Rick Warren’s beleifnet.com interview is a must read, both because of the wisdom it contains and a rather horrific analogy made by him in which he compares any position on abortion other than his own, to holocaust denial. I assume that this was more gross misstep than gross insensitivity, but it needs to be mentioned and it needs to never happen again. But before I detail the problem, let me assure you, that my critique is not born of any ill will toward Rick Warren. In fact, I hold him in the highest regard.
Reverend Warren’s claim at the start of the Saddleback Forum that church and state ought be separate, but not faith and politics, is one with which I strongly agree and have written about elsewhere. Suffice it to say that I believe that the separation of church and state is one of the great ideas of the modern world. It attempted to end the thousands year old tradition, among all three Abrahamic faiths at least, of people using state power to kill other people in order to make God happy. But the idea that faith should be separated from politics is one of the worst expressions of “baby-out-with-the-bathwater” thinking that has come along in almost as many years. Instead of killing people for God, we tried to kill God for people, only that has worked so well either.
We have managed to kill as many people over the last two hundred years, without God in the mix, as we did in the thousands of years before. So maybe we need to try something else. Instead of killing off either God, or those who don’t share our beliefs, perhaps we should reintegrate the two in a healthier way. That is what I find so useful about Rev. Warren’s comment.
And while there are many specific policies about which he and I might disagree, Warren’s commitment to nurturing civil discourse around the most divisive issues in our society, is a service to us all regardless of the faith we follow or the political agenda we might have. In fact, it’s his desire to lead in this area that makes his comments particularly egregious.
If they (Evangelicals, among whom Warren counts himself) think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust, and for them it would like if I’m Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. I don’t care how right he is on everything else, it’s a deal breaker for me. I’m not going to vote for a Holocaust denier….
WRONG, WRONG WRONG Reverend Warren! And here is why.
First, to suggest that the debate about when life begins is the same as a debate about whether or not 12 million human beings were murdered by the Nazis is just nuts. Not because one would be nuts to assume that life begins at conception though. It would be nuts because the question of when life begins is a real debate not only among people in America generally, but among Christians who share a commitment to scripture. Does Reverend Warren believe that there is room to debate the factuality of those 12 million dead? And if he doesn’t believe that there is room for civil debate around when conception begins either, then perhaps the Saddleback Forum was the sham that many liberals have, in my opinion until now, unfairly branded it.
Does he believe that anyone who interprets scripture differently from him actually denies, not a doctrine of the faith, but a matter of historic fact? If that is the case, then he must also believe that those who attack and even murder doctors and nurses who perform abortions are in the right, much as I hope he would agree that the soldiers and partisans who fought the Nazis were morally justified in that fight. If that is not his position, and I do not think it is, then he must pick a better metaphor for those who do not share his views on abortion.
Finally, by assuming that only Jews would be offended by a Holocaust denier running for office, Reverend Warren suggests that the Holocaust is primarily a Jewish problem. And while there is plenty about which to object concerning the way that many Jews have tried to own the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish event, suggesting that any person of conscience could tolerate a holocaust denier in public office insults us all.
Does one have to be African to be concerned about Rwanda or Darfur? While the primary target of Hitler’s genocidal aspirations was certainly the Jewish people, no sane human can tolerate a telling of history in which that war is denied — not if we hope to avoid a repetition of such events in the future.
So speaking of events to avoid in the future, how about putting comparisons between holocaust denials and competing views of when life begins, on the list?