2016-07-27

See what Rick Warren has to say about....

The purpose of Christmas
Who goes to heaven
Talking with God
His own doubts
His questions for God
How prayer works

The economy and faith
Abortion
Torture
Gay marriage and divorce
Evangelicals and poverty
Christianity's negative image

What is the purpose of Christmas?

I go back to, Steve, the three things angels said in the very first Christmas. They said, “I bring you good news of great joy, for unto you is born today a savior who is Christ the Lord and peace on earth, good will toward men. “ I say that’s celebration, salvation and reconciliation.

These are the things, of course, that are the central components of Christianity, that God invaded earth. I believe that Jesus Christ was who he claimed to be; that he was the son of God. That God came in human form. That if God wanted to…, communicate to ants, he would have become an ant. If he’d wanted to communicate with cows, he would have become a cow. But he wanted to communicate to human beings so he became one of us. It’s hard for me to relate to “the force.” You know, ‘may the force be with you.’ I need a God with skin on it. So my God looks like Jesus Christ -- that when I see him, I see God in human form and I can go “oh that’s what he’s like.” And I can get to know him. And of course, it split history into A.D and B.C. And even people who don’t accept the way I see it, every time they write a date, 2008, 2009 they’re using Jesus Christ as a focal point, as the reference point.

And what is ‘The Gift’?

That’s a good question. You know, I talk about in the book that we often celebrate Christmas year after year after year without receiving God’s gift to us. And if you were to give me a Christmas gift, or any kind of gift, and later, a year later, you go “Hey Rick, how did you like my gift” and I go, “well actually I’m really glad you gave it to me, Steve, but I didn’t have a chance to open it, I was really busy.” Well you’d be offended and I would miss the benefit of the gift. I wouldn’t even know.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ came to do three things. He came to have my past forgiven, you get a purpose for living and a home in Heaven. It’s almost like 3D: past, present, future. Past forgiven, purpose for living, home in Heaven. And all these things are available as a gift.

That’s the big difference between Christianity and other religions. The difference between Works and Grace or Do and Done. Before I became a believer I lived in Japan, one of the times while I was there and I studied all of the different religions. And they have to do with the idea of truth. The Japanese call it ShinJitSu. You know, Mohammad said I’m a prophet of the truth. The Vedas, the Hindu scripture, says Truth is very elusive, it’s like a butterfly, you have to search for it here or there. Buddha made a very famous statement at the end of his life, “I’m still searching for the truth.”

And then Jesus comes along, and he says, “I am the truth.” You know, that’s quite a dividing statement. It really forces you to say, “Is he who he says he is or is he a nutcase?” Is he, as the famous CS Lewis thing, liar, lord or lunatic…?

Many people say, “I believe Jesus was a great person.” Well actually, that’s the one thing he couldn’t be. If I were to come to you and say “Steve, I’m a good moral teacher,” you would say “yea, I can buy that, I think Rick is a pretty good moral teacher.” If I said, “I’m a man of God,” you’d say, “well, maybe, ok maybe he’s a man of God.” If I said, “I’m a prophet of God,” you say, “well that might be a stretch, I don’t know if I accept that or not.” But if I came to you and said “ Hey Steve, I’m the Son of God and you don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of getting into Heaven except thru me. I am the way”-- you would feel very differently about me. All of a sudden, that forces some type of decision. Is he who he says he is or is he a nut or conman?

And to me, Jesus Christ came to say, “I have done it all for you.” One of the most famous words of Jesus are, on the cross when he’s dying--he says “it is finished.” He doesn’t say, “I’m finished,” ‘cause I don’t believe he was. I do believe that he resurrected three days later. He said “IT is finished.”

“I’ve paid for everything you need to get into Heaven. I’ve paid your ticket.” And so rather of this list of “Do’s” to get into heaven, it’s a matter of done. That’s the gift…

We don’t handle grace very well. We want salvation the old fashioned way-we want to earn it.

Well we get very mixed messages on this because we are taught about grace. On the other hand, we are also taught that if you do bad things you are going to hell. Why are we getting these mixed messages?

Well actually I don’t think it’s a bunch of bad things that send us to hell. I think it is rejection of God’s grace. I had a guy one time [say], “Rick, will smoking send me to hell?” I said “no—it will make you smell like you’ve been there. But it’s not gonna send you to hell.”

The fundamental issue is, people often ask me, “What’s the worst sin?” They expect me to say adultery, or taking drugs or something. The Bible clearly states, in the book of Isaiah, it’s pride. It’s pride. It was pride as Isaiah talks about Satan to get kicked out of heaven. And the middle letter of sin is “I” and the middle letter of pride is “I.” It’s this attitude of ‘I’m gonna run my life, I’m gonna be my own God, and to me that’s the thing that keeps us out of heaven. It’s refusing to accept God’s rightful rule in my life.

Now when you talk about, “well what about all these things we are supposed to do?” Those things are not the root of our salvation, they are the fruit of our salvation. In other words, they’re the results. Jesus said “by your fruit you’ll know them.” But the fruit isn’t the apple tree, it’s the result of the apple tree. It’s the root that gives that apple tree its apple-ness. So, it can be a confusing message. It really can be. Because on one, on the one hand, we’re talking about “it’s all a gift, it’s a free gift.” And on the other hand, then, once you accept it, it should change your behavior.

-The other part that’s always been confusing or challenging to people is you’re saying that part of this great gift is that God has already forgiven you for, as you put it, everything you have done and will do. And when you reach heaven you are already forgiven for any sin. But in a way it’s not any sin – it’s any sin except one sin, which is the sin or the mistake of not believing in Him. Why if he forgives us for murdering or raping would he not forgive us for believing in Him?

Well that’s a good question and to me, my thoughts about this are: God has a right to tell me what’s the entrance fee. If it’s his house, I mean if he wanted to say anything else he could. And why he set it up this system, in this system where it’s not a “something that I do” it means I can’t brag about it. It means if you could earn your way to heaven, there would be a lot of bragging in heaven. “Well I got here cause I gave the United Way” and “Well let me top that one, I got in…” and it would be miserable being there.

Now the Bible tells us that heaven is a perfect place. There is no suffering, no sin, no sorrow, no sadness, no sickness, all these things. Heaven is a perfect place. I am not a perfect person. I stopped being a perfect about day two ok. Nobody bats a thousand and what most people, the biggest misconception in America, is the idea that God grades on a curve, that some people are better than others and so they’re gonna have a better chance of getting in. And we all want to think we are good enough to get to heaven but we’re bad enough to be fun. We want that combination. We don’t want to be Puritan prudes but we want to be good enough to get there. Well the difference, the problem is, heaven’s perfect and if God let perfect people into heaven IMPERFECT people, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. It’d be like…it’d be like earth.

So why wouldn’t he if we get to the gates of heaven and say “I didn’t believe in you. Boy do I have egg on my face,” as it were. “It was a horrible mistake.” Why wouldn’t he forgive that too?

I think that it’s not just a matter of knowledge. I think God’s gonna take care of a matter of… I don’t know about people who don’t know. I really don’t know. I know that the Bible says that Jesus is the way to heaven. I do, I do know that.

The only way?

I do believe that. You know, the truth is, Steve, everybody’s betting their life on something. A Buddhist is betting that Buddha was right. A Muslim is believing, is betting that Mohammed was right. I’m betting my life that Jesus Christ was not a liar. I’m betting my life that when he said “I’m the way to heaven. I’m the way to heaven.” If I’m wrong, I still have lived a good life ok. In other words, I still had meaning and purpose and forgiveness and I didn’t care much about guilt and grief and stuff like that.

But there’s not just that, there’s the personal, inside of me, that the-what I call the ‘witness of the spirit’ where I sense his presence. I talk to God all the time. I talk to him just like I’m talking to you. In fact I talked to him just before I got in here. I said “ Lord help me to know what to say to Steve” and I’ve been a friend of God’s for now over 40 years and it’s like really talking to anybody. That is an intimacy you don’t develop overnight. It’s nothing special, it’s nothing supernatural, it’s just a simple thing of, I can sense Him in my life and the more you grow spiritually, the more your alert you are to that and I can hear him speak.

Now God has never shouted out to me. I’ve never heard God speak audibly. He doesn’t have too. I mean if God can send a phone thru a-a cell phone, and I can’t see it, if he can send a picture through the air and it come out on the TV, he can certainly send a thought directly to my mind without having to say it aloud or write it in the sky. And we believe that when God speaks to us that’s called inspiration. When Satan speaks to us that’s called temptation. And when I’m talking to myself and I think it’s God, that’s delusion.

You know Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, after his business hit the skids, wrote a very interesting piece where he said “Where I made the mistake was I thought I was talking to God and it was actually my own ego, or I confused the two.” Not that he wasn’t also talking to God but that “I confused the two.” How do you know?

I think that’s why we have the Bible. I do accept the Bible as a standard of authority and I judge my experience by it not vice versa. So if the Bible says something and I’ve had an experience that counters that, I doubt the experience because we know experience can lie. You can have a virtual experience. I could create, I could stimulate certain things in your mind and you’d think you were an elephant. And so, experiences could be a bad burrito you ate the night before or things like that. Feelings often lie.

But going back to this thing about heaven and getting into a perfect place. Let’s say we got a scale of 1 to 100. Let’s put Hitler at zero and Mother Teresa at 100 OK. And Steve you’re at 85 and Larry’s at 65 and I’m at 45. The truth is, some people are better than others, there’s no doubt about it. Some people are more moral than others, they’re nicer, they’re less selfish, less self-centered, things like that. But the truth is, nobody makes [it] to perfection… And so somebody’s got to make up that difference. And that’s the gift I believe Jesus came to – to make up the difference between my zero and my 100 or my 45 and 100 -- somebody’s got to make up that difference.

And you write in the Purpose of Christmas, that God came to earth at Christmas to remind you that he is always with you. And you have spent time, so much time, with the absolute most destitute and struggling people in the world. When you’re with, say, a child who has lost both parents and has AIDS and has a very, very hard life and you’re looking at that person, holding that person, are you sure that they’re feeling the presence of God’s love?

No I’m not. In fact I’m convinced that that’s what I’m supposed to bring to them. I think when a lot of times we say, “God why don’t you do something about all the suffering in the world” and he’s saying “I’m asking you the same question. Why aren’t you doing something about it? You think I put you on earth just to live for yourself? Do you think I put you on earth just to be a fat cat? You know get all you can, can all you get sit on the can and spoil the rest?”

You know, life is not about the acquisition of things. The greatest things in life are not things. I do struggle. of course. One of the things I wish somebody had taught me is that I could put my faith in Christ, or I could develop my relationship with Christ and still have doubts. I didn’t know that. For a long time, I thought I had to figure out every answer to every question before I stepped across the line and said, I’d like to develop a relationship with God. Well, now I’ve been a pastor for 30years. I’ve been walking with Jesus Christ for over 40 years. And I still have doubts. I mean, I read the Bible and go “whoa, why did God say that? “ If I had been God I wouldn’t have done that.” And, and, you should be glad I’m not God.

Can you give me an example?

Well yea, I mean there’s a lot of times of slaughters in the Bible and rules that don’t seem to make sense and things that just don’t seem to me, to be logical. But on the other hand, there’s a sense of humility in me that says, me trying to understand God is like an ant trying to understand the internet. I don’t have the brain capacity. If I could understand why God does what he does, he wouldn’t be God. I’d be God.

Mother Teresa, who is thought of as one of the most pious, deeply Christian people who’s lived, had what she called a “dark night of the soul” too. Have you ever had that?

Oh absolutely. All the time.

What do you mean ‘all the time’?

Well I’ve never doubted God. But I’ve doubted why God does certain things. To me, it takes more faith to be an atheist. Sorry, I don’t have enough faith to believe in atheism….

[At this point, the tape lost a brief portion of the interview. In it, Warren says he’s keeping a list of questions for God, one of which was why He made people capable of having babies long before they’re capable of raising them]

What’s the first question [you’d ask God]?

I think my first question would be the question of suffering. I think it’s the unanswerable question. I know why there’s evil in the world. I don’t understand why so much suffering happens to so many innocent people.

We know that evil exists because God gives us a free choice. In order for love to be love, it has to be volitional, it has to be voluntary. I can’t say “I love you” unless I have a choice to not love you. He could have made us all puppets. We would have been marionettes. He could have put us on strings and we’d pray five times a day and we’d have no choice.

But we’re not like that. The greatest gift God gave us is also our greatest curse, which is the free will. We are made in God’s image, the Bible says, which means we have the ability to love him or not love him, to reject him or not reject him.

The truth is, most of the time I’m doing my own thing. I hurt people intentionally and unintentionally, everybody does. And as a result of that, which is called sin, we live in a broken planet. I mean we’re sitting here next to the 9/11 site -- exhibit A that we live on a broken planet. Literally nothing works correctly. No relationship works correctly. No body works correctly – we all have problems with our bodies. The weather doesn’t work correctly – tornados and hurricanes and stuff like that. It’s the result of living on a broken planet. That’s why we’re to pray “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” ‘cause in heaven it’s done perfectly.

God’s will is not done most of the time on earth. When people go, “oh, that hurricane must have been God’s will” – baloney! That wasn’t God’s will. God’s will is not done most of the time. If I go out and get drunk and run over a pregnant mother and kill her and her baby, that’s not God’s will, that’s my will.

What does that say to you about people’s prayer lives? A lot of people -- and we see this on Beliefnet on our prayer circles and prayer requests -- a lot of the prayers are not for strength or wisdom, they’re for in these times getting a job or improving a relationship or healing an illness.

No doubt about it. That’s another question I have to ask [God] – about how does prayer work, because I don’t really know. The truth is I don’t really know how prayer works. I know that God answers three ways – “yes,” “no” and “wait.” And sometimes the hardest one is “wait.” Part of that is maturity. As kids, we don’t know the difference between no and not yet. Part of maturity is when I learn that “not yet” doesn’t mean “no.”

Sometimes God is saying to you, “yeah I’m going to give it you but not yet.” And his timing is always different than ours.

But the reason a miracle is called a miracle is because it’s so rare. The truth is that the vast majority of our prayers, we don’t see those kinds of miracles. I see lots of people pray for people to be healed and they were not healed. But I’ve also seen it where they pray and they were, and I don’t know why.

So what’s your advice to people about how they should pray?

I definitely say, pray for healing because twenty times in the New Testament alone, not counting the Old Testament, we are commanded to ask. It says “ask and it shall be given,” “seek and you’ll find.” We’re commanded to ask. In fact, in the Psalms, it says “delight yourself in the Lord and he’ll give you the desires of your heart.” So what I do a lot of times when I’m praying for people, I say, “Lord this person’s dying, I don’t know if it’s your will that they live or go on to be with you. But you’ve said to pray our desires. My desire is that they get well.”

The most effective prayer is often one word – help. Help!

We are in hard economic times. There are a lot of people suffering. Do you believe there’s a spiritual cause to what we’re going through now?

Without a doubt. Absolutely. Without a doubt. The reason why we’re in the economic crisis we’re in right now is that we’ve walked away from the Biblical world view of economics. The Biblical worldview of economics is taught all through the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, which teaches thriftiness, teaches not living beyond your means, teaches the value of saving and investing.

Americans used to save about 18 percent of their income. By the ‘80s it had dropped to 4 percent. This last year the average American spent more than they made. We were actually in the negative. They saved nothing.

We cannot live beyond our means year after year after year without eventually paying the piper. So this concept of, “I’m going to live within my means, even if I have to charge it” – which means I’m going to live beyond my means, the chickens have come home to roost.

And that’s true not just on a global economic area. I’m dealing with members and families…I just finished a series for four weeks this last month on how to help a friend through tough times -- how to help a friend going through a divorce, how to help a friend who’s dying, how to help a friend who’s depressed. And we did a message on how to help a friend who’s in debt and near bankruptcy. And then we did follow up with a number of workshops -- budget workshops, financial planning, when your mortgage is upside down. We had over 4,000 people show up for the workshops during the week, so this is a real need there.

But it’s because we’re ignoring the very principles that made America great… the Judeo-Christian principles in scripture that teach thrift, savings, being wise, saving in the summer for the winter -- everything we haven’t done.

The other thing is that we’ve had people in previous years who were simply about wealth acquisition without creation of value. A guy who makes two million dollars in a day and doesn’t add anything of value to society – that’s phony money in my opinion. It’s not real wealth. It’s not like a guy who’s created a product or a service and that is really making the world a better place and he should be paid for it....

Well I believe that money is the ultimate test of faith. It’s actually, I think God tests your faith in finances more than any other area. Jesus, of the parables he told, over half of them deal with money. In fact, Jesus talked more about money than he did Heaven or Hell. And the reason why is because we spend more of our time making it, worrying about it, saving it, spending it, investing it. Our lives revolve around it and so he dealt with this and he said, “a man’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of things he possessed.” In other words: the greatest things in life aren’t things. But there’s an interesting verse, one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible, it says that God will “test you.” He says he “tests you in little things and he tests you in that which is not your own.” And he says, “if you have not been faithful, with unrighteous mammon – or ‘worldly wealth’ is what he is talking about--God will not trust you with the true spiritual riches in Heaven. And I think that actually money management, just like time management, is a test of our stewardship.

Think about this: Why are we even here, on this planet? Why, if God ultimately wants us in Heaven, why didn’t he just make us and take us to Heaven? Why does he put us here, for 80 years on a planet filled with all kinds of problems? Why didn’t he just make us and skip this part and go directly—you know, ‘do not pass go, just go straight to jail—just go straight to Heaven. Well, the Bible tells us that life is a test, it’s a trust, and it’s a temporary assignment. And this, in many ways, is preparation for eternity and God is testing our stewardship here on earth. And I think that one day, everyone of us is gonna stand before God and he’s not gonna say, “What religion were you? Were you Jewish? Were you Christian? Were you Buddhist? Baptist?” I don’t think he’s gonna say, “What church did you go to?” I think he’s gonna say first thing, first, “What did you do with my son who I sent to earth? Did you ever really get to know him? Did you even check him out? Did you trial test faith in him?” You know, “What did you do?” It’s about a relationship not a religion. And the second question is gonna be the question of, “What did you do with what I gave you? The talent, the ability, the resources, the network, the opportunities, the health, the freedom?” And we are going to be evaluated and judged NOT on our relationship to other people, in terms of, ‘well he did better and he did worse,’ but what did you do with what you were given. So, a retarded person, who does not have mental capabilities will be judged on a totally different scale. In fact the Bible says that people who don’t even have the ability to acknowledge God or to accept Christ, that they’re safe. They are safe. That’s why I believe babies automatically go to Heaven. Every baby does go to Heaven.

Why, why are we going to be judged in those terms at all if we already have grace?

The judgment there is not for whether you get in or out of Heaven. That’s all by grace. The judgment there is based on what you’re going to be doing in eternity. It’s about rewards, and roles, and responsibility and he said, “if you’re faithful in little things, then you will be faithful in much.” And so, contrary to popular opinion, Heaven’s going to be a pretty interesting place. I mean, the idea of most people of Heaven right now is: it’s all white, it’s a bunch of clouds, you’re sitting on a cloud in a white robe with wings playing a harp. Now, if that was Heaven--to me that’s Hell. I can’t think of anything more boring. On the other hand, you think of this world, and even in its brokenness--with all the crime and rape and murder and sin and self-centeredness--there’s a lot of cool stuff on this earth. You know, cool experiences and sunrises and sunsets. God created all these flavors and gave us taste buds. God created all these beautiful sounds and gave us ears to hear. God created eyes. And all of our senses are examples of how God enjoys watching us enjoy his creation. And so, if God made this place pretty cool, and it’s broken, Heaven is going to be pretty cool. And by the way, you’re not going to have wings in Heaven. You’re not going to be an angel. You are going to be a person. Angels are angels, people are people. So it’s the myth that you’re going to be flying around. You’ll be a person.

Now that Barack Obama has been elected, are you going to work with them to achieve an abortion reduction agenda or do you think that’s really just a charade?

Of course I want to reduce the number of abortions. Barack Obama is a friend of mine. We totally disagree on this issue. I’ve actually talked to him privately about this before and intend to again in the future. It’s not something I protest out on the street about. It’s something you deal with individually as rational civil people. The reason I believe life begins at conception is ‘cause the Bible says it. In Psalm 139, David says “you formed me in my mother’s womb. You planned every day of my life before I was born.” To me that means God had a purpose driven life for you before you were even born. He already knew in advance. To me, abortion short circuits that plan.

The pro-life liberals say, “yes and I’m going to keep working for the ultimate elimination but in the meantime let’s work to reduce the number of abortions.” Some on the pro-life side say, “that’s giving aid to the enemy. That’s a charade and a diversion. We really shouldn’t help a pro choice leader like that with this kind of a plan.”

An analogy for me would like Schindler’s list. Yes, the Holocaust, we wanted it to end. But Schindler was pulling people out. That’s a good thing even though he couldn’t end the whole thing. So if I can save a few lives that’s a good thing.

But to me it is kind of a charade in that people say we believe abortions should be safe and rare. Why do you believe it should be rare? If you don’t believe life begins at conception, it shouldn’t be rare. That’s an illogical statement. Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust well maybe we could save 20% of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that. I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.

And if you truly believe that life begins at conception --which I do because of my commitment to the scripture -- then that means 40 million Americans are not here who should be here. That’s a Holocaust. That’s 40 million Americans who could have voted for Obama or for McCain who aren’t here.

My concern is that we have this discussion with civility, that we don’t demonize someone you disagree with even on a life and death issue. As a pastor I have had to deal with every single angle of abortion. The rapes, the incest, the Down Syndrome child and on and on and on on and on. It is not an easy issue. But to me, life trumps these other issues.

Torture. You issued a statement a couple of years ago condemning torture.

I’m totally against torture.

Do you think this was a profound moral failing of the Bush administration?

Well I don’t know exactly how they defined torture….

John McCain thinks they did torture.

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 high ground. 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.

Did you ever talk to President Bush to try to convince him to change his policy?

No. No.

Why not?

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?”

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?

I just didn’t have the opportunity. It’s actually when Barack, the first time I’d invited Barack-before he’d even decided to run-when I’d invited him to our AIDS conference and we came out and we were just sitting around and we were talking about different issues and that one came up. Actually, that’s not true, it even started before that. I was invited, before I invited Barack out, to speak to the Democratic Senate Caucus and it was Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer--all of these guys in the room. And Barack actually brought it up. And he said, “Hey Rick, let’s talk about the big elephant in the room.” And he said, ‘When we Democrats, we do stuff for the poor and we do stuff for the sick, we don’t get many letters about it.

But when we vote to support abortion we get thousands and tens-of-thousands of letters. What’s the issue here?” And I had to say, “Well, let me just explain this. Almost everybody has a single issue that they care about. You know, it may be gay rights, it may be farm aid, it may be- everybody has some issue that they care about the most. And I said, “let me just go around the room.” I said, “Hillary, when you were growing up, you were probably a single issue voter because it was during the civil rights movement. And to me-uh, to you-a candidate could be right on everything else; foreign aid, jobs, economy, but if they were wrong on civil rights, there’s no way you were going to vote for them OK. That’s understandable.” And I went around the room and when I came to Chuck Schumer I said, “Chuck, how bad, if you had a candidate and he was right in EVERY SINGLE AREA that you agreed with but he’s a holocaust denier, there’s no way you’re gonna vote for a holocaust denier. That’s a single issue issue for you. And I said, “For these people who believe life begins at birth, alright--at conception--it’s an America holocaust. They believe that there’s 40million people who should be here. And to them that’s an issue.”

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.

This relates to something else I’ve seen you talk about -- the way the Christian brand, if I might call it that, has become tarnished. And there’s been research from the Barna organization saying that people have come to have a negative view of what Christianity is all about. First, do you agree with that?

I absolutely do. I absolutely do. And I feel like in many ways in the last, oh, 25, 30 years the word evangelical came to be a political view. It became associated even with the religious right. Now an evangelical is not a fundamentalist and a fundamentalist is not a religious right – they are different. But I don’t think faith should ever have be captivated by any political view or political party.

So what were the mistakes that Christian leaders made in leading this to happen?

In the first place thinking that politics could bring in social change that only…if I believed you could change people’s hearts through laws I’d be a politician. But I don’t believe that. I believe only God can change a heart, and I believe that change can only take place in a spiritual conversion inside. And you can’t legislate people to, for instance, drop their prejudice against another race or drop their war mongering. So I’m not looking to any government.

In fact, the Sunday before the election I said, “Folks you vote your conscience tomorrow but I’m not looking to any candidate to be my savior. Jesus is my savior.” The Bible says you respect the president, you pray for the President, you honor the president, we’re to support the President. Obviously, disagree on the things you disagree on but treat him with respect and give him our prayers and our support.

But ultimately I don’t think politics is the answer. Politics is always downstream from culture. By the time you make a law about it, it’s already in the water. So these people trying to make laws either for or against gay marriage – well I’m sorry, that started 25 years ago. If you want to change culture, you start with music, art, sports entertainment. Until Barack Obama came along there wasn’t a single kid who had a politician on his wall. It was Michael Jordan, or it was Tiger Woods or it was a musician. So if you want to change culture you start with the arts and music and things like that. Politics is always after the fact. They don’t have nearly as much power as they think they do.

So who did you vote for?

I’m not about to say [laughs]

You got a great a website. Beliefnet fills a need and it’s really a neat thing.