Rick Warren: Evolving or Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
A Sermon for GLBT Sabbath
March 6, 2009
Rabbi Fred Guttman
Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Temple Emanuel
I say the word “Welcome!” with all of my heart and soul. Here are Temple Emanuel, we are desirous to communicate that gays and lesbians are truly welcome, not merely tolerated.
Gregg Drinkwater, executive director of Jewish Mosaic, a Denver-based Jewish GLBT organization has written, “Unless lesbian and gay Jews are explicitly invited, they don’t feel synagogues are safe. As a result, they don’t engage with Jewish life through these institutions.
One of our goals tonight is to specifically invite gays and lesbians to be a part of our mishpocha, our community. There will be no asterisks, not hidden messages. We will sincerely welcome all who wish to explore the Jewish journey towards spirituality and social justice.
The first thing that I wish to announce is that we will be having a special GLBT Passover Seder on April 12th. The Seder is open to the entire community and will be based upon the Stonewall Seder, a Jewish ritual celebrating Jewish GLBT pride. We do not have any idea how many people are interested in this Seder which will be led by Rabbi Amy Morrison of the American Hebrew Academy so we have not determined a cost. If you are interested in attending this Seder, and one does not have to be Jewish to do so, pleased sign the interested sheet on the stage of the Social hall after the service. There will be other information and articles placed on the stage as well.
Frankly, I had no idea how much this issue would be front and center when we decided to hold this service. I knew that Proposition 8 would still be a very big issue in California. I had no idea that just yesterday its appeal would come before the California Supreme court.
Yesterday, Ken Starr argued that the majority have the rights to restrict the rights of a minority. What an astonishing statement! Let me be totally clear. As a Rabbi and as a Jew, I reject all attempts to limit the rights of any minority by a tyrannical majority. Let me be perfectly clear, that we reject any attempt to create an apartheid situation in this country where in gays and lesbians are placed on the other side of some legal wall.
For us, this is an example of the blurring of the wall of separation between church and state. If a church down the street from me does not wish to welcome gays or to affirm the right of gay and lesbian couples to enter into covenantal relationships sanctified by the church, that is all right with me. I can accept this and respect their religious convictions.
I do have a problem with the government trying to define what a marriage is and what is a civil union, especially at a time when we have so many other problems. This is a slippery slope in my opinion. Once the state denies legal protection for any subgroup of its citizens, how long is it going to be before they deny protection for another subgroup? It might be a religion or it might a race or an economic group. It may even be aging chubby and balding Jewish males as far as I am concerned. YIKES! Seriously, this is a very disturbing part of American society and Ken Starr's statement about the power of the majority should cause us great concern.
On the state level, there are three issues of importance at this time. The first is the re-introduction of the School Violence Prevention Act which would require all public schools in the state to adopt strong, clear policies against bullying and harassment for all students. The bill contains critical language enumerating categories of students that are often targeted, including physical appearance, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. After the service, you will be able to pick up and sign a postcard to our elected state Senators and Representative expressing your support for this bill.
Second, Representatives Pricey Harrison and Earl Jones have sponsored a bill that would expand the protection of the state hate crimes law to gays and lesbians. We need to support his legislation and to support our local representatives for their courage in pushing this bill. This far all that they are receiving is the wrath of the homophobic. They need to hear from us.
Third, last week more than 1,000 people rallied for the legislature to vote for a ban on gay marriage. Bills have been filed but no additional action has been taken. The state already has a law that prohibits marriage except in the case of one man and one woman — the people arguing for the constitutional amendment say that the law does not offer strong enough protection. To me it is amazing that this would be the concern of anyone given the tremendous deficits and the very real possibility of curtailment of services that our state currently faces.
Let me be perfectly clear on this. Temple Emanuel and the Reform Movement oppose all such state initiatives and as we opposed Prop 8 in California, will oppose all such actions here in North Carloina.
So now, let us examine the very interesting topic of Rev Rick Warren and the Inaugural prayer.
Although he is well known in Christian Evangelical circles, Rev. Warren remains unknown and somewhat of an enigma to those outside of such circles.
President Obama’s invitation to Rev Warren was controversial. Non Christians worried that his prayer might be one meant to proselytize non Christians and thus would be not be inclusive. After all, in his Inaugural prayer in 2001, Rev Franklin Graham said “May this be the beginning of a new dawn for America as we humble ourselves before You and acknowledge You alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Many non Christians felt that such language excluded them.
A far greater expression of concern came from GLBT community. In the last election, Rev. Warren became an ardent supporter of Proposition 8 in California. In supporting Proposition 8, Rev. Warren made statements comparing homosexuality to incest and pedophilia.
Rev. Warren is a complex figure. Prior to the Proposition 8 controversy, many felt that Rev. Warren was evolving in his acceptance and understanding of non Evangelicals. For them, his support of Proposition 8 and his ignorant and biased statements were very disappointing and in their opinion, these statements should have disqualified him from praying at the inauguration.
Still others felt that the Obama invitation was an admirable outreach effort, one that if Rev Warren is really evolving, could help this process. One lesbian woman said to me, “I felt that he was not asking him to be a part of his cabinet, but merely trying to reach across the aisle and be inclusive.” One conservative Christian friend of an acquaintance said that the selection of Warren made him open his mind to the possibility that Obama might be okay after all.
The most vocal supporter of the Warren invitation among GLBT activists was the well known pop music singer, Melissa Ethridge. In the December 22 edition of the Huffington Post, Ethridge wrote: “Brothers and sisters, the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world. Maybe if they get to know us, they won’t fear us.”
So who is Rev Rick Warren and is he really evolving or is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? What if anything can be learned from the text of his Inaugural prayer that might help us answer this question?
Rev. Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California, is the author of a Christian best seller entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life.” The book has sold 20 million copies generating $400 million in sales. Saddleback has more than 20,000 members, making it one of the largest churches in America. Pastor Warren is one of the most influential and powerful Evangelicals in this country.
In 2004, Pastor Warren told pastors that there are 5 non-negotiable issues that should determine their support for a presidential candidate. These are:
2. Stem cell harvesting
3. Gay marriage
4. Human cloning
Shortly after the 2004 election, Warren began to change his tone. He began to focus on issues such as poverty and AIDS. For example, his church has more than 300 community ministries to groups such as prisoners, CEOs, addicts, single parents, and those with HIV/AIDS. Recently, the church fed 42,000 homeless people – three meals a day – for 40 days.
The Jewish community also began to reach out to him. This was done not in relation to support for Israel, but out of a sincere desire to understand the phenomenon of Saddleback Community Church as a “Mega Church.”. This effort was led by Dr. Ron Wolfson of the Synagogue 3000 organization. Wolfson is the author of a book entitled “God’s To Do List.” The book uses analyses of Biblical texts to urge people to create a list of what God does. From here, readers are encouraged to make their own lists based upon God’s list and to use that list to improve or repair the world. Warren endorsed the book in the following words. “"This book is built on a great premise: Figure out what God does and then do that with other people! Simple but profound. I loved this book!"
At the 2007 Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism, I attended a session moderated by Wolfson where the main speaker was Rev. Warren. I remember well that at that time, Warren referred to Wolfson’s book by saying “It will preach!” I was astonished how far Warren had seemed to have come. There seemed to be a real process of ideological growth going on as evidenced by his expanded field of interests and associations.
One cannot underestimate the relationship between process and personal connection. Even for Evangelical Christians, it is difficult to be anti-gay when a member of their family is gay. For example, former Vice-President Cheney was relatively quiet on this issue in the former administration one can assume because of the fact that his daughter is openly gay.
As the personal connections of straight people with GLBT’s are increasing, it will only be a matter of time until there is almost total acceptance of GLBT’s in the United States. Nevertheless, as a father of three children in their 20’s, it is clear to me that for their generation, the GLBT issue is much less of a “problem” than it is for some in my generation (I am 57 years old.)
Many GLBT’s were somewhat mollified that Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire was chosen to deliver the invocation on Sunday at the opening Inaugural Event at the Lincoln Memorial.
On the other hand, I asked a lesbian friend of mine what she thought of Warren’s invocation. She told me that she was particularly disturbed by the following line in the invocation. “Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.” At that moment she felt that the phrase “justice for all” included everyone in Warren’s world except GLBT’s.
As for Rev Warren’s invocation, I thought that it was quite admirable. As a Southern Baptist, he theologically is unable to pray except “in Jesus’ name." This is based upon his reading of John 14:6 which reads: “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “This makes it very difficult for him to pray in a public setting without offending Jews and other non-Christians. Simply put, his choice is either to give a prayer which would be meaningless to him or to give one which would offend others.
In a similar manner, Warren seemed to go out of his way to be inclusive. The second paragraph from the text of Rev. Rick Warren's inaugural invocation reads "The Scripture tells us Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one. And You are the compassionate and merciful one. And You are loving to everyone you have made."
In this paragraph, Rev. Warren was trying to tie the three western religions together. The first sentence is the Shema, from Deut 6:4. This liturgically and theologically is one of the most important lines in Judaism. The second sentence is clearly a reference to the beginning of the Koran. The third line "And you are loving to everyone you have made" is in my opinion a reflection of the overarching Christian message of God loving the world and Jesus telling us that loving God and neighbor is the summation of the law. (See also Psalm 145:8-9 – “God is compassionate and loving towards all.” And John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.)
At the end of the invocation, Rev Warren said “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus, Jesus (hay-SOOS), who taught us to pray, Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Notice how interesting the first line here is. Rev Warren does not say “We ask this in the name of the one who changes lives, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus, Jesus (hay-SOOS),” but emphasizes that this is an expression of his personal faith. It is also an act of inclusion that he recited the name of Jesus in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Spanish.
This was followed by the “Lord’s Prayer” Although it is not commonly thought of as anything but a Christian prayer, from a Jewish perspective, there is nothing objectionable in the context of the Lords Prayer. Some scholars have even maintained that echoes of this prayer maybe found in Jewish prayers from the time of Jesus and after. To me, many of the ideas expressed in the Lord’s Prayer “sound Jewish.”
At the end of the “Lords Prayer,” Rev Warren says “Amen” and not “In Jesus name we (or I ) pray. This again was his attempt to be sensitive to the diversity of his audience.
Rev. Warren’s prayer at the inauguration was a creative and honest attempt to balance his own personal theology with sensitivity to the religious diversity of his audience. Certainly, I cannot help but feel that President Obama’s invitation to him to recite the Inaugural Invocation was not only an attempt to reach across the aisle, but also an effort to help Rev Warren continue on the journey of openness that he has traveled since 2004.
So let us hope that in some way, this experience for Rev Rick Warren will lead him to an even greater embrace of the issues of war and peace, economic injustice, global warming, hunger, poverty and health care.
The over arching question about Rick Warren will be, “Is he truly evolving or is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” Is his real desire is to covert non Christians to Christianity and to deny GLBT’s basic rights? Can Warren’s view on rights of GLBT’s ever change? Will he apologize for his statements comparing GLBT to pedophilia or incest? Is he truly a new kind of evangelical or is he just a likeable personality still preaching bigotry?
Only time will tell.
Friends. I am so grateful to all of you tonight for coming to this service. I am grateful for the opportunity to worship in freedom and for the fellowship that this service has engendered. We are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim The verse in Genesis, “And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them” needs to be taken seriously by all. As Rabbi David Saperstein said in Congressional testimony in support of Economic Non Discrimination Act that “regardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”
Let us end tonight however with a special prayer for tolerance and justice.
May it be your will God that we all will seek as the prophets of Israel taught to establish justice within our gates, and to seek peace and pursue it. May our country uphold the cause of the orphan and the widow, the gay and the lesbian, welcome the stranger, provide food and clothing to the poor and needy. May our country truly live up to the words of Your teaching: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to its inhabitants,” that none shall be enslaved, but that all shall go free, that each person may realize the purpose for which he or she was created - that we might all be engaged in the work of repairing Your world, of never being satisfied with the world as it is, we try to create the world as it ought to be.
May this be your will and may it be our task. And together we say, Amen.