Best-selling author and megachurch Pastor Rick Warren is in a bit of a jam.
First, while appearing on Larry King Live on April 7, he firmly denied any public statements endorsing Proposition 8 in the 2008 election on the California ballot and any personal animosity to gay rights. Now he is being confronted with earlier videos showing the exact opposite, including an issue statement released prior to the vote on Prop 8 revealing his strategy to help it pass and, after its success, another interview with Beliefnet.com comparing same-sex marriage to incest, pedophilia and polygamy.
An abrupt cancellation—over Easter weekend—of a scheduled appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos has led to further scrutiny and a greater awareness of questions arising from these inconsistencies.
As a fellow pastor, I sympathize with the squeeze Brother Warren is now experiencing. It is a common difficulty all conscientious pastors have experienced, a conflict between a caring desire to minister to all persons without discrimination and the pressure we encounter in most religious contexts to speak against committed homosexual relationships.
Sometimes the battle is within, between the minister’s heart and head, wrestling with one’s personal beliefs and the tension between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, between one’s plain and simple reading of Scripture and the undeniable talent, devotion and giftedness of many gay and lesbian persons serving (sometimes quietly) in our congregations. Other times, it’s a challenge to help other congregants work through the issue carefully and fairly—in much the same way—as the minister himself or herself has done.
In any case, it is a difficult struggle—as we can well imagine it must be—for the sincere and faithful Christians who are gay, lesbian or transgendered. It is their discomfort we are called to understand and their lives we are to embrace when they have been bruised and broken by a conflicted church that simultaneously preaches “Jesus loves you just as you are” but “if you really love Jesus, you can’t be who you really are.”
It is a confusing place where all churches and denominations are having trouble. Why is it so easy to loosen our grip on issues of race, nationality, gender and socio-economic differences when we apply scripture and tradition but stumble so mightily when the issue becomes sexual orientation?
I fear a defense of marriage focused exclusively on a definition of gender without a greater emphasis on the importance of monogamy lived in mutual acceptance and support strengthened by a lifelong commitment will eventually do more harm than good. In other words, what’s really at long-term risk in our society is not marriage, but life-enriching, life-committed monogamy.
But that perspective requires an unpopular and courageous advocacy. Until we get it figured out, our messages on the topic are likely to be just as muddled as those now being managed by the popular Pastor Warren.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
Mark Johnson is senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky.