Rick Warren, Is That All the Courage You Can Muster?

Uganda’s “Kill the Gays Bill” has never actually gone away since it was proposed in 2009, even during those times when we’ve stopped talking about it. It just shifts and resurfaces and, as Peter Montgomery pointed out a couple of weeks back on RD, it’s dangerously close to passing right now. Rebecca Kadaga, speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, recently told the Associated Press in November that the anti-gay bill would be a “Christmas gift” to the population.

With its resurgence, LGBT and human rights groups have been sounding the alarm again that the bill needs to be stopped. Those who spoke out against the bill in 2009 need to speak out once again. 

Two recent posts from Box Turtle Bulletin, which first broke the news of the “Kill the Gays Bill” in 2009, starkly contrast they way that two of the world’s most influential faith leaders are engaging with Uganda on the bill.

Rick Warren Tweets Opposition to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Desmond Tutu Pens Op-Ed for Ugandan Newspaper

About a week ago, I wrote a post that asked Rick Warren why he couldn’t be more like Desmond Tutu. Tutu is using his prophetic voice to try to save the lives and livelihoods of LGBT people in Uganda (as well as their friends and families) by appealing to the Ugandan people to not commit such atrocities against their own citizens. 

Rick Warren, on the other hand, sent a 102-character tweet reminding us that he opposed this bill three years ago, and linking to the 2009 video he made:

I can’t help but feel that Rick Warren’s tweet is largely about maintaining his image as the “moderate evangelical” and “good guy.” Those familiar with the Bible might say that he’s “washing his hands” of the whole situation (that phrase comes from a pretty famous

Bible story, y’all). An Adan Garcia and Wayne Self comic critical of Warren’s priorities jokes that “ANY hero can help the downtrodden, but only Captain Saddleback is there for the hardly trodden at all!” 

Yes, Rick Warren has been the target of so much pressure on this issue because of his work and influence throughout the whole continent of Africa, and Uganda in particular. In 2005 Warren announced his PEACE Plan to use the resources of the Evangelical Church in America to provide aid for those in developing nations, especially nations in Africa. Warren became beloved as the pastor who was doing international relief work. HIV/AIDS became a core issue for both Rick and his wife Kay, and they have enjoyed unique prominence and influence on the continent ever since. He didn’t just make a statement or two in support of the people and then head back to California. He rolled up his sleeves, he rallied his supporters, and he got to work, helping the people of Uganda and Africa.  

Yes, Rick Warren is correct in tweeting that he had already voiced his opposition to the “Kill the Gays Bill” in 2009; that they still find the legislation “abhorrent.” That may be true, but remember that his recent comment that being gay is like having the urge to punch someone in the nose came as he was promoting The Purpose Driven Life, a book that he first published ten years ago. Clearly, this is a man who believes that some things are worth repeating—if they’re important enough. 

On the other hand I’m more and more impressed with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He spent 60+ years struggling against Apartheid, and is now using his voice and his influence to help other people who are being discriminated against. He’s not afraid to publicly and consistently defend LGBT people, as Rick Warren seems to be.  

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he reminded his young disciple that God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. The spirit of power means speaking out, even when it slightly shifts your public persona, threatens book sales, or makes your followers a little uncomfortable. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has learned all of this, and I pray that the same spirit of power will encourage Rick Warren and all of our religious leaders to stand for “the least of these” and to use his considerable influence to truly work against the “Kill the Gays Bill” in Uganda.