Saturday, January 3, 2015

Humanum: Rick Warren on Marriage

To read an introduction to the Humanum conference, click here. To read about Pope Francis' opening address at Humanum, click here. To read about Russell Moore's talk, click here. To read about Theresa Okafor's commentary, click here.

Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman took place in Vatican City on November 17-19. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Foest, California, devoted his talk to exalting heterosexual marriage and laying out requirements for sustaining it.

Warren began his talk by claiming that heterosexual marriage is under attack, much like his right-wing brethren. At the 3:11 mark, he insisted that heterosexual marriage has been ridiculed and dismissed by many people.
"Sadly, today, we all know marriage is dishonored by a lot of people. It's dismissed as archaic, man-made tradition. It's denounced as an enemy of women. It's discouraged as a career-limiting choice. It's demeaned in movies and television. It's delayed out of fear that it will limit one's personal freedom. So today, instead of being honored, marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined. What are we going to do about this? The church cannot cower in silence ... The stakes are too high."
Warren proceeded to share suggestions for safeguarding heterosexual marriage. At the 4:31 mark, he argued that God's will is the final authority on what constitutes marriage.
"Affirm the authority of God's word. That's the starting point. We don't base our worldview on fads, or feelings, or opinions, or political correctness. We build our lives on the unchanging truth of God's word."
After quoting from the New Testament, Warren argued that Jesus laid out five convictions about marriage that are "unchangeable, incontrovertible, and unmovable". At the 6:40 mark, he insisted that binary gender categories and heterosexual marriage were decreed by God, and the only acceptable setting for sexual activity is heterosexual marriage (for the sake of procreation, of course).
First ... gender is God's idea. God chose to make us either male or female, our identity is either a man or a woman. It's far deeper than a sociological construct, psychological condition, a personal preference. God made us male and female.
Second ... marriage is God's idea. He defines it. He defines it, not us. It's not a man-made idea that we can just toss away. God created marriage.

Number three, sex was created for marriage. God created the male and female body parts to fit naturally together. That's obvious, but they don't just fit together, they fit together for a purpose, and that is the creation of life, and even if you disbelieve the Bible, every human body and every living person is a witness and a testimony to God's intended purpose for sex. Sex was not created for recreation, but it was created for connection of a husband and wife and procreation of life."
As I argued in a prior post, none of these practices are eternal or divinely ordained. Whether fundamentalists want to admit it or not, people simply don't fit into neat, binary boxes. Notions of gender and marriage have varied widely across cultures and eras, as have notions of what constitutes licit sexual activity. Additionally, the Biblical God does not offer sound advice on what constitutes moral marital and sexual behavior. Practices such as polygamy, concubinage, and forced marriage were justified in different books of the Bible that Warren holds dear, but we rightly reject those practices today.

At the 9:54 mark, Warren continued to list Godly expectations of marriage, including the lifelong permanence of marriage and the illegitimacy of same-sex marriage.
"The fourth thing Jesus said in that passage was that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Now there are many other kinds of relationships, but those aren't marriage. Definitions matter. And then fifth ... marriage is to be permanent. Jesus repeats Genesis saying what God has joined together, no human being should separate."
The fact that marriages involving two men or two women can be successful, that same-sex marriages can be characterized by love, trust, and honesty, escapes him. To boot, Warren ignores the fact that divorce is sometimes good and necessary when marriages become toxic and reconciliation is impossible. How does pressuring couples to stay in miserable marriages benefit anyone?

At the 10:15 mark, Warren insisted that his statements about marriage were true, regardless of whether other people agreed with them.
"We know that all five of those truths that I just gave you are disputed, debated, and denied today, every one of them. But a lie doesn't become a truth, and wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good just because it becomes popular. Truth is truth."
He encouraged religious leaders to celebrate heterosexual marriage in their congregations through testimonies, regular renewals of vows, and rewards for people in long-term marriages. But many churches already treat married heterosexual couples as a superior caste, I thought. Won't this make singles, divorced people, and LGBTQ people feel even more excluded?

Warren listed the supposed benefits of heterosexual marriage, telling listeners that married people are healthier and more financially successful than their single counterparts. God created marriage because a single mother with a child has never been a viable economic entity, he said. This slap in the face to divorced women and single mothers stunned me. Sometimes single mothers don't have a choice in the matter. Sometimes being a single mother is better than staying in an abusive relationship. Often, non-nuclear family arrangements can be successful. Furthermore, this argument attributes poverty among divorced women and single mothers to the absence of a husband. Such thinking ignores societal factors that burden unmarried women, such as pink collar ghettos, the exorbitant cost of child care, and a frayed social safety net. Glorifying heterosexual marriage won't solve these problems; fair social policies will.

Warren repeated an old argument against same-sex marriage, insisting that children who grow up with a father and mother are healthier and more successful. However, research shows that children raised by same-sex couples also do very well, so being raised by an opposite-sex couples is not in and of itself what produces well-adjusted children. Maybe the most vital variable is having two stable, responsible adults in a child's home, rather than the sex of those adults.

Naturally, Warren had to depict marriage as under attack. He encouraged the audience to engage the media because "opponents of marriage" are out-marketing fundamentalist Christians. At the 18:14 mark, he had this to say.
"Right now, friends, the church is being out-marketed by the opponents of marriage ... and the minority view is getting the majority of the press. And they're the minority, they're so far the minority, and yet you would think they were the majority."
I assume that by "opponents of marriage", Warren meant supporters of same-sex marriage. If so, supporters of LGBTQ equality are not a minority anymore, either at home or abroad. Even if they were a minority, it would not make their demands any less legitimate.

Despite his refusal to take same-sex couples seriously, Warren adamantly denied that he was homophobic. At the 24:05 mark, he claimed that the public has accepted two alleged lies about the subject.
"Our culture has accepted two lies today. One of them is that if you disagree with somebody's lifestyle, then you either hate them or are afraid of them. I don't hate them and I'm not afraid of them. I'm not phobic, and I'm not hateful. I just disagree. That's a myth. And the other is that if you love somebody, you must agree with everything they believe or do. Well, that's nonsense because nobody agrees with everything you do, including your wife or your husband, or whatever. Both of those are nonsense."
The gusto with which the Religious Right opposes LGBTQ equality tells me that yes, they do hate and fear the LGBTQ community on some level. Decrying a fundamental part of a person's identity is hateful. Accepting someone's sexual orientation and gender identity is loving and respectful, because those traits are inseparable from the person's nature. Finally, denying rights to LGBTQ people is profoundly hateful. You're not phobic? Is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night? I thought.

In conclusion, Rick Warren's talk at Humanum contained the same Religious Right rhetoric on marriage that I've heard over and over: marriage is a heterosexual institution, gender is binary, divorce is bad, marriage is under attack, we're not haters. The Religious Right seems to think that if it repeats statements enough times, those statements become true.

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