Rick Warren Responds

Rick Warren Responds July 22, 2012

In a comment on my blog post about his recent tweet, Rev. Rick Warren has taken the time to leave a comment, clarifying his meaning. Here is what he wrote:

TWITTER'S limit on words allows no context for statements. A lack of contxt causes misinterpretation. So when you tweet what’s on your mind, people preassume (incorrectly) that you are talking about what’s on THEIR mind. This is a clear example. My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado.! I had received this email from a dad: “Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class “There's nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, inate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.” THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context.

I really appreciate Rev. Warren taking the time to respond. I think, to be fair, the Aurora shooting was on the entire nation's mind, and not only mine, and so, if the coincidence was unfortunate, it is surely neither surprising nor blameworthy that the rest of our hearts, minds, and/or prayers were with the tragic occurrence, the victims, and their families. If anything, it is surprising that Rev. Warren chose to post an ambiguous and easily misinterpreted sentence at a time when he was surely aware of what was on everyone else's minds.

Be that as it may, I'm not sure that the provision of the original context makes me feel much differently about the tweet. On the one hand, surely this incident is a warning about the dangers of communication in the form of sound bites. If the lack of context means that your meaning will be unclear, then should that statement be made? It is different when (as has happened recently to president Obama, and to many other public figures) words which are made in context are then quoted apart from them in an attempt to make them mean something they didn't. But presumably if a point cannot be made clearly in 140 characters then perhaps it should not be made via Twitter but by some other means.

But on the other hand, on the more substantive point, evolution and the study of biology tells us many important things about our sexual instincts as human beings, which Christians should not ignore. When it comes to having multiple sexual partners, we see this widely practiced in the Bible, and not condemned. The patriarchs and kings of Judah and Israel had multiple wives as well as concubines. And so one could easily – and just as unhelpfully – tweet that “If people are exposed to stories of Biblical heroes with multiple wives and concubines, we shouldn't be surprised if they emulate them.” Our views of sex and marriage today – even among those of us who are Christians – are not those of the Biblical authors, or the characters whose stories are told in the Bible.

We share instincts that other animals on this planet also have. As primates, our sex drives are indeed wired to get us to behave in ways that run counter to the social mores of most societies and most religions. And depending on exactly what the teacher said, they may have been right. If they talked about whether sex with multiple partners is right or wrong then they completely overstepped the bounds of biology. If they said that there is nothing unnatural about having multiple sex partners, then surely this is true. When we choose to resist sexual urges, when we commit to monogamous faithful relationships with another person, there is an element of nature, and an overlay of culture and of human values which to at least some extent has us resisting and going against what is natural.

So depending on the teacher's wording, they may have been really off base or right on target. What is natural does not tell us what is right or wrong. And clearly those of us who think that the appropriate expression of our natural desires is in a relationship with one other person, whom we should not and do not acquire as property through purchase, conquest, or force, we have adopted different cultural norms about marriage than are reflected in the Bible. As a Christian, my own marriage reflects the Christian values that my wife and I share. But there is no denying that it reflects human-made cultural constructs. Since it is a cross-cultural marriage, perhaps we are more aware of this than most.

At any rate, I don't agree that simply acknowledging that we are animals inevitably leads to behaving like animals in some sense that we otherwise would not. There are plenty of statistics indicating that young people with raging hormones who are told nothing about evolution and raised in Christian homes do things which are at odds with parental, church, Biblical, and other teachings to which they have been exposed. It seems to me that spending more time openly acknowledging what we share with some other animals would be a good thing. However much we might pray about it, the hormones raging through our bloodstream in our teenage years and beyond do not simply go away. Often times our Christian young people are left confused, feeling alienated from and at war with their own bodies, which they often then come to view negatively rather than as a gift from God. Teaching the truth, and doing so in a context that also explains why we as Christians place value on the formation of relationships of exclusive sexual fidelity to one another, would be far more helpful, in my opinion, than the current approach which many take, namely either saying nothing, or simply saying “Don't do it,” but never helping young people to understand what they are experiencing and why.

And so I would like to see more pastors choose not to simply offer tweets and sound bites which are open to being understood, rightly or wrongly, as driving a wedge between Christianity and science, but instead to offer guidance on how to live as Christians precisely as the biological organisms that science helps us to understand that we are.

Let me close this post and invite discussion, and if he should wish to, I would welcome further comment from Rev. Warren. I am delighted that he took the time to comment here and to offer clarification on the tweet that led many of us to feel surprise and disappointment.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Well done!

  • aar9n

    Right wing headline to read:
    Liberal Bible Professor encourages readers to have multiple sex partners!

    When I grew up in evangelical churches, I heard the exact same phrase used multiple times, and they were always referring to evolution. My pastor even told a story of two mothers, one a christian and one an atheist, and the atheist was complaining about how her child was doing drugs, sex, violence, etc, and the christian women just simply replied “Well, if you teach your children that you came from monkeys, what do you expect?”

  • Jeff Carter

    This is a large part of why I am utterly uninterested in Twitter. So much of communication depends upon context – that’s why it’s so easy to misinterpret an email. (or a blog comment) we don’t have the tone or inflection or eye movement or hand gestures that, in real life, contextualize the words that we speak… the problem is only compounded by the Twitter limitation to 140 characters.

    And because of that inherent, built in danger, think that It borders on irresponsible to post on twitter – unless you’re tweets are of the “I’m eating pizza with Bill” or “I just bought new shoes” variety ( and, really…, who cares about that sort of thing?).

    • I get your point about context, Jeff, and I agree with that, but I think maybe you miss the point of Twitter! One of the best things about it is links! I find far more interesting stuff to read on Twitter than Facebook or anywhere else. So I agree that Twitter is horribly limited for conversations, but it is brilliant for the sharing of links and other information. When used for that purpose, there’s nothing like it. When used to say stupid stuff like “eating pizza with Bill,” it becomes just one more Facebook or Foursquare. And really, who cares about that sort of thing? 🙂

  • Just Sayin’

    Why the heck is he replying to an email from a concerned/worried dad with a Tweet??? And one that doesn’t even address the father’s concern? Some pastoral response from this “Pastor”. Warren must really fancy himself.

    • That was one of my reactions. Another is that there was plenty of room to add some context about what he was responding to. The last is that the supposed email sounds to my ear like one of those Christian urban legends, where the liberal teacher behaves like a character in a Jack Chick religious tract.

      Basically, I don’t believe him, I don’t believe this ’email’ exists, and I don’t believe he was responding to such a question.

      And, really, it’s not like Ted Haggard dallied with meth and gay prostitutes because of evolution or because he had been taught that we’re no different from animals.

    • Donalbain

      Do you believe that he was telling the truth about this? I don’t. Not for a second.

  • tomlosangeles

    Dr. McGrath, you previously wrote:

    ” I don’t think that my own treatment of this is causing Rev. Warren to get criticism that he would not have received otherwise.”
    Yes it did, if the “evolution” charge began with you, Dr. McGrath, and I believe it did.
    “I do think it helpfully illustrates to anyone paying attention that not all Christians think his comment was appropriate.”

    That was my own point from the first. I saw Rev. Warren get dragged through the mud elsewhere on the internet on the evolution/Aurora grounds that appear to have originated with you.
    “My conclusion that he was making a reference to evolution was based on what I have heard him say about his views in the past…”
    Not appropriate, then, as it turns out he was speaking of another context [human sexuality] completely.
    ” I don’t think that my own treatment of this is causing Rev. Warren to get criticism that he would not have received otherwise.”
    I believe the “evolution” charge began with you, Dr. McGrath.
    “I do think it helpfully illustrates to anyone paying attention that not all Christians think his comment was appropriate.”
    That was my point from the first. I saw Rev. Warren get dragged through the mud elsewhere on the internet on the evolution/Aurora grounds that appear to have originated with you.
    “My conclusion that he was making a reference to evolution was based on what I have heard him say about his views in the past…”
    Not appropriate, then, as it turns out he was speaking of another context [human sexuality] completely.
    “If anything, it is surprising that Rev. Warren chose to post an ambiguous and easily misinterpreted sentence at a time when he was surely aware of what was on everyone else’s minds.”
    i think you owe Rev. warren an apology. your error [assuming he was speaking of the Aurora shootings] caused his name to be dragged through the mud.
    As for your teaching on Old Testament polygamy, I think ignoring Jesus’ and Paul’s New Testament teachings on monogamy does an injustice to both the subject and again, Rev. Warren. Unless as a Christian yourself, you’re prepared to argue that monogamy is merely a cultural phenomenon, and not a necessary component of Christianity. That would place you way out on the fringe, but at least it would be a principled objection.

    Again, I don’t think Rick Warren is getting a fair shake from you. I am glad he took the time to respond to you, and it’s clear that your blog has a high enough profile that what you write is gonna have legs.

    Especially among those who can’t wait to bash a Rick Warren. Peace, brother.

    • Rick Warren has a much higher profile than I do. He could blog or even e-mail a concerned parent directly. He could wait until some time passed after a national tragedy before tweeting something that could be construed as related to it if tweeted earlier. He could change the wording to make his point clear. He could do any number of things, but did not, and chose instead to tweet something ambiguous in the midst of many people mourning tragic loss of life. And even if that context had not been present, his words would still have sounded like what antievolutionists say all the time. And even if he had worded things more clearly, it would not necessarily have addressed the relationship between science, biology, culture, marriage and values in a constructive manner.

      I would be interested to know which passages you have in mind as teaching monogamy. None of them clearly do so, and in a context in which polygamy was a long-established practice that seemed to be legitimated in Scripture, Jesus and Paul would have needed to be clear. But I am not sure whether you are interested in taking a close look at those passages, or are only interested in shifting blame onto others for Rev. Warren’s unfortunate lack of clarity. If both, then let me say that I am a monogamist and do not advocate polygamy. But that is precisely because I understand marriage differently than people did in ancient patriarchal societies like ancient Israel. I do not view myself as husband like a farmer, purhcasing as many plots of land as possible in which to sow my seed. Christianity’s basic principle that “in Christ there is neither…male and female” took rather longer to be felt in the realm of marriage than the period in which the New Testament works were written, and hence it is somewhat but not fully applied there, as is also the case with slavery and some other topics. Sometimes it is our most cherished Christian principles that lead us to do things differently than our predecessors in the faith did, even including the Biblical authors themselves.

      • Dan Ortiz

        James, don’t sell yourself short, how do you know your profile is not as high as Rick’s? Maybe you’ll be asked into the White House for Prayer week or something.

      • tomlosangeles

        Perhaps you’re right, Dr. McGrath. I can’t find the original tweet on his Twitter page


        But neither can I find him discussing the Aurora tragedy atall.

        Since elsewhere, you say you’ll take Rev. Warren at his word, that he was not linking the teaching of evolution with the Aurora tragedy, I think you owe him at least a conditional apology, instead of…this.

        Respectfully submitted.

        Your teaching on marriage, that orthodox Christianity decrees monogamy via theology and not necessarily the Bible, is entirely valid, and I respectfully withdraw my reservations in that respect. However, I see no reason why Rev. Warren is out of line by leaning on that Christian theology when giving his own opinions on sexuality.

        • I am sorry I did not understand him as he intended. Looking at an earlier tweet of his, I think he was out of the country, and so may not have known what happened in Colorado when he tweeted.

      • Country Crock

        I would be interested in the passages defining marriage Biblically since it does seem to be more cultural than scriptural.

    • KL Onthank

      tomlosangeles said:”Yes it did, if the “evolution” charge began with you, Dr. McGrath, and I believe it did.”
      This was out there for about a day before it was posted on this blog. It showed up on Pharyngula the day before, a much more high profile blog than this, and even the original post linked to an images someone had made previously linking his comments to evolution.

      If McGrath owes Rick Warren and apology, I kinda think you owe McGrath an apology.

  • This is in response to several comments on different threads here (I plan to get rid of the nested comments as soon as I figure out how). An earlier tweet suggests that Warren was out of the country at the time of the shooting, and so he may well have been unaware of what happened in Aurora when he tweeted. Indeed, he may have had them set on autopilot somehow, much as I sometimes do with blog posts if I know I will be travelling. So it does not seem at all implausible that he had something else in mind, and I am sorry to have misunderstood him. I can only speculate as to whether I and others would have understood him the same way had the same events not been unfolding in that nation at that time. I think there are still legitimate points to be made about his tweet, but I don’t think there is any reason to reject his attempt at further clarification.

    • If he was reading his twitter feed, he knew what happened.

    • jonhanson

      If that’s the truth then why wasn’t that in his original statement? I mean, to me that would have cleared up everything.

  • I got the impression that Rev. Warren was challenging the logic of “Animals do it therefore people should do it” that the teacher was using. While the varying sexual acts of people in the Bible are hard to rationalize sometimes given Christianity’s modern position of monogamy the comment seemed focused on the logic the teacher was using to justify polyamory.

  • Plutosdad

    Anyone can use @name to respond, which would have been clear. Why didn’t he just do that? I can’t imagine how many of his tweets go misinterpreted if he’s responding but not using the response format. How does anyone even know when he’s responding to them otherwise?

    Secondly, I wholeheartedly agree that teaching kids science and understanding our bodies can only help them. I think Matthew 5:28 (about lust = adultery) is one of the most evil things Jesus ever said, because it teaches kids to be ashamed of things they cannot control. Certainly we can strive to not dwell on things, but to teach them even the merest thought is sinful, is horrible and damaging. Neuroscience is now teaching us how many of our reactions are generated in the more base parts of the brain, and signals sent back to the body, before the signals even reach the thinking parts of the brain, which pretty much proves reactions cannot be controlled (except perhaps through practice to change your “muscle memory”). Yet churches still teach what Jesus and others thought 2000 years ago: that even your thoughts could be controled.

    And if Jesus did indeed mean “dwell on for long periods of time” and not just “look/think lustfully” then he is also guilty of giving horrible, easily misinterpreted speech that generated untold misery.

    • His comment says he was responding to (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “inspired by”) an e-mail he received, and not someone else’s tweet, and so not using the “@name” makes sense in that circumstance. I am still rather surprised that he comes across as surprised that everyone’s minds were on the shooting. But as I think you’ll agree, it is best to focus on what he says he meant to refer to rather than what most of us initially thought, since there is still a lot that merits discussion with regard to that.

  • mattkelley

    That’s such a half-assed response. It’s another version of the non-apology “I’m sorry IF you were offended”

  • jonhanson

    I don’t want to argue “once a liar, always a liar” but Rick Warren has been caught before with his conservatism showing and rather than own it or apologize he simply lied about it:

    In this case, I’m honestly conflicted. His story sounds possible, but not necessarily plausible. I mean, twitter doesn’t allow context in single tweets but he could have provided context over multiple tweets. I honestly also don’t see how he didn’t make the connection between his tweet and the shooting unless he didn’t know about the shooting, and in this case I don’t understand why he didn’t simply use that excuse.

    I don’t know, I think I might be reacting harshly because this is a classic notpology, after this many years of being in the public for his writing he has to know that you can’t just write something and expect people to know what you mean, and here we have Rick getting upset that people didn’t read in the much less obvious point of his tweet that really isn’t apparent in the writing itself.

    Here I think the two options are he’s either bad at tweeting or he’s lying, but in his reply he seems to suggest that Mr. McGrath is at fault which I just don’t see. If James is to blame for his incorrect reading, how much more so is Rick to be blamed for his ambiguous writing?

  • jonhanson

    Here’s a video of Rick Warren talking about evolution. His opinion of evolution in that video seems completely in line with your original assessment of his tweet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmsaIEI2MAs

  • Barry Evans

    So, either he’s lying and he was referring to teaching/believing in evolution or it’s one of his typcially misogynistic attacks on women and their sexuality, where he’s declaring a woman having more than one sexual partner a lifetime is no better than an animal. Is that much better in terms of propriety and respect? I think not. So, regardless, he’s being insulting and offensive to someone.

  • DonaldMann

    Chris’s statement is a gross misunderstanding of neuroscience and trying to use ignorance to prove the Bible wrong. The quality of all the information in the Bible makes it above common reproach, and this situation is a case in point.
    We are in control of and accountable for our actions, whatever the source. This is a main element of our current legal system. Jesus said, “Take no thought” Matt 6:25, 31; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:22 meaning do not let certain thoughts drive your life into sin, even if the thought comes in. By the very words Jesus is telling you that there are thoughts in your mind you must manage and not do the behaviors associated with them. The Bible is your fist measuring tool of whether the thoughts are good or bad for you.
    So little children should be taught early on that not every thought in their head is a good one. I suspect that Chris does not have little children and has never had to take a hammer away from a small child who “took thought” to see how it could smash a window or sister Betty’s head. What some call “thoughtless cruelty” could also be called “taking the wrong thought.” Or I guess that James Holmes should go free. Come on Chris, get real!
    We are told the main battle of a godly life is to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Cor 10:5. That means to try every thought and see if it is of God and consistent with the main of biblical teaching. 1 John 4:1-3. One main message of the Bible is that all your thoughts, words and actions will one day be tested. God wants you to pass the test, but the words of the Bible by fire will be the judge. Yes, we are accountable then and now for our allowed thoughts, words and actions.
    Neuroscience will tell you that lust is a habit and you break it like any habit. Jesus confirms again, as does the Old Testament that wicked thoughts (iniquity) lead to sin, and if you agree in your heart, it is already a sin and your heart is corrupt. Your brain is the property of God for your use just as much as any other part of your body. Cleaning out or rending your heart is another word for biblical (not evangelical) repentance.
    Ignorance of the new birth also leads to similar deceptions. In the new birth your spirit is made just like Jesus’ and Holy Spirit now dwells in part of your heart. Thus the real, born again you only wants to do what Jesus would do the way Jesus would do it.
    If you renew your mind (soul) into the new man then, if you see a person to lust or covet or hate them, you call it not like Jesus, and therefore sin, and train yourself to pray for them and bless them and their lives, you start to think in love for them. If you try to tell yourself to not think lust, you will think lust.
    You must replace the thought, make it captive to love and bless the other person in prayer. As you do, you will start to make the lust or hate habit one of love and not sin. If you keep at it you will start to feel godly thoughts toward the one you were once lusting in selfishness.
    As a matter of fact, you could consider that person who tempts you to lust, coveting, hate or any other evil thing as some one stirring up the curse in you. For that Jesus also repeated: Matt 5:44 “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” So if their presence, or picture, video, etc. is enticing you to sin, obey this scripture for them. They may not be aware of it, but you are the one with the evil response.
    We are again commanded to let the mind of Christ be in you to control you, Phil 2:5. Again, you are to manage both your thoughts and actions to only godliness. Since we live almost 95% of the time by subconscious habit, that means if you discover you have bad habits, you are accountable to change your habits and thus reprogram or heal your subconscious mind.
    I did not now the neuroscience I know today, but that is exactly how I learned to handle lustful thoughts as I was in prayer years ago. I knew telling myself not to think lustful thoughts did not work, I needed to think different thoughts, to replace the lust thoughts. It took time, as I explain in my book, OK, God, Now What. But the first step is to recognize, as Jesus said, taking or entertaining those thoughts is the first step of sin.
    Let me get this straight. The suffering Chris is talking about is selfish young men lusting after women to use and abuse them as inanimate objects of desire and then cast them away as so much garbage. I guess the same fits for selfish young women who treat men as a loaf of bread. In either case depersonalizing people is an ultimate form of cruelty that Jesus is talking about.
    Jesus tells us to call it sin at the first thought and deal with it in what today is obviously a poorly misunderstood way. Else all that suffering Chris is talking about never would have occured. Yet to Jesus and the people of His day, they understood the Bible technology of how to renew the mind or repent from sin. Neuroscience is showing us how absolutely solid the Bible is, and not in error. And better yet, redoscovering that repentance or mind renewing technology.
    Additionally, neuroscience is showing us that ungodly thoughts of bad or evil habits produce toxic or leaky neurons that poison our bodies as we think those ungodly thoughts. So whether you want to argue or not with Jesus, your neurons are telling you it is also sin. So if you want to make yourself sick and live a shorter life, keep arguing with God and keep pumping those toxins in all those sinful thoughts.
    If you want the fastest way I know of to reprogram your mind for godliness and heal your toxic neurons, get our book, OK, GOD, Now What? and be courageous enough to do the program for 6 months.
    A Bible not devoured is like bags of seed stored away. The potential of God into the earth is there, but never a harvest is made. Jesus is the Seed. The only soil that matters is your heart.
    Keep Working the Word so God can Work!
    God Bless You and Yours in the Name of Jesus to be more Noble in Him (Acts 17:11-12)
    Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth!
    Donald C. Mann
    Speaker, teacher, navigator and author of:
    OK, God, Now What?
    Discovering Our Redemption
    Battle Prayer for Divine Healing-Field Manual 2

  • Russ Howe

    Mr. McGrath, with great respect I think you overstate what we really know about the biological foundations of mate selection in humans. Firstly, mate selection in almost all studies in humans only comes out to at most about 25% heretibility, and that is in one large studies, many others have the number near zero. From a pure Darwinian strategy point of view this is not a given either. Different animals use different strategies for reproductive success. Humans, who are not very fecund, with a very long gestation time and a ridiculously long time after birth until independence require a huge investment of resources to get our young successfully to reproductive age. Thus it is entirely possible that we evolved to life long pair bonding as a strategy for a number of reasons. However the evidence around this area is very thin, and to compare us to other primates (a group that goes from 2 pound monkeys to 300 pound gorillas) is not a helpful generalization. Mating patterns very hugely amongst primates and even amongst the much smaller group of great apes. The truth is that we know very little about early hominid mating and reproduction patterns, and for you to suggest that we are hired wired to mate in ways different from social mores is at best speculation, or more likely wishful thinking.