After Rick Warren was selected by Barack Obama to give a prayer at the inauguration, attention turned to comments he made to me during an interview for Beliefnet and WSJ.com in which he appeared to equate homosexual relationships with relationships between siblings or pedophilia. A firestorm erupted.
Warren now claims that he got into hot water because of the way I phrased the question.
“I was asked a question that made it sound like I equated gay marriage with pedophilia or incest, which I absolutely do not believe,” he told Larry King on April 6. (In a subsequent interview with Sarah Pulliam at Chirstianity Today he made clear he was referring to me).
Judge for yourself. Here’s the full exchange:
“WARREN: The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that [some partnership rights] 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.
BELIEFNET: 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.”
Had he wanted to clarify that he didn’t equate gay marriage with those other relationships he might have slightly altered the wording from “oh, I do” to something like, I dunno, “oh, I don’t.” That might have been clearer.
After the interview ran, Warren wrote me a note asking if he could clarify some things he said. I gladly printed those clarifications. Interestingly, though, it was not this gay marriage comment he wanted to clarify. Rather he wanted to be clear that he didn’t believe civil unions were a constitutional right. (“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.”)
After the controversy exploded, he issued a video clarifying that he did not equate homosexual relationships with those other kinds. Here’s his full statement. He suggested that the misunderstanding happened because the “media loves to create conflict” and bloggers “who really need to get a life” aspire to practice rudeness from the safety of their homes.
He went on to mischaracterize the interview in another subtle but meaningful way:
“In that interview I named several other relationships. In fact I’ve done it several other times. I’ve named other relationships such as living together or a man with multiple wives or brother-sister relationships or adulterous relationships or adults with children, common law partnerships. Or all kinds of other relationships. I don’t think any of them should be called marriage.”
Actually, in my interview, the only relationships he mentioned were the most nefarious ones, between siblings (incest), an older man and a child (pedophilia) and polygamy. He did not mention people living together or common law partnerships, and if he had, it would have entirely changed the implication of his comment.
In his Larry King and Christianity Today interviews he said he’d privately apologized to gay friends. That’s interesting because, as far as I know, he’s never done that in public.
This whole controversy could have been easily avoided if he’d taken a modicum of responsibility and said, “I’m sorry. I did accidentally imply that homosexuality and these other relationships were morally equivalent. That’s not what I believe, and I apologize for implying that.” Instead, he’s blamed other people for distorting his words.
I admit to finding it ironic that Warren would blame this controversy in part on me since I had gone out on a limb to defend his selection to give the Inaugural prayer, penning an article on Huffington Post — the Lion’s Den! — in the midst of the controversy called “In Defense of Rick Warren.”
Having not learned my lesson, I want to close with another defense of Rick Warren. Despite his lack of self awareness on gay marraige (and the pain he’s caused gays), I still think that he deserves to great credit for his extraordinary work in fighting poverty and disease in Africa. This man is saving thousands of lives and we should keep looking at the full Rick Warren.
He says his opposition to gay marriage is “very low” on his list and that he’s “working with a number of gay organizations on issues that we care about, in saving lives.” In the spirit of Easter forgiveness, perhaps we should focus on that.