Before belatedly getting into the other aspects of the hubbub over the Rev. Rick Warren and his invitation, by then President-elect Barack Obama, to provide the invocation at the inauguration, I want to mention this: Andy Warhol was a devout Catholic who attended Mass nearly every day.
I point this out because whatever else Rick Warren may be — an evangelical leader, a political figure, a best-selling author — he is, first and foremost, a pastor. He is pastor of Saddleback Church, the largest congregation in California, where more than 23,000 people attend worship each week.
That astonishing attendance figure suggests that Warren is probably a pretty good pastor, but it also suggests something else: Rick Warren's congregation at Saddleback Church almost certainly includes dozens, probably even hundreds, of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered believers.
I'm not just talking about deeply closeted folks who have internalized everything they may have been taught about the inherent wickedness of homosexuals and who stagger through their lives in the heartbreaking existence of full-on Ted-Haggard mode. I'm sadly sure there are plenty of those folks at Saddleback too. But I'm talking about evangelical Christian believers who also happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Or, if you prefer, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons who also happen to be evangelical Christian believers. The two categories do overlap.Saddleback Church is organized as a community of communities. Its thousands of members aren't just isolated individuals drifting in the sea of its huge congregation, they also belong to small groups within the larger church. That's where the mutual support of real fellowship happens for these believers. And that's where, I would guess, the not officially sanctioned sexuality of many of Saddleback's members is a shared secret. It's in those dozens of small cell groups that the GLBT members of Saddleback are fully known, fully loved and fully welcomed, just as Andy Warhol was fully known, fully loved and fully welcomed at St. Vincent's.
I wonder if Rick Warren realizes this. Or, if he does, if he's ready to understand what it means for him as a pastor — as their pastor.
I doubt he is, yet. But I think he may be more ready now that he was four months ago, before he was placed in a national spotlight by Barack Obama's invitation to pray in Washington. That's one reason I think that whole brouhaha — both his invitation and the resulting protest, taken together — may turn out to have been, on balance, a Good Thing, both for Pastor Warren and for his 23,000 parishioners and perhaps for the rest of us too.