives should drop what they believe and fight for LGBT interests” does not count as a legitimate answer).

Much love.


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  • This is brilliantly said! I strongly believe you cannot state a well thought argument without genuinely interacting with others. Stay awesome.

  • If you hold to the homosexual sexual act as prohibited, the traditional view, as I hold to, you do well to accept gays unconditionally as friends, but you are written off, because you see such activity as sin. No matter what, you’re written off. Because to hold that view means you would not receive them into fellowship unless they repented. Of course you couldn’t marry them, or ordain them.

    Best I can see is simply befriending them, and accepting them where they are.

    I accept that there are gay Christians. That would seem to go against the traditional stance. But Jesus receives us where we are. So I wonder how that plays out, given the scriptural passages that figure into the issue. And given all the rest of scripture.

    So my point again is that just to hold the traditional view is a turn off. It is evident, Andrew, that you don’t hold the traditional view, although I guess it’s your goal just to get those on both sides to be in some sort of fellowship together, which I too am for. As soon as anyone draws lines, is where the problem seems to come. But lines drawn should not include befriending and knowing each other.

  • should not exclude befriending and knowing, and strike the line, it’s evident you don’t hold to the traditional view, because that seems beside the point of what you’re about.

  • Jere Witherspoon

    Ah….the voice of reason! Read this with my husband this morning. Your point about our call to reconciliation is foundational in how we approach everyone on every issue life has before us. Thank you for that reminder.

  • Thanks for this – it’s a helpful and incisive critique that gets a whole lot very, very right. For me, as I wrote in a post on what it might mean for conservative Christians to *actually* love the LGBTQ community, the words of pastors like Rick Warren will not carry any weight until they are backed up by activism and solidarity with the LGBTQ community against stigma, shame, and abuse. Since when was love merely a verbal declaration? It’s incredible that we’ve gone on for so long thinking we were being loving and “biblical” while, in reality, totally missing the point and perpetuating pain and division. Here’s the post: http://gaysubtlety.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/what-is-love/

    I don’t think you quite explained Warren’s understanding of sin and grace the way he would, though. It’s not merely about cognizance, but repentance. That’s the difference he (and most conservatives) really struggle with.

    I had a great visit to your office last month; you guys do awesome work and I’m so thankful for your presence and ministry. Keep it up!


    • Andrew Marin

      Jordan – Great point on the sin/grace/repentance as the key difference! And next time you’re around, I hope I am to… would love to meet you in person!

  • Andrew’s statements are the best I’ve heard regarding this debate. The big issue for me with Warren’s statement is that he is somehow claiming that the term “marriage” belongs to the “Christian’s” and therefore LGBT people don’t get to use it. Meanwhile, non Christian heterosexuals enter into federally recognized, MARRIAGES, not Civil Unions everyday. Why is it ok for them to use the word “marriage” which according to Warren, belongs to the “Christian” church, but it’s not ok for the LGBT community to use it? Is it because the LGBT community’s sin in Warren’s view is somehow worse than the heterosexual non christian living in an “open” marriage where they are potentially having multiple sexual partners throughout their “Marriage”? This logic quite simply does not work and certainly does not open the door to sitting down to dinner with tax collectors, prostitutes, etc, saying “you who have NOT sinned cast the first stone,” as Jesus did. Rather, it keeps Rick Warren and his followers separated from the “heathens” of secular culture, holding themselves as somehow in higher esteem with God, just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did. And if you know the story at all, you know that in the end it was the Pharisees who crucified Jesus, not those defined as the “worst sinners” of His day.

    • Andrew Marin

      Jennifer – That is a great example of the government nature of marriage, and how the battle over the word doesn’t make much sense.

  • KJ

    “…do they care deeply about HIV/AIDS with only Africans who will not talk back to them and take their assistance no-questions-asked?”

    Ouch. Unfair. And tips your hand. In fact, I think the entire paragraph questioning their love for the LGBT community, simply because they approach the HIV/AIDS issue differently than you hope they would, is out of place and hurts some of the more logical points of your argument.

    Here’s what I’m wondering, same sex marriage issue aside: It seems like you and the Warrens simply have differing objectives/callings/missions. You are dedicated to building bridges between the christian community and the LGBT community…..which obviously mandates you have high quality relationships with both. The Warrens, it seems, are dedicated to trying to eliminate HIV/Aids….which obviously mandates that they care deeply about Africa.

    Instead of using your public forum to discredit them, why not celebrate their role in the wonderfully diverse Kingdom and body of Christ!
    The Marin Foundation is building bridges and bringing restoration….GOOD!
    The Warrens are giving millions to help educate and eliminate HIV/Aids….GOOD!

    And along the way both parties get asked about gay marriage, if homosexuality is a sin, etc. And both parties try to answer in an honest way that won’t piss people off.

    • Amy Biemeck

      Love this. Couldn’t agree more. Let’s try to love and celebrate each other MORE, and disagree and nit-pick LESS. The Warren’s are some of the least threatening people to the HIV/AIDS or LGBT community that I know.

    • Henry

      Amen, well said.

  • Amy Biemeck

    Andrew, just one thing that you may have overlooked: Rick and Kay now have a very vibrant, amazing ministry called the HIV/AIDS Initiative in Southern CA. Your comment that they “for the most part ignore their own local HIV/AIDS community in Southern California” is misinformed and it made me sad, because the work they are doing now with their local HIV/AIDS community is groundbreaking and is building bridges that have been missing between the church and the HIV/AIDS community. Every church in America should take a cue from their initiative. They have made huge strides that should be applauded. Please take a look at their website, http://www.hivaidsinitiative.com. Thanks for your work!!

    • Andrew Marin

      Amy – Thanks for that link! I did not have any previous knowledge of this initiative. I’m so glad to see that! I still communicate with the lesbian running the HIV/AIDS clinic down the street from Saddleback, and unfortunately, her experience, and to her knowledge, their work still does not focus on HIV/AIDS work with LGBTs in So Cal. There is always a story behind the story, and I understand that. I also understand I am not privy to every conversation that happens. My assessment though, does come from more than one entity I trust in So Cal. I am looking forward to following this initiative though!

  • andrew, your work & words have impacted my life in many ways. being an artist who has always had to defend her GLBT friends all her life, I’ve had a billion unresolved discussions with conservative & liberal Christians for decades.

    I’m also a leader at saddleback & a director of an art group & mission org.

    I completely agree with you about the need for all believers to BE their words & to love those around them and so many other points you’ve made, I’d like to suggest some thoughts about the saddleback ministry & pastor Rick’s point of view. having worked closely with our PEACE plan, the global initiative for aid & enrichment, under which our HIV/AIDS efforts work, I can address the question of the HIV/AIDS work in Africa & in the US. since we go where people call us and where there is a need, & we’ve been asked to go to certain places in Africa with great need, much if our efforts have been there. if you look at it from the point of view of someone seeking people to help, with some other people wanting help, couldn’t it be entirely possible that our current situation occurred pretty easily?

    our PEACE efforts, a well as all other ministries are lead and done by our members, as any work of God within the Body should be. and just as you mentioned about the “sin of Rick Warren” there’s sin in all of us (my definition of “sin” here being more related to immaturity & need for growth). saddleback is still a growing Body, as all churches are. the only way to help people grow, of which I’m SURE you’re an expert, is to validate, nurture, reveal truth, & aid in steps. pointing out fault has never worked, has it?

    I’ve long since urged our leaders to address the GLBT community & help us engage as a church, with them. it’s happening slowly & I’m sure pastor Rick’s personal understandings have some to do with it. however I’m thankful to be a part of the change & have been hoping that people like you and I would HELP the matter, rather than attack & bash (which I don’t think you’re fully doing).

    one thing I know for sure, is that pastor rick makes no pretense about his shortcomings as a sinner. just as much as you’re being faithful to the right & charge to teach & encourage, he is doing his best in his. I have never thought that his words came from a view that believes he’s got it all figured out so now he’s imparting to us his wisdom. I think he’s a child of God who feels lead by God to do things & to share what little he’s learned.

    you’re one of the few leaders in this generation from whom I learn, andrew. I hope to make progress happen through cooperation in the church, rather than competition. I hope you do as well.

    p.s. I wrote you a dire message a few days ago because of a problem that one of my gay friends was having, to which I have very few practical responses. God bless, brother!

    • Andrew Marin

      Tayen – I will check the DM’s now. Thanks for reaching out and commenting! I fully understand that much work in the church happens slowly, and I never expect Rick and Kay to change their theology. I don’t think that’s the point. The point, in my assessment, is more about cultural engagement – which they do GREAT in Africa! I just wish there was more of a direct focus on their part to their local LGBT So Cal community. As I directly told them in person, they wouldn’t have so many “problems” or “issues” with LGBT activists domestically if they earned credibility in their community locally to the point where local LGBTs stand up and vouch for their work. I’ve seen it happen, and it can be a reality. And it looks like you might be playing a big role in that Tayen! I’m here for you if you ever need anything. Much love.

  • “A much better argument I believe conservatives should be investing in regarding gay marriage, is that regardless if gay marriage is federally legalized, they should start vocalizing their intent to preemptively protect their right to practice their interpretation of their Holy Text as they see fit–making specific in the courts that when gay marriage does happen across the country, conservative churches, synagogues and mosques have specific legal protection to marry whom they choose according to their Holy Text–all of which is clearly messaged in the courts”

    Andrew: Churches (conservative and progressive both), synagogues, and mosques already have the legal right and ability to decide whomever they want — gay or straight. As an example, the Roman Catholic Church clearly exercises that right when it refuses to do wedding ceremonies for non-Catholics or divorced Catholics. There was a case earlier this year in Mississippi where a Baptist church refused to marry a black couple because it might upset the congregation. There was community backlash, but the church had the right to make that decision.

    Here in Iowa when the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the Varnum V. Brien case that struck down our DOMA law and allowed gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, they very specifically reminded folks that churches maintain their ability to officiate at any wedding and to refuse to officiate at any wedding that they choose.

    So maybe religious leaders need to be reminded that they already have the right to marry anyone and to refuse to serve anyone that they choose — gay or straight.

    (And frankly, how many gay or lesbian couples are pushing to have someone marry them who fundamentally opposes their relationship?)

    • Andrew Marin

      Jon – That is very true! But in regards to the Church, just because they can already legally choose who to marry doesn’t mean that legality won’t be challenged in the future if/when gay marriage is Federally sanctioned. Better to get out ahead and make specific court rulings in a very narrow sense. Just my thought…

      • It’s been over a decade here in the USA since marriage and civil unions have been occurring in different states. Fortunately, there haven’t been any test cases of churches who’ve refused to marry gay couples for such a court ruling to be issued.

        • Andrew Marin

          Fortunately, indeed. I hope it stays like that.

  • andrew, I very much agree with your response. I’m all about engaging the local community. I think pastor Rick, personally, is doing what he can, but our body needs to step up & address issues in which we see need & for which we have burden. you can bet that there are those of us who feel this way about GLBT community at saddleback & God will make the change. thank you for your service! let’s fight the enemy together— the enemy of dissention, deceit, & apathy. thanks for looking into my message, brother!

    • Andrew Marin

      Amen to those enemies Tayen!

  • Hey Andrew,

    You know my biggest problem with Warren’s response was when he implied that a pastor who changes his interpretation of scripture (or scripture’s role in state instituted marriage) somehow no longer believes in the Bible. “what do you expect a Christian pastor to say, he no longer believes in the Bible?” That struck a nerve with me. Following that he reiterated his point that his view on traditional marriage is from the fact that HE holds the Bible as the supreme authority in his life, while other people (equal marriage supporters) view themselves as the ultimate authority. Can we not disagree on these things without assuming that one or the other is rejecting the word? Our interpretations of scripture as revealed in our relationship with Christ deserves more respect than he gave them.

    I also thought it kind of crass that he accused Clinton of coming from an agenda. It is literally the issue of the day in the US and he’s somehow surprised that as a national figure from the conservative corner of Christian faith, that he shouldn’t be asked about that?

    This post was a breath of fresh air Andrew. I’m proud to support you guys.

    • Andrew Marin

      Love you RR!

  • annie

    The difference between Rick Warren saying he sins everyday and an LGBT sinning is that they are LIVING KNOWINGLY in sin. Rick, on the other hand, as clearly a man of God is trying to rid himself of any sins and asks for forgivness. Now I could be wrong here, but I’m fairly certain a LGBT does not wake up every morning asking for the Lord to forgive them for being gay/bisexual/trans. Living in sin means seperation from God. I sin, but I am not living in sin then lying to myself saying ehhh… it’s not actually sin…