The prevailing narrative that has been spun on the Rick Warren controversy goes something like this: Rick Warren has marketed himself as a "moderate" conservative evangelical Christian whose "purpose-driven" ministry focuses on poverty and AIDs rather than engaging in the culture wars -- until he recently decided to campaign for Prop. 8. This proved that he was homophobic just like the rest of the religious right, a wolf in sheep's clothing, who needed to be exposed for who and what he really is. And, wouldn't you know it, he went on television and finally made it perfectly clear that he not only is a homophobe but that he, like his brethern, have nothing but contempt for those whom he likens to pedophiles and those who commit bestiality. Therefore, he must be condemned, repudiated, and removed from the public stage. Every effort must be made to exert political pressure on Obama and anyone else who might naively think that it is o.k. to pal around with the likes of Rick Warren. Good liberals and progressives are like conservatives -- they must put walls around themselves and do whatever it takes to keep their base angry, upset, and ready to demonize and scorn the Enemy.
I haven't checked but I'm sure there is a counter-narrative to this going on at places like Faux News. Something like, see, the fascist liberals are at it again, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. Which will mean that the liberals will counter the counter by saying, see, you cannot build bridges to these people, it's a waste of time and effort, because no Warren supporters would ever want to cooperate with the Obama administration on anything, and it is a travesty to hold out the olive branch to them all for the price of this terrible insult to gays and lesbians who are tired of being told they are no better than dogs, which is what people like Orombi and Akinola say -- the ones that Warren pals around with over in Africa.
This is politics as usual. And yes, the implication of what Warren has said about homosexual conduct and gay marriage is awful. But unlike most of his ilk, he came out and talked about it at considerable length. Rather than simply hide between the usual scriptural verses and talking points, he talked about sexuality in general, his own urges, desires, and temptations, and how he related all that to homosexuality.
Is it ugly for gays and lesbians to listen to? Yes, I'm sure it is. But in the desire to both condemn and escape from this kind of talk, something valuable is being lost -- the understanding that might be gained by listening to it carefully, thinking it through, and using that knowledge to try to combat that kind of thinking. For one thing, Rick Warren did not use the words "incest" or "pedophilia" or "bestiality" -- he talked about brothers and sisters and an old man and a young person. Of course, he meant the same thing, and it could have been pure cunning and guile, but I'm not so sure about the latter. This is a guy who has long said publicly that heterosexual promiscuity and infidelity are much more important religious and social issues than homosexuality and, until recently, he hasn't been actively involved in campaigning against homosexuals. The fact that he was so open with his talk suggests to me that, for better or for worse, he really means what he says about looking at sexual sin as all being pretty much the same, focusing as much, if not more, on heterosexual sin than what he considers unnatural behavior by a small group of people.
Does this make him a nice guy, a better person, more reasonable, open to change, etc? No -- or at least I make no such assumptions. What I see is someone who was given enough verbal rope that he, in effect, hung himself with it. But maybe, just maybe if more attention is paid to those words, those who oppose the ideas behind them can get more traction for trying to eradicate them from not only those who utter them but those who do not.
While GLBT folks may have heard and focused on the words that, quite naturally, give them great offense, I must say that as hetero I found pretty bizarre his talk about his "natural" urges to have sex with "every beautiful woman I meet" and resisting internet porn. While it was not exactly surprising, I think it pays to listen closely when people like Warren reveal the extent to which they are (pardon the expression) pretty screwed up in their thinking about sexuality in general -- the whole, sex with Da Wife is good; everything else with anyone else is bad. I suspect that it is no coincidence that some of the guys at Viagaraville have their own stories of heterosexual excess in their youth (sometimes aggravated by alcohol or drug abuse), from which they believe that their strict, menacing, Calvinistic god has saved them and will save everyone else who will take his wrath and judgment seriously.
People have long talked about the "ick" factor with respect to homosexuality. I suppose that those terribly afflicted with cannot be budged from their views. But I've long wondered if what propels the anti-gay marriage laws is really fear and prejudice arising from heterosexual views of homosexuality based entirely on a conviction that homosexual orientation is not only all about sex (i.e. erotic biological urges) but it also is about impulses for the wild and naughty, no different from impulses and urges they have experienced (and sometimes even acted upon) that have been destructive to themselves and/or others. In a culture where there is much fear of "anything goes," it is not difficult for some people, especially when bombarded with misinformation and anti-gay propaganda, to at least question, if not believe, that letting persons of the same gender marry (gay or otherwise) is going to undermine sexual morality and social structures. It's not logical in terms of reason, but on an emotional level it apparently has a big appeal.
Someone like Rick Warren may reveal by both his words and his laughter that he is deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality. But, at least until now, it may have been true that he held no particular animus towards homosexual persons and was willing to allow people of the same gender to join together and live in Civil Unions for what legal protections they might afford. I know full well that that is not good enough, that such supposedly benign or neutral or "moderate" views only act to give cover to deep prejudice and fear that can erupt in hate at any time. But, I still think that it pays to not only understand where these folks are coming from but also to try to speak their language and to start engaging in dialogue based on shared values and goals.
For a long time "straight" culture has benefited from the gadfly role of gay culture -- its deliberate upending of conventional norms, its wit, its satire, its humor, and scathing criticism. I'm not going to presume to tell GLBTs how to be, as either citizens of the world or political constituents in the U.S. or elsewhere. But I would like to suggest that one avenue of advocacy for full equality is for gays and heteros to tackle together the confounding issues of human sexuality from a perspective that recognizes that persons of various sexual orientations face many of the same human problems with respect to coming to terms with their sexuality and learning to live with it in peace with oneself and others.
I don't know about Rick Warren personally, but his words convey an attitude towards sexuality that is no more healthy for heterosexuals than it is homosexuals. People have sexual urges, some stronger than others. People in hetero marriages can and do engage in all sorts of sexual behaviors (with various body parts, as well) out of boredom, self-gratification, pleasure, and assertion of power. Sex poses the same temptations towards evil or good for just about all of us. Someday I hope we can all get to that understanding and simply deal with it. But until then, it seems to me that we've got to start talking about all of it more openly and honestly. While I wouldn't want to submit Rick Warren as the poster child for such talk, I would like to suggest that the occasion of this latest controversy might be used to get such conversations going, to talk through some of the things Warren said with all sorts of people, not just try to silence him. Some people can be reached, sooner or later, one by one, step by step. But if they are continually shunned and shunted aside, I do not see what hope there is that progress will be made.