On Tolerating Rick Warren

Debra Saunders, in today's Chronicle, decries Intolerance 2009. She is trying to claim that it is hypocritical for groups seeking gay equality to oppose Rick Warren while supporting Obama. Both oppose gay marriage, you see. That Obama opposed Prop. 8 and has repeatedly stated his desire to see equality for his gay brothers and sisters, while Warren backed Prop. 8 and refused to allow gays or lesbians to join his church seems not to register.

Having ignored these actions, Saunders decries the fact that:

In the modern world, words speak louder than actions. And there is always an incriminating video clip out there.

In that spirit, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force cited an interview Warren gave on Beliefnet.com and charged that Warren went "so far as to equate the marriages of same-sex couples with incest and pedophilia."

Warren did say, "I'm opposed to the re-definition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to a having brother and sister be together and call that a marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that a marriage."

Is that equating same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia? If it you want it to, sure.

Or you could see the quote as proof that Warren holds traditional religious views - and cut the guy some slack.

Here's the problem. These are not traditional views, at least not in the sense that Warren meant. I've pointed this out before, but we'll let Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll explain:

There's so much wrong with that quote, I don't know where to start. Islam, a reasonably well-known religion, has defined marriage as a contract between one man and as many as four women. I note that the speaker skillfully slides over that well-known custom; would he, one wonders, support a law allowing for polygamous marriages, since it is sanctioned by a popular monotheistic religion? No, he's just cherry-picking.

Homosexuality was and is permitted in many cultures around the world. Even where it is not sanctioned, it is common and tolerated. Sometimes it is forced underground, turning gay people into criminals and making them more susceptible to both blackmail and disease. Does the speaker believe that criminalizing that private and nonviolent behavior constitutes an action of Christian charity?

The Bible also allows for slavery and the stoning of adulterous wives. Would the speaker support those holy injunctions? God has clearly spoken about them, if you believe the Bible to be the word of God. But apparently God has a kind of variable infallibility index. The speaker is cherry-picking again.

He continues:

If Rick Warren had been a preacher who suggested that blacks not be allowed to intermarry with whites, or not allowed to vote, or not allowed to own property, he would not even be in the running for invocation giver. But somehow discrimination against gays is different.

And concludes:

We don't invite Nazis to speak at the inauguration. We don't invite Holocaust deniers. We don't invite officials of the Ku Klux Klan. There are plenty of ministers who personally oppose same-sex marriage but do not get involved in political battles, allowing their parishioners to vote their consciences as opposed to ordering them to support one side. For that matter, there are plenty of ministers who support same-sex marriage. They are men and women of God, scholars, people who minister to the sick and watch over the dying. They too have purpose-driven lives, and their purposes are rather more admirable than leading a fight to take away previously granted rights from gays and lesbians.

Saunders continues her column, responding roughly to this criticism, by calling for Warren's critics to:

You know, show tolerance while seeking tolerance.

Instead, many critics have chosen to brand Warren as a "hater" and a "bigot" - words that fire up the base, and alienate everyone else. They are sending the message that anyone who dares speak as Warren did - except Obama, of course - runs the risk of being tarred and feathered, 2008-style. Think Scott Eckern, who resigned as artistic director to spare the California Music Theatre in Sacramento from a boycott threatened because of his $1,000 donation to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign.

First, let's clarify what "tolerance" means. Tolerance is a low bar to clear. I can tolerate the existence of homophobia, but I do not accept, celebrate, honor, or praise intolerance. And, all else being equal, I'd rather homophobes stopped being homophobes. I will not tolerate expressions of anti-gay bigotry. I will respond to those actions with my strongest disapprobation. I tolerate, accept, and honor homosexuality and homosexuals, all without sharing that sexuality. I similarly tolerate, accept, and honor the existence of fans of cilantro, all without wanting anything to do with the stuff myself. If cilantro finds its way into my food, I tolerate it, and nothing more. It is this tolerance that I show to the existence of homophobia, and which I refuse to show its exercise. Gay people are as entitled to the rights and responsibilities of marriage as cilantro-fans.

Furthermore, let's pause and remember that Warren's anti-gay sentiments weren't just a matter of expressing his opinion; he advocated to take away the marriages of 18,000 couples all the while excluding gays and lesbians from his church, and hosted events to try to "convert" gays into straights (a practice that doesn't work, but does inflict psychological damage). And let's also remember that Obama did not "speak as Warren did," instead writing "I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law. … I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same sex couples under both state and federal law. … repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, and the passage of laws to protect LGBT Americans from hate crimes and employment discrimination. And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution."

He even called out bigots like Warren and Saunders, saying "For too long. issues of LGBT rights have been exploited by those seeking to divide us. It's time to move beyond polarization and live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. This is no less than a core issue about who we are as Democrats and as Americans."

Yes, Obama is personally opposed to gay marriage. However, he recognizes that marriage is nice, and he wants everyone to have access to the same rights and responsibilities he and Michelle share. He's wrong to want to give that a different name and reinstate "separate but equal" for marriage, but his actions are uniformly supportive of gays and lesbians, while Rick Warren's actions are divisive and harmful.

And so we continue with Ms. Saunders:

I suppose the Warren critics could argue that gays and lesbians simply want the same rights as others; that this is a big country, with room enough for the traditionally devout and same-sex couples.

"Could"? That's what we do argue. Except that we don't distinguish same-sex couples from the "devout." I've known way too many gay church organists, choir members, ministers, and otherwise devout Christians to think that those represent two non-overlapping groups.

Except groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force do not want to make room for people like Rick Warren. They want him muzzled, and out of the picture.

No. It is not an act of intolerance which kept me from being invited to give the invocation. I am not "muzzled, and out of the picture," simply because I will not be given a national stage and a chance to place my religion's imprimatur on the next President's inauguration, and, by implication, the administration to follow. Tolerance does not demand that I be given such a privilege.

In making this claim, Warren's supporters are asking for "special rights," exactly the charge they tend to level at gay people seeking exactly the same rights everyone else has. This isn't complicated. Tolerance requires that we treat one another in good faith, and to distinguish between people and ideas on their own merits, not based on irrelevant secondary factors. In terms of who can form a stable and loving family, sexuality is irrelevant. In terms of who is qualified to bless the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency, a presidency already marked by the racial tolerance of the American people and premised on the equality of all people, a person's advocacy against equality is entirely relevant.

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Rick Warren is a monster and a bigot.

I consider this to be a bone that Obama is throwing to the religious right. He seems to have chosen one of their less odious representatives (apparenly to their chagrin), and he's not actually giving the guy any sort of power. He's making the religious right feel special and hopefully they'll not notice that they're not actually getting anything. Like it or not, they're Americans too, and since they're a large minority ( or small majority ) it's going to be a while before fundamentalist bigots can be shunned into the margins of society like kkk members or Nazis. Until then I think it's best to just smile and nod and keep them away from matches, sharp objects and any sort of power.

By scrabcake (not verified) on 24 Dec 2008 #permalink

Warren puts on a good face but he sounds a lot like the Southern segregationists who tried to put on a moderate face by claiming...well I have black friends or my church gave Christmas gifts to the poor blacks. Also someone ought to remind Obama that separate but equal doesn't work.

Part of the problem with this issue is that it is framed wrong. Why not simply call the civil part of marriage a civil union-change all the wording on the forms and if people want to have a marriage then they can enter into that as a sacramental thing. That is really what is done now except that people have the two issues-civil and religious all mixed up because we use the same words for both.

It's the civil part of marriage that confers the rights after all.