In Response To ... Rick Warren
                                               on the Bible












  More Writings by Bruce Gourley 


This essay first appeared in the November 2005 Baptist Studies Bulletin

This fall, in the midst of a series of growing scandals within the Bush administration over repeated unlawful and unethical conduct, Rick Warren of the massive (and renowned) Saddleback Church in California came to the defense of George W. Bush  and  praised Bush’s (former) choice for Supreme Court justice (Harriet Miers).  In the company of Richard Land, James Dobson, and Jay Sekulow, Warren declared "I think it was for this very moment that we had the last election," referring to the 2004 presidential election.

Although Warren in recent months has been praised for focusing on biblical issues such as poverty and holistic evangelism, while seemingly avoiding politics, his endorsement of Miers was yet another indication of the propensity of conservative evangelicals to act as company cheerleaders for the Republican Party, even as the party is morally imploding in a rather spectacular fashion.

Warren's political views were clearly spelled out prior to the 2004 election, at which time he called upon Christians to vote for Bush because of Bush's godly agenda, an agenda which Warren labeled as non-negotiable: “for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are five issues that are non-negotiable. To me, they’re not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues."

What are Warren’s five “non-negotiable” political issues that “God’s Word is clear on?” 

Abortion.  Like many (if not most) Christians, I am not pro-abortion.  But seemingly unlike many Christians, when it comes to the subject of abortion I am at least honest enough with the written Word of God to realize that the only reference that approximates abortion in the entire Bible is found in Exodus 21: 22-25, a passage referring to miscarriage in which the life of a fetus is clearly not considered the equal of the life of a living, breathing human being.  That’s it.  This sole reference is not consistent with what many Christians believe about abortion today.

As to the issue of when life begins, the biblical Hebraic understanding teaches that life is associated with the act of breathing.  Again, this is contrary to what many contemporary Christians believe about the beginning of life.  In short, to begin to make the Bible speak to the abortion issue (other than Exodus 21:22-25 as well as the Hebrew understanding of “life” as post-womb), one has to range far away from the literal interpretation of Scripture that all fundamentalists and many conservatives so insistently champion.  Yes, as a Christian one can argue that abortion is murder and that life begins before the first breath.  The best we can do, scripturally speaking, is to indirectly infer about these issues from the biblical text, as a recent New York Times article also noted.

Stem-Cell Harvesting.  Although this is certainly a moral and ethical issue with deep and disturbing implications, there is not one word in the Bible about stem-cell harvesting.

Homosexual Marriage.  Hmmm … nothing in the Bible about this issue, either.  Sure, the Bible does discuss homosexuality, alongside certain other sexual activities.  And contrary to scripture, many Christians today consider homosexuality the most evil of all human activities.

In addition, the Bible does talk about marriage.  Marriages were arranged; choice and love were irrelevant.  Many of the biblical heroes whom God blessed were polygamous.  Sexual intercourse, rather than a document, sealed a marriage.  Wives had no legal rights.           

Despite much ado about “Christian” marriages today, we would be horrified at the thought of doing marriage the actual “biblical” way.  Conversely, God’s people in biblical times (although we can only infer indirectly) would likely be horrified at modern Western views of marriage–whether “Christian” or “secular!” 

Human Cloning.  There is not one word in the Bible about this very important 21st century moral and ethical issue.

Euthanasia.  This is the one issue that Warren might get at least partially right when he claims the Bible speaks “clearly.”  The Bible certainly does talk about respecting life, from first breath to last breath.  On the other hand, nothing in the Bible even begins to address the modern issue of extending life with artificial means (as opposed to allowing a natural and/or merciful death).  Furthermore, can one legitimately argue for using artificial means to extend life (such as in the Terri Schiavo case), while at the same time argue against using artificial means to begin life, such as in cloning?

What is “clear” is that Rick Warren and the Religious Right which he represents in this instance are far removed from the actual biblical text on all five issues.  What is difficult to understand is how “conservative” Christians, who claim the Bible as the source of all truth, in reality take non-biblical stances on the issues that seemingly matter most to them.  (Note:  “Non-biblical” and “unbiblical” are not necessarily synonymous.)  It is as if the actual biblical text is offensive and must be replaced with views that are more politically and theologically correct, and the Bible itself becomes a blank slate in the pulpits and hands of persons who are only too willing to mold and shape it into their own images.

In truth, all Christians will, from time to time, draw indirect inferences from the Bible to discuss and interpret contemporary issues not mentioned in scripture.  All too often, however, one’s interpretation of the Bible becomes more authoritative than the biblical text itself.  In the absence of clear biblical answers to specific contemporary issues, there is a constant temptation to create our own answers and anchor them in a finality that is foreign to scripture.

Rick Warren has a widely-recognized, successful ministry and has earned the respect of many Christians of varied theological stripes.  However, it is most unfortunate that the “clearest” message that Warren’s political pronouncements convey is that the “Word of God” is ultimately subservient to the “Word of Warren.”