Steven Waldman Interviews Rick Warren

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose of Christmas," spoke with Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman at the offices of our partner, The Wall Street Journal.

BY: Steven Waldman

 

Continued from page 6

Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family – divorce or gay marriage?

[laughs] That’s a no brainer. Divorce. There’s no doubt about it.

Here’s an interesting thing. The divorce statistics are quite bandied around. People say half the marriages end in divorce. That’s just not true. 40% of first time marriages end in divorce. About 61% of second time marriages end in divorce and 75% of third time marriages end in divorce. So the odds get worse and what’s balancing this out…when you hear 50% end in divorce, that’s just not true. The majority of marriages do last….

So why do we hear so much more – especially from religious conservatives – about gay marriage than about divorce?

Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? Why do we hear more about anything else than about wasting time or gossip? We want to point that my sins are perfectly acceptable. Your sins are hideous and evil.

One controversial moment for you in the last election was your support for proposition 8 in California. … Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?

I don’t know if I’d use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don’t believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.

[Clarification from Pastor Warren 12/15:  I now see you asked about civil UNIONS -and I responded by talking about civil RIGHTS. Sorry. They are two different issues. No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs. Period. But a civil union is not a civil right. Nowhere in the constitution can you find the “right” to claim that any loving relationship identical to marriage. It’s just not there. ]

What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?

You know, not a problem with me.

[Clarification from Pastor Warren 12/15: I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. If I am willing to pay for it, I should be able to put a friend, partner, relative, or stranger on my coverage. No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital. But visiting rights are a non-issue in California! Since 1999, California has had a domestic partnership law that grants gay couples visiting rights and all the other rights. Prop 8 had no –zero -effect on those rights.]

The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

Oh , I do. For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews – historically, marriage is a man and a woman. And the reason I supported Proposition 8, is really a free speech issue. Because first the court overrode the will of the people, but second there were all kinds of threats that if that did not pass then any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn’t think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships, and that would be hate speech. We should have freedom of speech, ok? And you should be able to have freedom of speech to make your position and I should be able to have freedom of speech to make my position, and can’t we do this in a civil way.

Most people know I have many gay friends. I’ve eaten dinner in gay homes. No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church. Kay and I have given millions of dollars out of Purpose Driven Life helping people who got AIDS through gay relationships. So they can’t accuse me of homophobia. I just don’t believe in the redefinition of marriage.

[Clarification/addition from Pastor Warren 12:15: 

BOTTOM LINE:

1. God, who always acts out of love and does what is best for us, thought up sex. Sex was God’s idea, not ours. Like fire, and many other things God gave us, sex can be used for good, or abused in ways that harm. The Designer of sex has clearly and repeatedly said that he created sex exclusively for husbands and wives in marriage. Whenever God’s parameters are violated, it causes broken hearts, broken families, emotional hurt and shame, painful memories, and many other destructive consequences. There would be so STDs in our world if we all played by the rules.

2. God gives me the free choice to follow his commands or willfully disobey them so I must allow others to have that same free choice. Loving, trusting, and obeying God cannot be forced. In America, people already have the civil right to live as they wish.

3. If anyone, whether unfaithful spouses, or unmarried couples, or homosexuals or anyone else think they are smarter than God and chooses to disobey God’s sexual instructions, it is not the US government’s role to take away their choice. But neither is it the government’s role to classify just any “loving” relationship as a marriage. A committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is not a marriage. Two lovers living together is a not a marriage. Incest is not marriage. A domestic partnership or even a civil union is still not marriage.

4. Much of this debate is not really about civil rights, but a desire for approval. The fact that 70% of blacks supported Prop 8 shows they don’t believe it is a civil rights issue. Gays in California already have their rights. What they desire is approval and validation from those who disagree with them, and they are willing to force it by law if necessary. Any disapproval is quickly labeled “hate speech. Imagine if we held that standard in every other disagreement Americans have? There would be no free speech. That’s why, on the traditional marriage side, many saw Prop 8 as a free speech issue: Don’t force me to validate a lifestyle I disagree with. It is not the same as marriage.” And many saw the Teacher’s Union contribution of $3 million against Prop 8, as a effort to insure that children would be taught to approve what most parents disapprove of.]

Beliefnet did a very interesting survey with about 5,000 of its own users after the election, especially evangelicals who voted for McCain and evangelicals who voted for Obama. As you might suspect there’s some stark differences between the two groups. One of the most interesting is that for McCain evangelicals, when asked to rank issues of importance they put abortion and gay marriage at the top and the Obama evangelicals put it lower down. The McCain evangelicals listed reducing poverty as 13th out of 14. So what’s your message to them?

Huh. Wow. That’s interesting. Well, that’s my whole job. I’ve got to reawaken what I call the 19th century evangelicalism. Evangelicals were historically the social change leaders in our society, as you know you’re a historian. It was evangelicals who led the abolition of slavery. It was pastors who led the abolitionists. It was evangelicals who led the women’s right to vote. It was evangelicals who led the issue against child labor laws. All of these major issues.

What actually happened is a historical thing – there was a split. Historically evangelicals and mainline Protestants were all in one group. Along about the beginning of the 20th century there were some protestant theologians who started using the term “social gospel.” What they meant by that was you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more. You don’t really have to care about redemption, the cross, repentance. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society and if we make those social structures better then the world will be a better place.

Really, Steve, in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing. It was in vogue at that time. If we redeem society, then man would automatically get better. It didn’t deal with the heart. So they said we don’t need this personal religion stuff

So Protestantism split into two wings. Mainline Protestants – Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians – said we’re going to take the body, ok, and we’re going to care about poverty and disease and charity and social justice and racial justice. And the evangelicals and the fundamentalists – which, by the way, are two different groups, they are not the same; I’m not a fundamentalist – said we’re going to take the soul. We’re going to care about personal morality and pornography and protecting the family and personal moral issues and personal salvation.

Who’s right? Well in my opinion they’re both right. And part of my desire as a leader is to bring these two wings back together. I think you need them both. I think it’s very clear that Jesus cared about both the body and soul. He cared about both personal and social issues. And I think they’re both important but there’s been this split.

It’s interesting, the mainline died. It’s an irrelevant word. The mainline is sidelined. There are more Muslims in America than there are Episcopalians. There’s less than two million of ‘em. We’ve had a 40 year decline in all the mainline denominations while the independent and charismatic and the evangelicals kept growing and growing. So there’s been a shift.

Continued on page 8: Next Page »

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