The Real Rick Warren

Rick Warren understands politics.

It was announced last week that Warren would be giving the invocation at President Elect Obama's inauguration. It's shocking, to say the least, but a little less surprising considering Warren's Saddleback Forum, a campaign season event in which Warren questioned Senator Obama and Senator McCain about faith and politics - two issues Warren feels very comfortable merging. The Saddleback Forum, however, was no more an opportunity to discuss faith than it was an opportunity to discuss science. It was an opportunity for Rick Warren to "catch" the candidates in what he deemed inappropriate positions.

WARREN: That was a freebie. That was a gimme. That was a gimme, OK? Now, let’s deal with abortion; 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. As a pastor, I have to deal with this all of the time, all of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

It is beyond me how Warren feels that a perspective that so few Americans hold (reflected this election by the sound defeat of three anti-choice measures, the victory of pro-choice Democrats in Congress and, well, Obama's win), is a viable basis for a question for our presidential candidates? Luckily, Obama understands what most Americans do - it's about prevention and education, not religious extremism, and he responded:

OBAMA: But let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion, because this is something obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. And so I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue, I think, is not paying attention. So that would be point number one.

But point number two, I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don’t think women make these decisions casually. I think they — they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors or their family members. And so, for me, the goal right now should be — and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I’ve now inserted this into the Democratic party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address.

Rick Warren is also the man behind these (recent) statements on abortion:

“But to me it is kind of a charade in that people say ‘We believe abortions should be safe and rare,’” he added.

“Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust, ‘Well, maybe we could save 20 percent of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that,’” Warren said. “I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.”

Now we unveil the story of a religious leader who is adamantly against prevention; in favor of reducing abortion by stripping women of their rights; a leader who compares embryos in utero and mothers who make the best, most loving choices they can when faced with an unintended pregnancy or medical condition, to a murderous movement of anti-Semites who brutally slaughtered Jewish women, men and children. 

We do not have a religious leader here who agrees, in any way shape or form, with what Obama and the emerging common ground movement members believe - that to ensure women's optimal health and lives, elevate women's status in society and safeguard public health, we need to focus on comprehensive sex education and prevention measures like family planning and contraception access -- not more of the same extremist elements of the anti-choice movement.

There are so many religious and spiritual leaders who understand the above. They understand that justice in the form of equal access to health care and respect for women's health, decisions and privacy are critical components of any health measure - including one to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and ensure women have the tools to plan for the families they want now or in the future. In The American Prospect, Sarah Posner discusses the Religious Declaration on Sexuality Morality, Justice and Healing,

...which advocates comprehensive sex education and "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment." The Religious Institute on Sexuality, Justice, and Healing, which authored the declaration, has also called on Obama to adopt an approach focused on preventing unintended pregnancies.

RH Reality Check has featured the voices of Rev. Debra Haffner, Rev. Carlton Veazy and so many others who advocate for a faith-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights, one that aligns so well with President Elect Obama's vision.

And, yet, it's Pastor Rick Warren who will join President Elect Obama on stage when he is inaugurated. Warren who advocates strongly for the abstinence-only based ideological restrictions in our Global AIDS Plan - PEPFAR. It's Warren who has advocated to retain these restrictions which clash wholeheartedly with Obama's plan to strip them away. 

Warren awarded President Bush the first ever "Medal of P.E.A.C.E." for his work on HIV/AIDS, as Lindsay Beyerstein reported for RH Reality Check. However, as Beyerstein writes, 

For all the mutual good will on display, Warren's agenda may well clash with Obama's plans to reshape American AIDS policy.  

It is hard to imagine Obama and Warren's agendas for any sexual or reproductive health issues aligning at this point, making it all the more puzzling why Obama chose Warren for this role. In an expose on Religion Dispatches, Tom Davis writes of Warren's die-hard positions on social issues all while taking more "moderate" stances on issues of global warming, poverty, war and AIDS (though, as I note above, supporting the imposition of religious restrictions on global AIDS policy is not moderate). Davis writes of Warren,

On the eve of the 2004 presidential election, he sent a letter to his congregation telling them that there were five non-negotiable issues that should determine their vote—abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, homosexual marriage, and euthanasia. In fact, these five issues are barely mentioned in the Bible; Jesus never spoke about them, nor did the prophets.

Curiously, however, Warren made no mention of those issus that he had claimed to care deeply about as a "new evangelical" - global warming, poverty, and war. Warren seems to have empathy for some and not for others - and this is where Davis identified Warren's weakness:

As far as empathy is concerned, there seems to be scant evidence that Rick Warren and many other evangelical writers have tried to put themselves in the woman’s position, or that they can imagine what it would be like to have to make that decision.  

Rick Warren is not a man that symbolizes common ground. Warren has positioned himself as a key player in what in words has been called a new evangelism but in practice is nothing more than shining up some old shoes. As soon as the announcement was made that Warren would provide the invocation, protests sprung up on Facebook and elsewhere. We'll see if Warren really does have such a front and center role at the inauguration after all. As a religious leader, he is a brilliant politician. 


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