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Home News  RICK WARREN PICK CAUSES A STIR
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Wednesday, January 14,2009

RICK WARREN PICK CAUSES A STIR

by Neal McNamara
Matt Whipple’s comment on Barack Obama’s choice of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the opening invocation at next week’s inauguration displays both the futility and frustration among the gay community.

“An antigay preacher?” Whipple said while mingling at a recent Suits in the City event, a group that brings together gay professionals in Lansing. Obama “must have dug deep to find that.”


Futility because of the paucity of preachers in America who support gay marriage. And frustration because it appears Obama didn’t consider Warren’s antigay marriage stance when making the selection.


Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church, a megachurch in California that claims around 15,000 in its congregation.
Warren supported Proposition 8, the ballot proposal that overturned same sex marriage in California.


In December — just a few days before Obama picked him — Warren said gay marriage is equivalent to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. His remarks, made in an interview with beliefnet.com’s Steve Waldman, can be seen on Waldman’s Web site and on YouTube.


Warren has said that he believes in marriage as being defined only as between a man and a woman; he doesn’t think it should be redefined as anything else. He has said that gays can have a union, but “call it something else.”


Barack Obama, in fact shares the same view: He believes in civil unions, but not in gay marriage or, as he said in a debate, the redefinition of marriage as anything but between a man and a woman. (Although, he’d leave it up to states to decide — he was against Proposition 8.)


“It’s an unfair choice, but also a good choice because (Obama) is trying to embrace both sides,” said Mike Carlson, who was hanging out with Whipple. “You’re not going to change anyone’s minds if you don’t get different sides together,” added Carlson, a board member of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, a gay rights advocacy group.

Carlson also mentioned that Melissa Etheridge, a lesbian musician, gave Warren the OK — a sign to Carlson that the pastor might not be so bad after all.


And it’s easy to see what Etheridge saw. Watching Warren speak about the recent controversy is almost reassuring; it’s easy to see why so many people are attracted to Saddleback. Warren posted a 20 minute-long video on Saddleback’s Web site that explains exactly where he stands. In the video he is folksy, gregarious, rebuffing claims that he has equated gays to pedophiles and zoophiles.

“No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs,” Warren says in the video, pointing a meaty finger at the camera. “And no church should ever be discriminated against either.”

In the same video Warren makes it clear that he does not believe being gay is a sin, necessarily. He says that he believes sex is meant to be between a man and a woman — according to God’s word as read in the Bible — but that we are free to choose whether to obey that.


“I do believe that God gives us a choice to obey or disobey his word,” Warren says. “But I believe God has to love everybody regardless of their choice.”

The video is nice and all, and probably easy for a lot of people to swallow, but who knows what Warren is like behind closed doors. According to news reports, he burned condoms in Africa while there on an AIDS mission; according to a recent Christopher Hitchens article on Slate.com, he’s been quoted as saying that he doesn’t believe Jews can get into heaven. He has a large following beyond his church — his last book, “The Purpose Drive Life,” sold 23 million copies.


But that’s probably just it — Rick Warren is powerful. Barack Obama is also very powerful. Neither believes in gay marriage. So, what’s going on here?


Barack Obama is “trying to reach out to the evangelical community,” says Mike Craw, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University, who is gay. “He’s not beholden to the gay community. It’s not a good sign, but it’s a good way to get elected president four years from now.”


The “culture war” that the Democrats have been losing for years could pick up a victory with this Warren pick, Craw said.


But from clergy, the response to Obama’s choice isn’t controversial. To the Rev. Phil Posthuma, the senior pastor at Trinity Church in Lansing, which claims a sizeable Sunday service attendance of around 3,500, Obama and Warren are like-minded — they have both fought for social justice issue such as poverty and HIV/AIDS.

“I think it’s a fabulous choice,” said Posthuma. “Over the course of the last five years, I don’t know of any pastor who’s impacted the lives of people across of the country as much as Rick Warren.”

Posthuma said that Trinity Church agrees with Warren on his stance on gay marriage.


“We certainly have people in our church who are from the gay community,” Posthuma said. “But we’re pretty much right in line with Rick. But Jesus is very clear that we’re going to be known by our love. We are to love everybody. It doesn’t mean that our love is accepting of everything.”

The Rev. Don Denyes, pastor of Lansing’s South Church, which claims an average Sunday attendance of around 1,300, was a little cagier on the issue of gay marriage and the church. But he believes Obama’s choice of Warren is good.


“Our beliefs are quite strong in scripture, therefore what the Bible says is what we want to believe and share,” Denyes said. “My concern sometimes is the Christian church is presented as being uncaring. Homosexuality is one of the issues, but not the only issue. I think it’s unfortunate when you’re portrayed as a hate monger for what you believe as a biblical truth.”

Roxanne Frith, a local photographer studio-owner who was mingling at the Suits in the City function, finds Obama’s choice not outwardly antigay, but not the best either. However, she said, it may be in the best interest of creating that “change” everyone’s been talking so much about.

“I think (Obama) is keeping to his word and creating conversation with unlikely neighbors,” Frith said.


— Neal McNamara

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