Rick Warren was supposed to be the new, reasonable face of conservative Christianity. He was going to avoid the arrogance of Jerry Falwell, the bigotry of James Dobson and the weird-crazy of Pat Robertson.
His book, A Purpose Driven Life, has been wildly successful as a non-proselytizing way for Christians to find more meaning in their lives. Last fall he hosted a generally well-received presidential forum on religion. Despite briefly lying about McCain and a certain “cone of silence,” his involvement in politics has been remarkably fair-minded for someone so solidly on the religious right.
And yet, there he was last week, talking to Sean Hannity, pissing it all away.
First, the weird-crazy: He recently awarded George Bush the first ever “International Medal of Peace” for W’s work on AIDS (which I’ll admit is one of the precious few things that W has not made worse in the world). Still, this is like giving Bill Clinton the “Marital Fidelity” award for his work on Tsunami relief, or Vladimir Putin the “Freedom of the Press” award for his work on … on … well, I’ll get back to you when I can think of anything good Putin has done.
But that was apparently just a warm up. Check out this exchange:
HANNITY: The question is, can you eradicate [evil]? In other words, the whole issue came up. Can you — can you talk to rogue dictators? Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, wants to wipe Israel off the map, is seeking nuclear weapons.
HANNITY: I think we need to take him out.
HANNITY: Am I advocating something dark, evil — or something righteous?
WARREN: Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped. And I believe …
HANNITY: By force?
WARREN: Well, if necessary. In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers.
The whole point of the public Rick Warren was that he wasn’t going to be a shill for the Republican Party, like all his morally bankrupt predecessors. He was supposed to be just an honest, humble broker of the gospel.
Now we learn that he thinks we should assassinate evildoers. Jesus would be appalled.
Follow the logic here, Rick. If you really think evildoers should be taken out, wouldn’t it be easier to start at home? The problem with advocating for taking out evildoers is that it eventually comes full circle. It’s a warped negative of the way Jesus said to treat others (that is, how we want to be treated). You know — like not being assassinated by foreigners. So, watch your step Dick Cheney. Rick Warren is on the look-out for political evildoers to take out.
Warren later cited Romans 13 as the scriptural basis for “The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers.” This is astonishingly bad theology.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
Far from giving nations the green light to attack others they consider evil enough, this passage tells people they must obey their own governing authorities. Specifically, it tells Iranians they must submit to the will of Ahmadinejad.
And this is the exact same passage that conservatives have used over the last eight years to tell activists to shut up about all the torture, the illegal spying, the rendition, the illegal and immoral war.
In other words, citing this passage, either for Bush or against Ahmadinejad, is using the Bible for partisan political ends. It is certainly not being used to bring people into a relationship with the Divine, or even to encourage people towards their best selves.
So, I’m disappointed. Not because I was a particularly a big fan of Warren, but because it seemed like he was going to be a far more reasonable advocate for the other side, and that the religious culture war had a chance to proceed at a more reasonable tenor.
Oh well. I would say I am looking forward to trotting out Romans 13 in the coming four years every time a right-wing Christian complains about some government policy. But unfortunately, and against Rick Warren’s example, I’m still stuck with that inconvenient directive to treat others how I’d like to be treated. What a pain.