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.


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