Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rick Warren and Other Gay Matters

I went to Intermediate School with Josh Warren. He was really nice, I wasn't close friends with him, but I would call him a close acquaintance. I remember him fondly as an open, accepting and fun person -- he makes me think of Tigger or Hobbes but that probably has more to do with his build and red hair than anything else. Back then his dad wasn't such a big deal -- he hadn't yet published The Purpose Driven Life, and Saddleback Church wasn't quite the behemoth it is now - with it's 20,000 weekly attendees. I knew Rick Warren (who was really just "Josh's dad" to me) had started Saddleback Church and that he was the minister there.

Saddleback was already really popular with the youth back then, the "Christian" kids always bragged about how cool their youth ministry events were. Tons of kids attended, they had live music, huge events. I seem to remember my brother talking about wanting to be part of their group, how they reached him on a level that San Francisco Solano youth ministry couldn't. I went to one of the large "cool" youth events once, I think I was a freshman in high school. I remember feeling like I had entered an oddly cultish situation. It was HUGE, held on the current grounds of Saddleback Church (120 acres), it felt like any big event, like a town or school fair or something. In my memory there were games like a climbing wall, and live music - but it's all kind of hazy. I don't remember anyone really talking religion, but there were tons of kids -- teens -- in Wildside shirts (the name for Saddleback's youth ministry - soooo cool). I remember feeling out of place and wrong. I simultaneously felt wrong because I didn't belong because I wasn't a "Christian" and also because the event seemed naughty -- like these were "bad kids" who were going to do something wrong because there were so many of us teens and so few adults and we were all outside together at night.

My girlfriend, Rachel, always laughs at me when I refer to "Christians" as though they're some sort of other (she's Baptist*). "Catholics are Christians", she always tells me. I know that, of course I know that, but I've had the idea that we're different bored into me for so long that it's hard not to think of "them" as an other. You may be thinking that my Catholic upbringing is responsible for this, that I was always told that Catholicism is the one true religion, that the other Christian religions were not true because they didn't fully follow the rules of God -- something like that. I might have learned a little of that, what made Catholicism different from other Christian religions, but that's not what made them seem like an other, it was them, the Christians. I mainly remember this from high school, but it may have happened earlier than that too. Maybe it's because I went to a Catholic high school so the "Christians" felt they needed to affirm their place as non-Catholics. I remember having many conversations about how we (Catholics) worship Mary and how that was so wrong because we acted like Mary was another God when she wasn't -- why were "we" so obsessed with her? So what if Catholics think Mary is important? She's the one woman that is held in any high position in Christianity, what, are "Christians" chauvinists? We can't have great respect for a woman? I also remember them pointing out that we have the crucifixion on our cross and they do not, or maybe it was us pointing that out to them.

I have since come to learn that by "Christian" what I mean is Evangelical, by which I mean Rick Warren's flock. I don't remember them ever calling themselves Evangelicals, just "Christians", as in, "I'm Christian and you're Catholic." Have you ever seen the grounds of Saddleback Church? It's HUGE. And it seems to get bigger every year. It's right off the Toll Road (241) in Lake Forest. Here's the Google Map satellite view.
I can't get Blogger to paste it anymore zoomed than that but if you zoom in you get a good idea. I went in the massive main "worship center" once, when my mom's co-worker died. It seemed to me a strange place to hold a funeral service. Rich was a really good person, and had touched a lot of people in his life, but we seemed such a small and insignificant group dwarfed by the warehouse like size of the church.

There are some things about Rick Warren that I do like and respect. He is the creator and senior pastor of the eighth largest mega-church in the US and yet I'm pretty positive he still lives in the same house he did when I was in intermediate school. It's not small, but he does have three kids and it's not huge either. It's in a small gated community, not Coto De Caza or even Dove Canyon. If you ask me it's pretty run of the mill OC, just a little larger than average. Not the crazy mansions you hear about other mega-church leaders owning. It is reported that he donates 90% of his earnings and keeps 10% -- I don't doubt this. He also spends a lot of energy fighting AIDS and poverty and urging others to do so. There are many Evangelical pastors out there who could use to follow his example in these ways.

He also did some pretty good work for Obama during the election -- he brought him out to Saddleback Church to speak to his congregation during primary season. My mom, a liberal OCer, was shocked to hear diehard conservative Republicans talking about how good Obama sounded (I think they were shocked to hear themselves say it).

But then, for all the good, there's also the bad. It makes me sad, that a man who has so much power and influence, who works for so much good can also work to hurt others and spread hate. Rick Warren, in his own words, believes that homosexuality is not the right way, that certain parts are meant to "fit together" and that allowing same-sex marriage would be the same as allowing brothers and sisters to marry or older-men to marry children. He used his large influence in California to help Prop 8 pass when he released a statement in which he said, "Of course, my longtime opposition is well known. This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about. There is no doubt where we should stand on this issue. ... This will be a close contest. I urge you to VOTE YES on Prop 8 - preserve the biblical definition of marriage. Don't forget to vote!"

His clear message of love and acceptance of all God's children is well received by his congregation. I sent out an e-mail urging people in my yahoo contacts to attend the Join the Impact Prop 8 protest (my e-mail was purposely not preachy because I knew I was sending it to some people for whom this was a sensitive issue). I received this message in return from a man I had babysat for who happens to be a member of Saddleback Church:
If you want to protest something that Jesus is against this is your right as a person of free will. God's word states that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord. Not all people Melanie are God's children as Jesus stated to the Pharisee's during his time on earth when he said that their father was the devil. That means Melanie that they were doing their fathers will while Jesus pursued His Father's will. Standing for something like you are doing is going directly against what my Lord Stands for. You do what you will but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Never again send your godless garbage into my home through email.
Yup, pretty sure he just called me the spawn of satan. Last time I checked tearing people and their lifestyles down is not a way of "serving the Lord", but that might just be me.

Then there's the sad fact that Obama picked Warren for the Inaugural Invocation. Plenty of people have written about this, so I'll keep it short. Yes, I understand that Obama wants to reach out to the conservatives, but really, just after he was so influential in passing Prop 8, which you called pointless, why does he get the most watched invocation of the whole week? Why didn't you tap him to do the closing invocation which less people watch? Or maybe even the opening invocation before the concert on Sunday, that way it wouldn't have been televised or even heard by half the people in attendance.

Caught on to where I'm going? Gene Robinson the openly gay Episcopal Bishop from New Hampshire was tapped to do the opening invocation after all the controversy when Warren was chosen. Robinson was told that he was already decided on before all the controversy and was not chosen to pacify people. Either way, and for what ever reason, someone (everyone is pointing fingers in the other direction) decided Robinson's prayer would not be included in the HBO coverage of the concert. Then, by some other divine miracle, there were sound system issues during his prayer so that most of the enormous crowd in attendance couldn't even hear him. So, the only way to hear Richardson's prayer is through a video taken by an audience member, very small, faraway and with bad sound quality. I think the video does not give due credit to the prayer, so here is the text:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

God of our many understandings -- Robinson made sure his prayer was inclusive of all people, a very rare non-Christain leaning inaugural prayer, and yet very few had the opportunity to hear it. While Rick Warren, heard by millions around the world went the other direction, and gave a resoundingly Christian invocation, even more Christian than the typical inaugural prayer as he actually used the name of Jesus:

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.

It is interesting to note that Warren also referred to Americans as being "united by our commitment to freedom and justice for all". I wonder if anyone has pointed out to him that same-sex marriage rights fall squarely under the heading of "justice for ALL"?

This has been a very long post, and it is high time I wrap it up, but I want to do so on a happy note.

I've heard tell from people with insider D.C. information that Obama will most likely not do much for "the gays" during his first administration but that he will probably tackle same-sex marriage and the rights of aliens. Meaning he will try to change the rules so that citizens can sponsor their same-sex partners who are seeking citizenship. Under current Federal law marrying a same-sex partner is grounds for revoking of the Visa. So if someone seeking their green-card through means other than marriage then gets married to a same-sex partner they risk getting thrown out of the country -- so they have to lie, of course, if they get caught lying they are thrown out of the country for lying (catch 22, anyone?). It's just a step, but one of big importance to many people.

I have evidence that Warren's OC stronghold of anti-same-sex rights advocates is dwindling. I recently joined the Facebook group Santa Margarita CHS, Alumni, two days ago (when I joined) there were 555 members and the second "related group" was California's Ready to Repeal Prop 8. There are only a few new members since then but it's no longer a related group, I don't know why that would be, but I am still encouraged that so many people who grew up and were influence Behind The Orange Curtain are against Prop 8. And my other proof is that I only received one "hate mail" in response to my Prop 8 protest e-mail, but that one e-mail incited an outpouring of love and support and dialogue from others who received the e-mail (he hit reply all - it was a huge list, the max number of recipients), many of whom are from or in Orange County. My favorite response was from my mom:

I don't profess to know the mind of God - I know Jesus left us two great commands - To love God above all things and to love one another as we love ourselves.

I don't know if my Catholic church is correct in denying same sex couples the sacrament of marriage - but when it comes to prop 8 it doesn't really matter - because prop 8 is not about changing my religious convictions - it is about denying equal civil rights to our brothers and sisters who are All God's Children - who are loved equally by Him who would leave the 99 for any 1 of them.

The only thing I am certain of is that in our democracy my religious beliefs CAN NOT trump another person's CIVIL RIGHTS. When this happens in the Middle East we wage war against the government and call it a stand for democracy - aren't we being hypocritical? Prop 8 does not affect your or my religious beliefs in any way - but denying the civil rights of any of our citizens diminishes us as a democratic people.

And finally there is an awesome new group called Yay Gay (yes I co-opted their name for my previous post) -- "a grassroots movement to foment positivity for all things queer and crowd out homophobia through outreach, organizing, community service, humor, and lots of kindness". I'm pretty sure the "kill them with kindess" approach is going to win the day. Join the Facebook group or e-mail them at A movement like this is definitely needed in OC -- so this is especially to all you out there, join the group and start coming up with ideas!

I lied, one more thing. The ACLU of Massachusetts is putting on a conference on Reclaiming Our Civil Liberties. Sounds pretty good, and it's not expensive, I'm hoping to go. Find out more here.

Okay, seriously last thing. Join the Impact is doing an open letter signature drive to tell and show Obama that we remember his campaign promises and that equal LGBT rights are important to millions of Americans. Please click the link above to print out the letter, sign it, have as many people as you can sign it and send it in by February 16th.

* Yes, my girlfriend is a Baptist, but it's not what you think. This isn't Southern Baptist we're talking about here. She belongs to an extremely liberal Baptist Church. Two of the three Pastors are openly gay. The most recent gay pastor was ordained as an openly gay woman. If you're looking for a very liberal, open and accepting church on the North Shore, check out First Baptist Church of Beverly.

No comments: