for the last week or so, i have watched/read with increasing amazement at the intensity of the rick warren/obama inauguration story. for those who may be hiding under a rock, here’s the basic gist of things:
rick warren, pastor of saddleback church in southern california, has been invited by barack obama to deliver the prayer of invocation at obama’s upcoming inauguration. media/blogosphere/gay community/conservative evangelicals catch wind of this and decides to make this the scandal of the year. “gay-hating preacher to pray at gay-loving president’s inauguration, thus spitting in the face of all gay people.” or, for some, it’s “saddleback preacher to pray at gay-loving, baby-killing president’s inauguration, thus spitting in the face of jesus christ himself and all us holy people who are republicans.” those are the headlines. that’s the story. over the last week, this small ember has been fanned into a raging fire.
what has bothered me most about this is 1.) while i’m certainly not a rick warren apologist (those who know some of emerging/theological/ecclesial feelings will understand this), i have a great deal of respect for him as a pastor and a leader, 2.) this is yet another example (no matter which “side” you stand on) of the “us vs. them” mentality that is so poisonous in our society and, 3.) i’m sick and tired of homosexuality being the new quintessential christian “dividing line” issue.
not to go into a tremendous amount of elaboration here, but to briefly expand upon my third point, the issue of gay marriage has gotten out of hand and it’s gotten very sad. i have many friends and pastoral colleagues who have made this their #1 “christian” issue in the name of the bible. i would posit that, “in the name of the bible”, this shouldn’t be that huge of an issue. i certainly think that the bible talks about homosexuality, but i believe it’s such a minutely addressed issue in the grand scheme of biblical revelation and narrative. it, by any stretch of the imagination, is not a dominant topic like it has become in christian dialogue/our society today. now, i’m not one of the people who suggest that just because something is talked about briefly that it is any less true, but it’s just to say that this shouldn’t be the centerpiece of christian rhetoric or a dividing line. it has become both those things. what has occurred is that arbitrary pieces of dogma have become the dominant voice in the christian community—not the central issues of what it means to live in and follow christ.
what i really want to get to here (thus making sense of the “lesbian rock stars” and “generative friendship” portion of the title…) is something very powerful that caught my attention regarding this whole rick warren conversation. of all places, it comes from rock star melissa etheridge, who is a guest blogger on the huffington post. a couple days ago, she wrote a post called, the choice is ours now, which was directed toward the gay community (if you somehow don’t know, etheridge is a lesbian).
basically, she was booked to play at a convention a few days ago where, in the irony of all the swirling rick warren media coverage, she discovered that he was the keynote speaker. she thought about pulling out to make a statement, but decided to make a different move. here’s a portion of what she writes:
I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say “In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him.” They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn’t sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn’t want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.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 wont fear us.I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.
that’s powerful stuff.
even though she’s on “the other side” of the issue (to ironically use a dichotomous way of referencing her and the gay community), she shows a very christ-like approach to the matter that many christians aren’t willing to engage. instead of angrily protesting the event or saying negative and hateful things about warren in the media and blogosphere (which is occurring with great frequency), she reached “across the aisle” and chose friendship and understanding and fostered a dialogue.
this is how jesus would have handled things. he wouldn’t have lambasted those who disagree. he would have broken bread with them. he would have engaged a conversation. he would have washed their feet. he would have laid down his life.
he wouldn’t have bashed them in the media. he wouldn’t have drawn dogmatic and false lines of “us vs. them.” he wouldn’t have slandered them on a blog or media sound bite.
i’m not saying that having a conversation with a gay person (if you’re a christian who opposes gay marriage) is going to make you change your mind (mine hasn’t been and i assume rick warren’s hasn’t been), but it will certainly build bridges for understanding and generative friendship. it will help to tear down false assumptions and needless caricatures. it will defeat the “us vs. them” mentality that is fundamentally anti-jesus.
if you want to read etheridge’s blog in its entirety, you can do so here.
also, rick warren has responded to a lot of the criticism in a video post to the saddleback community. it’s a little over 20 minutes, but i think it’s worth your time. he does a good job in articulating some helpful points and discusses some things that are big issues in our society in terms of church/state relations. you can view the video here (it’s the december 22 video at the very top of the page).