Drawing the Line

Rev. Rick Warren finally bowed to the pressure and released a statement denouncing the pending legislation in Uganda that would make homosexual activity a capital offense on the grounds that “ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God.”[1],[2]  In the same statement, Rev. Warren also went on record that he opposes the imprisonment of homosexuals, stating, “I oppose the criminalization of homosexuality.  The freedom to make moral choices is endowed by God.  Since God gives us that freedom, we must protect it for all, even when we disagree with their choices.”

This is certainly a move in the right direction for Rev. Warren, and he should be commended for speaking out against a clear evil, even if it was late in coming.  However, the problem is that his new reasoning is inconsistent with his previous positions on homosexuality, and so it begs us to ask where Rev. Warren now draws the line on the treatment of homosexuals.
Killing homosexuals is clearly out, as is imprisoning them, in Rev. Warren’s latest press release.  

How about stripping homosexuals of civil rights?  Here it gets dicey for him; Rev. Warren supported Proposition 8—which stripped the right to marriage from homosexuals in California—saying in a statement to his congregation, “now let me say this really clearly: we support Proposition 8—and if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8.”[3],[4]  The problem is the stripping of civil rights is a form of criminalization; the only other way in our country to lose civil rights is criminal activity.

Perhaps Rev. Warren realized this when he tried to deny that he had ever publicly endorsed Proposition 8 on Larry King Live.[5]  So it seems that denying civil rights to homosexuals could go either way for Rev. Warren, at least until he gets too much criticism for it.  The problem is that Rev. Warren has two mutually exclusive positions on what to do about homosexuals.

On one hand, as his latest statement shows, Rev. Warren opposes criminalizing homosexuals and supports the freedom to make moral choices.  In the other hand, Rev. Warren believes that homosexuality cannot be tolerated, as a statement given in his March 2008 visit to Uganda attests.[6]  Does this mean that Rev. Warren supports intolerance of homosexuals so long as it doesn’t go so far as to criminalize them?
As a seminarian, my professors would never allow me to get away with such inconsistency and ambiguity in my work.  Who will call Rev. Warren out on this?


Unholy Cowardice

The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” –Revelation 3: 14b-16

I write concerning Rev. Rick Warren and unholy cowardice, for in the face the great evil of Uganda’s state-sponsored genocide, Rev. Warren has publicly pronounced his neutrality and remained silent. In his tepidity, he has become a foul taste in God’s mouth.

Rev. Warren tried to excuse his cowardice as unwillingness to “comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.” However, at best this is a new conviction as his corpus of writings and public appearances clearly demonstrate a willingness to engage the international scene when it suites his purposes.

As recently as December of 2008, Rev. Warren is publicly quoted on national television as supporting the assassination of President Ahmadinejad. Commenting and interfering in the political process of another nation does not get any clearer than this. Rev. Warren was willing to interfere with other nations in order to advocate for assassination, but he is unwilling to interfere with other nations in order to speak out against murder.

Nor has Rev. Warren’s international meddling been limited to the political sphere.

Rev. Warren has not shied away from such meddling in the past, so clearly the moral high ground he is trying to claim now is founded in cowardice. But what, exactly, is he afraid of?
There are two possibilities. The first, God forbid, is that Rev. Warren actually agree with the planned legislation in Uganda, which would make homosexuality a capital punishment and the reporting of homosexuals a state-mandated duty of citizens, and he are afraid of the political fallout of such a radical position. If this is the case, his support of a great evil is further condemned by his weakness of conviction. Consider the great cloud of witnesses of the Christian Faith who were martyred for the strength of their conviction; they were willing to die for what they believe, but Rev. Warren is not even willing to face political fallout for his beliefs.

The second and worse possibility is that Rev. Warren privately disagrees with the proposed actions of the Ugandan government, but is afraid to speak out against their actions lest he offend his followers and those close to him. If this is the case, then may God have mercy, for the prophets have taught us that God rains down judgment on those who allow injustice to stand. The greatest evils of modern history were delivered on the silver plate of silent acquiescence of those who might have spoken out but did not: the Holocaust, segregation and racism in the United States, and the genocide of Native Americans come to mind.

So Rev. Warren, which will it be? Will you be either cold or hot and renounce your tepidity? A person cannot be a Christian and a coward; the conviction of our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to speak out and stand by our beliefs even when there are consequences for doing so. As Christians, we cannot stand by and keep silence while great evil is underfoot.


Turning the Other Cheek

Guns seized by DC police. Courtesy: Jacquelyn Martin/associated pressThe U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear an appeal from Washington, D.C. in regards to a decision by an Appeals Court that ruled a hand-gun ban in the District unconstitutional. This case is receiving a great deal of national attention not only because it will affect a number of gun control laws throughout the country, including here in Chicago, but because it will likely become a hot topic in the upcoming presidential race.

The gun control debate is an interesting issue in part due to the wide number of considerations that shape its discussion: Constitutional law, crime prevention, child safety, etc. However as this blog is based on religion and not the finer point of the U.S. Constitution, I will frame my comments religiously--more specifically, with a Christian perspective.

Perhaps one common argument given for the ownership of guns is self-defense; it is this very argument that set off the whole controversy that now faces the Court. However, as a Christian, I find this argument to be completely contrary to our faith tradition. When we look to the life and teachings of Christ, we find that he is about as much of a pacifist as one can get.

In the garden, the night that Christ was arrested, Peter lifted his sword to defend the Messiah. Yet even then as he was faced with the prospect of death, Christ rebuked Peter and told him to put down his sword. If we are not allowed to defend even the Son of God, how can we claim the right to defend ourselves?


Voting by Faith

Catholic Bishops at Baltimare Courtesy: National Catholic ReporterIn what was perhaps a controversial move, the Catholic Bishops of the United States released a statement yesterday concerning the upcoming presidential elections. After compelling their members to vote in accordance with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church--especially in regards to abortion, just war, immigration, and poverty--the Bishops warned that failure to do so would result in judgment by God.

Just so that you don't think that I am succumbing to hyperbole, the Bishops actually said, "It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens have an impact on general peace and prosperity and also the individual's salvation." Taking it a step further, they then turned their attention to our political leadership saying, "Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being."

My initial reaction to this announcement was aversion; I am always somewhat wary of hand of religion playing in politics. However, after resting on the story for a while, it occurred to me that everything I am doing in this blog is advocating for the involvement of religion and faith in all aspects of our life, especially the political. While I might not always agree with the Catholic Church on their individual stands, I have to admire them for trying to get their followers to take their faith a step beyond Sunday worship.

What would our world look like if we really did apply our beliefs that we profess on Sunday morning in all aspects of our life? What if I went to the polling booth to vote for promises welfare to care for the sick and the needy and not promises of tax cuts for the rich? What if I loved my neighbor like Christ taught, even the ones who sleep on the sidewalks in front stores, instead of quickening my pace? What if my decisions in the grocery store were shaped by the Genesis charge to care for creation, and not merely what was cheap and convenient? What if our foreign policy were shaped by love for our enemy and not hate?

Perhaps the Catholic Church is on to something. The question remains, will the rest of the church have the courage to step up to the challenge? Will I have the courage?


Ideological Idolatry

This week, the Senate of the United States will be taking up the issue of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which just passed in the House of Representatives this past week. The bill is likely to meet with a veto from President Bush, the same fate it met at the beginning of October when it first found its way onto the President's desk. The response from the White House towards the bill--which would provide health care for children of low-income families who earn too much to qualify for Medicare but not enough to afford private health insurance--is supported by a bi-partisan majority and is seen as a compassionate and necessary bill.

Why the apparently cold opposition? An insightful article from a high school newspaper offers a clue. The Bush administration has become entangled in the quagmire of ideological rigidness. Through a combination of unwavering support of privatization, moral opposition to welfare, political entrenchment against taxes, and a sheer pig-headed adherence to ideology that has been the hallmark of his administration, President Bush cannot see, much less act, outside of his self-imposed boundaries.

While it is easy to stand on the outside and criticize President Bush for his failure of vision and compassion, it is much harder to recognize the same ideological traps when you are caught in them yourself. As a religious person and a seminarian, I frequently encounter such ideological blindness. Perhaps the biggest example of the same phenomenon is the issue of homosexuality in the Episcopal Church.

As I have written previously, the House of Bishops called for the Bishops of the Episcopal Church to show restraint in the consecration of openly homosexual Bishops. It just so happens that the Diocese of Chicago is in the process of choosing a new Bishop, and this weekend I had the opportunity to meet the candidates. A few of the 8 individuals strike be as potentially making wonderful Bishops for our Diocese. Unfortunately, one of the high quality candidates is a lesbian in a committed and loving relationship with her partner.

As a result, it is unlikely that she will be allowed to bring her ministry and talent to our Diocese, even we were to determine that she is the best qualified to fill the position. The Episcopal Church has acquiesced the Anglican Communion and in doing so has allowed itself to become bound by an ideology that prevents us from doing what is right and compassionate.

Bondage to ideology is nothing less than idolatry--by binding ourselves we deny our ability to follow the movement of the Spirit, thereby placing our own beliefs above God. Rigidness in belief places the idea of God before God. How can it be overcome? By accepting the unknowability of God and walking humbly on the path of God.


The Tides of Change

Predicted surface air temperature increase 1960-2060. Image Courtesy: NASAIt seems that at least Congress is beginning to break down partisan barriers on the threat of global warming. In a statement yesterday, Senator Gregg (Republican from New Hampshire) stated that global warming deserves serious consideration in reference to a new bill, America's Climate Security Act of 2007 sponsored by Republican Senator Warner (VA) and Independent Senator Lieberman (CT).

After Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, and the subsequent Nobel Prize, the issue of global warming is firmly in the minds of the public. Now, after a recent study is showing that CO2 levels are rising at a rate 3 times faster than the previous decade, the immediacy of the problem is also in the public square.

The question is now whether the issue will be one of rhetoric or real change with the upcoming presidential election. Religious circles have played a large role in previous elections--can we as God's people guide our leaders into doing the work of God in the world? Can we be a part of the swelling tide to save God's creation?


Courage to Do

Image Courtesy of KIDK Channel 3 and the APAl Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize this morning for his work towards raising awareness about global warming, which he sees as not an issue of politics but, "a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity." I personally have a great deal of admiration for Al Gore, if for no other reason than he seems to understand the courage necessary to make positive changes in this world.

I do not mean the courage to stand up against those who would detract from what you say, although that is important. I mean the courage to look inwards and make the necessary changes in our values and worldview. The dark secret of the environmental movement, and of social justice for that matter, is that it is not compatible with our societal way of life. That is, we cannot change the world by continuing to live the same way.

I bring in social justice because it has been a topic of discussion in one of my classes, and I find myself coming to realize that social justice stands at a right angle to the values of our society. We can make inroads here and there for social justice without making a substantive change to our lifestyle, but if we are to bring about a socially engaged world then we must re-orient ourselves.

When Christ called his disciples, he did not say, "Continue to fish while I make you ministers for the world." He said, "Put down your nets and follow me." Christ calls us to re-order our lives so that our jobs, education, even family ties are no longer of paramount concern. Christ calls us to put down those things and make our sole priority to walk with God.

It takes a little bit of courage and a whole deal of honesty to realize that. It takes a great amount of courage to actually do it.