An Open Letter to Rick Warren

How Can You Be Against Gay Marriage and a Friend to Gay People?

Pastor Rick,

How are things going for you since being selected by Obama to be his hotline to God at the inauguration? We couldn’t help but notice that yesterday The Daily Beast blasted your HIV/AIDS efforts in Africa, asking “How does burning condoms in the name of Jesus save lives?” Tough stuff, there. Well, I have a question for you, too.

In your message to parishioners over the holiday, you said that you were commanded to love everybody “no matter what choice they make,” adding, “It’s all about love.” You know what, Pastor Rick? I agree. I’m a Christian, too, and I understand that, despite all attempts by church leaders to revise, amend or put asterisks on it, the shining commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is both irreducible and clear. It’s such a radical notion that 2,000 years after it was first uttered, we still don’t grasp the totality of its meaning.

You don’t grasp the totality of its meaning.

I am your neighbor, Pastor Rick. Not just because I live in the same state or because we both have similar beliefs or because we have the same skin color or propensity for long-winded folksy moralization; I am your neighbor because we are the same. Both science and religion say we are made in the same image.

And so I struggle to love you, Pastor Rick. You say you love me, too, but last November you took from me my rights. You argue that “gays should use another term,” that this gay marriage argument is about semantics and the right of your church to define marriage whatever way you choose and that your decision to work to deny me civil rights is, what—an act of love?

I struggle to love you, Pastor Rick, because I know you are not a stupid man. You know full well that people like me – gays and lesbians – have no interest in telling your church how to define marriage. In fact, the Saddleback Church says it won’t allow gays and lesbians to even be members of their church. And while as a Christian I wonder how you can say you’re a follower of a man who would take anyone – prostitutes, lepers, the poor, diseased, cast-offs – into his fold, as an American I will defend your right to define marriage as whatever you want it to be and to decide who can join your church or not.

Love your neighbor. It really is a big thing to ask of us, isn’t it?

In my church, gays and lesbians can get married. Now, I know you think that your church is the correct one, but it broke off from another church just as mine broke off from another. Religion is not a static thing. If it were, we’d all still be Catholics or Jews or whatever nameless sun deity our ancestors looked to in the sky for answers. Those of us who believe that there is more to life than what lies directly before our eyes are constantly redefining the nature of our Eternal Truth. This doesn’t mean that the Eternal Truth has changed, it means our understanding of it has.

Love itself has been redefined over the millennium. One of these days, I want to sit down and write a history of love. It would have a chapter on how marriage was once used primarily as a property transaction and how that concept was itself based on using intermarriage between tribes as a way of sealing a truce. There would be a chapter on the birth of the notion of romantic love, fueled by the sudden increase in spare time brought on by the Industrial Revolution, which gave people time to do things like go on dates.

And there would be a chapter about us, you and I, Pastor Warren. I could say to you, “Hey, let’s tear the word ‘marriage’ from the law books. Let’s make marriage solely a religious thing. Straight, gay, black or white, we all go to City Hall to get a civil union and then leave it to the churches to decide who gets married and under what rules.”

But that’s not what this is about, is it? This is about changing the definition of love. If gays and lesbians are allowed to marry, as they were in California until you stripped that right away, then that means their love is legitimate. Why is that so scary to you?

And what does it mean that you say through words and actions that the way I love – that radical thing that God commands us to do – is wrong? How can you claim to love me and say that my love, the thing that makes me human, is somehow malfunctioning? You can’t.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself. In loving me, you must. If you truly believe all that stuff in the Bible, you must believe that my love is as legitimate as yours, because it is.

This is the chapter of the history of love being written today. Despite all the failures of humanity – its wars, its cruelty and injustice – we can look back on the last 2,000 years and say, we’ve become slightly better at loving our neighbor as ourselves, at least I believe we have. Our capacity to love, our understanding of it, our application of it not just to those closest to us, but strangers half a globe away in need, is a testament to the grace of our species.

Pastor Rick, you’ve missed the point, entirely. I have no interest in redefining your definition of marriage. What I want is for you to stop redefining mine. I know my capacity for love is the genuine authentic article, and because you are my neighbor, because I am commanded to love you as I love myself, I don’t sit up at night questioning your own capacity to love. The idea that I would ever raise a finger to keep you from sharing your love with another person is revolting. It actually physically disgusts me. It’s a repugnant slap in the face to that radical and essential notion that we, despite our prejudices, fears and petty dislikes, must love our neighbors as ourselves. And it’s what you’ve done to me and to thousand upon thousands of your neighbors.

And so, I struggle to love you, Pastor Rick. You say you want to build a bridge and that you love everybody? Then please, sit down with me and let’s try to understand each other better. I’ve made multiple requests to speak with you through your church – and I know I’m on ‘the list’ – but I’d like to make the offer to you directly. I believe you want to do good in the world. I think you are genuine in your desire to reach out to others. So let’s talk. Let’s see if we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Let’s be neighbors.