Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Did Rick Warren Do Enough to Stop Torture?

One of the great unwritten stories of the Bush years is why religious leaders remained so quiet on torture. Most conservative Christian leaders were mum.
Rick Warren, a.k.a. America’s Pastor, did make a statement against torture a couple of years ago but I was curious whether he did anything beyond that. Here’s what he said in the new interview with Beliefnet and The Wall Street Journal:

BELIEFNET- You issued a statement a couple of years ago condemning torture.
WARREN – I’m totally against torture.
BELIEFNET- Do you think this was a profound moral failing of the Bush administration?
WARREN – Well I don’t know exactly how they defined torture….
BELIEFNET- John McCain thinks they did torture.
WARREN – Well, and you know what – some of the stuff I saw looking at Guantanamo looks like clearly it was torture. To me, if you torture someone, you put yourself no better than the enemy. We must maintain the moral highground. You have no right to condemn the immoral actions of others if we’re doing the same thing. And we should expect that others will torture our people if we’re torturing them.
BELIEFNET- Did you ever talk to President Bush to try to convince him to change his policy?
WARREN – No. No.
WARREN — Never got the chance. I just didn’t. In fact, in the first place, I’m a pastor, and people might misunderstand – I don’t deal with policy issues with Barack Obama or President Clinton or John McCain. I just don’t. that’s not my role. My role is to pastor these guys. As a leader I understand stress.
And even when I disagree with positions they hold, they’ve got plenty of political advisors. They don’t need me to be a political advisor. I’m not a pundit. I’m not a politician and that’s why I don’t take sides. But I am a pastor. And I can deal with “how’s your family doing? How’s your stress level doing?”
BELIEFNET- But you said you did talk to Barack Obama about his position on abortion so why wouldn’t you have talked to Bush about torture?
WARREN – I just didn’t have the opportunity. It’s actually…[Warren was talking to the Democratic caucus] and Barack actually brought it up [abortion]…


He says torture is deeply immoral and that the Bush administration did appear to torture – but declines to describe the Bush policy as a moral failing. He says he didn’t mention his views on torture because (implausibly) he didn’t have the opportunity. Then he said it was inappropriate for him to raise it with Bush because he only offers spiritual support.
It seems to me that Warren is still trying to figure out how and when to exert influence. He can steer entirely clear of controversial issues, playing a purely pastoral role. Or he can be a moral leader advocating for or against causes. But if he weighs in on behalf of some caues — opposing gay marriage and abortion, for instance — then he can’t well say it would have been inappropriate to campaign harder against torture.
It should be noted: Though I’m chiding Warren for not doing more, he actually went farther than most religious conservatives. Shouldn’t there be a certain amount of soul-searching going on among religious conservatives on this issue — especially now that it’s become clear that the administration they supporpted authorized, layed the groundwork for, and in some cases, directly encouraged torture?

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posted December 16, 2008 at 7:32 pm

A religious conservative being selectively outraged?? Couldn’t be. If there were an anti torture constituency then Warren and other Christian leaders would have been all over it.

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posted December 16, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Well said, td. That there isn’t an anti-torture constituency is a terrible indictment of the United States as it is today.

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posted December 16, 2008 at 9:32 pm

No anti-torture constituency? Sure there is!
Of course, they’re not in his pews.

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jim martin

posted December 17, 2008 at 3:06 am

Excellent questions Mr. Waldman!
It is about time that people of faith begin to force church leaders to take a stand on all issues with leadership (both Democrats and Republicans) or remain silent on all of these issues.

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posted December 17, 2008 at 9:22 am

Rick Warren sounds kind of pathetic here.

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posted December 17, 2008 at 10:14 am

Typical inability of a religious leader with something to lose (access, influence, members) completely unable to speak Truth to Power. He clearly had plenty of opportunities to bring it up. He’s just another celebrity who is a moral fraud and will be the last to admit it.

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posted December 17, 2008 at 11:27 am

It’s time we tossed the whole lot overboard. Rich People, Politicians, Pastors of Mega Churches, TV Experts, Pundits, Media collaborators and anyone whole continues to make excuses and do their bidding. We the people of the United States continue to elect and support a group of egomaniacs totally unsuitable and incompetent to provide leadership at a time of global peril. Rick Warren is just another one in a long line of dishonest attention seeking media hounds who hides behind his title of Pastor. He claims he’s not a policy person. He’s fully immersed in policy. That’s what the faith based initiatives were all about. Getting religious people involved in policy. Now that there’s an issue that requires actual critique of the government, he decides he doesn’t know anything about policy. Please stop providing a forum for Rick Warren and his like until they come clean about their real agendas.

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posted December 17, 2008 at 1:41 pm

What moral failures and frauds!But dont forget keep that money comming!

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Ross S. Heckmann

posted December 17, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Of course there should be “soul-searching going on among religious conservatives on this issue — especially now that it’s become clear that the administration they supporpted authorized, layed the groundwork for, and in some cases, directly encouraged torture?” I just read in Jerome’s commentary on Isaiah 6 that the reason that the prophet Isaiah did not see a vision of the Lord until the year that King Uzziah died, and that Isaiah regarded himself as a man of unclean lips, living in the midst of a people of unclean lips, is that they cowardly failed to denounce the impiety of King Uzziah. Isaiah repented, went forward as a true prophet of God, and paid the ultimate price by being martyered (he was sawn in two). How many of us guilty bystanders are willing to do the same?

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posted December 17, 2008 at 10:42 pm

I believe everyone has a duty to speak out against torture, wars based on lies that killed thousands of innocent people.
Rev Wright spoke out about Bush’s Iraq war. The media used the few second clips to say Wright was anti-American. I doubt many ever listened to the entire sermon.
I have heard James Dobson approve of Bush’s unjust war that was against the teachings of Christ.
All religious people should have spoken out against the war

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posted January 13, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I would like to think that Warren was being sincere when he said that he was ‘totally against torture’.
But his actions lead me to believe otherwise.
From the beginning, the so called “war on terror” had a decidedly anti-Muslim bent, and because of this, evangelicals not only tolerated, but tacitly approved said war, including some of its excesses. After all, some of Pres. Duh’s phraseology, e.g. “axis of evil”, “evildoers”, “Operation Infinite Justice”(the original name of the Afghanistan war) wasn’t exactly intended to rally the secular community, was it?
Not only that, but the evangelicals worked actively to secure Duh’s reelection in 2004 notwithstanding the fact that torture allegations had already surfaced.
There will be no soul-searching as Mr. Waldman suggests, because anyone who condones torture, regardless of the reason, has no soul to search. Such people have already sold their soul for earthly ends.

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