Rick Warren tacitly endorsed George Bush six days before the 2004 presidential election, claiming that the Bible was on his side and that the two major candidates could not “have more opposite views.”
“For those of us who accept the Bible as God’s Word … there are five issues that are non-negotiable,” wrote Warren, a Southern Baptist, to fellow pastors across the country. “To me, they’re not even debatable, because God’s Word is clear on these issues.”
Abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual marriage, human cloning and euthanasia were non-negotiable issues about which Warren said the Bible was clear.
“There can be multiple opinions among Bible-believing Christians when it comes to debatable issues such as the economy, social programs, Social Security and the war in Iraq,” wrote Warren.
What was not clear from his column was how some issues become morally non-negotiable, not even debatable, and other issues become morally secondary, basically unimportant to how a Christian should vote.
Warren offered no evidence from the biblical witness to support his assertions. He simply spoke ex cathedra for God’s Word, assuming that the few passages related to abortion and homosexuality were well-known. Nor did he bother to explain how he came up with a list that ignores the teachings of Jesus, the Hebrew prophets and the Mosaic code.
Aside from advancing the agenda of the religious right, where did Warren get the phrase “non-negotiable?” And how did he decide to shrink the Bible’s moral agenda to five issues?
Would you be surprised to learn that Warren’s language and list are identical to Catholic Answers, a rightwing organization?
On Aug. 26, Catholic Answers put out a press release that said over a million Catholics would read a full-page ad in USAToday that told them how to vote on “five non-negotiable” issues.
The press release said, “The issues Catholics are forbidden to vote in favor of are abortion, homosexual marriage, embryonic stem-cell search, human cloning and euthanasia.”
Karl Keating, the president of Catholic Answers, said: “A Catholic is free to support or to oppose any politician or ballot measure on issues such as jobs, trade, taxes or the war in Iraq. But with issues such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, all Catholics are forbidden to endorse them or vote for them.”
So, how is it that a Baptist pastor’s language and list are identical to those of a rightwing Catholic?
Keating’s position was based on his interpretation of Catholic moral teaching. Instead of providing proof-texts from the Bible, Keating offered proof-texts from Catholic documents to defend his argument.
Warren’s position is really Keating’s position. The only difference is that Warren did not credit Catholic moral tradition for his argument. Instead, he claimed that he got it from the Bible, something that Keating doesn’t claim.
The problem here is twofold. First, Warren didn’t give credit where credit was due. The similarities are too profound for Warren to beg off with the excuse that he forgot where he got the idea. A more likely answer for Warren’s failure was that he knew that citing a Catholic as the source for his moral position would not sit well with his evangelical and fundamentalist readers, many of whom believe Catholics are not Christians.
Second, Warren reduced the Bible’s moral agenda. The biblical witness speaks directly to a host of issues ”earth care, economic justice, fair treatment of workers and care for the poor. The biblical witness does not speak directly to stem-cell harvesting and cloning, since these are new, technology-driven issues.
Moreover, to dismiss the war in Iraq as a debatable issue is to dismiss both the teachings of Jesus, which are clear, and Just War Theory, which clearly says that the preemptive war in Iraq is morally unjust.
For 50 years, Southern Baptist fundamentalists have claimed that the Bible was on their side, when, of course, they were reading their agenda into the Bible. Rather than following the Bible’s agenda, they found proof texts to support their rightwing conservative ideology on matters from integration to the Panama Canal Treaty.
Like fundamentalists, Warren reads from a small Bible, as evidenced by his political endorsement of Bush.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.