Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Pastor Rick Warren speaks with moderator Steve Gunderson during a session of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008. Warren has recently been criticized for his relationship with Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, a proponent of punishing gays in Uganda with the death penalty.
Pastor Rick Warren speaks with moderator Steve Gunderson during a session of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008. Warren has recently been criticized for his relationship with Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, a proponent of punishing gays in Uganda with the death penalty. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
For the last few weeks influential U.S. pastor Rick Warren has been under fire from critics for refusing to condemn the proposed draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda — which would punish homosexual behavior with jail time or even death and punish those who fail to report gays to the authorities — despite his longstanding involvement in the country and having had one of the main campaigners for the law as a speaker at his church. Warren had previously said, "It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."
But Warren apparently changed his mind and issued a statement condemning the law Thursday morning (video here):
"Of course, there are thousands of evil laws enacted around the world and I cannot speak to pastors about every one of them, but I am taking the extraordinary step of speaking to you – the pastors of Uganda and spiritual leaders of your nation – for five reasons:
First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.
Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.
Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation.
Fourth, ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God. My wife, Kay, and I have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV positive. It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others. We're not just pro-life. We are whole life.
Finally, the freedom to make moral choices and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law."
All well and good, except no one is expecting Warren to comment on every unjust law in the world, just ones in countries where he has an extensive history of involvement, are sponsored by his onetime ally, and concerns a subject that he frequently discusses. After the Ugandan Anglican Church threatened to leave the Church of England, Warren rose to their defense, saying, "The Church of England is wrong and I support the Church of Uganda on the boycott." So it's not as if he's afraid to wade into Uganda's culture wars.
Warren says that, "some erroneously concluded that I supported this terrible bill, and some even claimed I was a sponsor of the bill." But people only came to these conclusions because of his refusal to comment. Warren might not think it's fair that he was asked about the law, but he's a public figure that many people look to for moral guidance and it shouldn't be an unreasonable demand to expect him to condemn the state-sanctioned murder of innocent people.
Moreover, reports yesterday indicated that the Ugandan parliament had actually removed the most controversial portion of the bill — the possibility of the death penaly or life infrisonment for homosexuals. So Warren actually waited for the death-penalty provision to be dropped before speaking out against it.
I'm glad that he made this statement and hope that it makes a difference in Uganda, but it's not exactly a profile in courage.