‘Calling’ Rick Warren to Task on Anti-Gay Ugandan Law

When Rachel Maddow started talking about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, or what Maddow called the “Kill the Gays Bill,” on her nightly MSNBC show late last month, Lisa Darden knew she needed to make a phone call.

Darden, a filmmaker and talent agent, had been interviewing conservative evangelical Christian leaders and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the religious right for the past several years for her soon to be released movie, For Such a Time as This. The documentary seeks to bridge the gap between anti-gay Christians and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. In her travels, she had become fast friends with A. Larry Ross, who serves as Rick Warren’s publicist.

“I knew this was going to break before it did, so I called Larry and told him what was going on and encouraged him to have Rick Warren make a statement against this law, because the silence from evangelical leaders was deafening. I told him somebody needs to stand up and this was an opportunity for Warren to be in front of the story or get run over by it,” she told Religion Dispatches.

Her conversation came after Warren had already declined to make a public statement against the pending law, telling Newsweek:

The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.

Darden believes that Warren’s noncommittal statement revealed that the evangelical Christian community didn’t believe that the Uganda story would be such big news in the United States and that they would not be asked to address it. Darden said she tried to impress upon Ross just how serious this story was, and with Maddow pushing it nightly on her show, how important it would become for Warren to speak out boldly against the measure, rather than dodge the question.

“I gave them a heads up. They didn’t have a clue what was coming down the pike, but I hoped that my call would be a catalyst for them to finally respond,” she said, noting that Ross has subsequently sent her a thank-you note for her involvement.

It would still be several days, and several more conversations with Ross, before Warren would finally issue a video and statement. While other Christian leaders have already been vocal in their opposition to the pending bill, Darden believes Warren’s voice will be instrumental in making a difference.

The truth is right now we need more people like Rick Warren to make a statement like that. It’s going to force other people to say something and we need more and more people saying something and we need more Christians in this country to stand up and say, ‘No, this is not okay.’ We needed Rick Warren.

In his statement, Warren said that he opposes and condemns the Ugandan bill, but also took the opportunity to again reassure his Ugandan followers that while he doesn’t support killing gays and lesbians, he still believes homosexuality is condemned by the Bible and that he opposes marriage equality for gays and lesbians:

While we can never deny or water down what God’s Word clearly teaches about sexuality, at the same time the church must stand to protect the dignity of all individuals—as Jesus did and commanded all of us to do. Let me be clear that God’s Word states that all sex outside of marriage is not what God intends. Jesus reaffirmed what Moses wrote that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman committed to each other for life.

Even though Warren didn’t pass up the chance to preach against gays and lesbians in his statement, Darden still hopes that his condemnation of the law is sincere.

“If he’s not sincere, we’ll know it, because everything comes to light eventually,” she said.

The value, though, of Warren finally speaking out means that others in the evangelical community will now do the same, Darden said.

“People need permission to do the right thing, and Warren’s statement has given them what they need to respond,” she said.

It is my hope that Darden’s next target will be that other international leader who has so far remained silent: President Barack Obama.

Editor’s Note: We have revised the headline of this piece to remove the suggestion that a single person was the catalyst for Rick Warren’s statement.