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Max Blumenthal on “Rick Warren’s Double Life”

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President-elect Barack Obama is drawing criticism from many supporters for his choice to deliver the invocation at next month’s inauguration. Obama has selected the Reverend Rick Warren, a leading evangelical opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Warren supported California’s recent gay marriage ban and has compared abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. In a recent interview with the website, Warren said he thinks gay marriage is comparable to incest, polygamy and child abuse. We speak to investigative journalist Max Blumenthal. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Barack Obama is drawing criticism from many supporters for his choice to deliver the invocation at next month’s inauguration. Obama selected the Reverend Rick Warren, a leading evangelical opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Warren supported California’s recent gay marriage ban and has compared abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. In a recent interview with the website, Warren said he thinks gay marriage is comparable to incest, polygamy and child abuse.

    REV. RICK WARREN: I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

    STEVEN WALDMAN: Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

    REV. RICK WARREN: Oh, I do. I just say, for 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion. This is not a Christian issue. Buddhists, Muslims, Jews — you know, historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Rick Warren, speaking to After Warren’s inauguration appearance was announced, Obama was forced to defend his choice.

    PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: It is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.

    What I’ve also said is that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. And I would note that a couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign’s been all about.

AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Barack Obama, speaking in Chicago last week.

I’m joined now by Max Blumenthal, Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute. His work has appeared in The Nation, Salon and many other publications, currently writing a book on the US evangelical movement. His latest article, “Rick Warren’s Hypocritical Double Life,” is online at Max Blumenthal joins us by DN! video stream.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Max.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the history of Rick Warren.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, the history of Rick Warren is pretty interesting. And you heard some of his views right there. These are views that people have only recently started paying attention to. Prior to this controversy, Rick Warren was, you know, proffered by the media as the voice of the new evangelical movement, which embraces environmentalism and fights poverty and is going to move beyond the old hobgoblins of the Christian right and the old, you know, draconian figures of the Christian right, like James Dobson and Pat Robertson. Rick Warren was supposed to be the pioneer of this new movement. He is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, a megachurch in Orange County. And he’s the author of The Purpose Driven Life, which is, you know, a sort of subtly Christian, self-help manual that sold 25 million copies. So he has a really broad appeal, and he’s planted churches across the world, especially in Africa.

And because, you know, the media has expected evangelicals, especially conservative evangelicals, to be draconian and retrograde, you know, they’ve made a hero out of Rick Warren without looking at who he really is and what he really believes. Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times, for example, has called Rick Warren an evangelical liberals can love. You know, Newsweek named Rick Warren one of the fifteen people who make America great. And even The Nation, which I’ve written for, you know, the venerable left-wing magazine, in 2005 published a piece calling Rick Warren America’s pastor.

You know, he wears a Hawaiian shirt. He looks like a big teddy bear. He doesn’t holler or hector. He speaks in a ponderous tone. And he does seem to genuinely care about the environment and care about poverty. It’s not clear what he’s actually done.

And he’s been pumped up by a small group of Democratic consultants, who urged Barack Obama first to go to his church and speak with him and then to participate in a debate this August that was broadcast by CNN, the Saddleback Forum, where Rick Warren essentially got to interview both candidates sequentially, John McCain and Barack Obama, on the issues and serve as the national minister. The debate went really badly for Obama, because Rick Warren asked him a trick question about abortion: When does a baby get human rights? Barack Obama couldn’t answer it. Soon after, he was attacked by right-wing radio hosts for his answer, because he said, you know, “This question is above my pay grade.” And Rick Warren even went on a conservative radio show and, you know, chuckled about Obama’s response and kind of lightly mocked him.

So, the real Rick Warren is someone who fights the culture war with a velvet glove. He’s a religious right figure who’s figured out a new strategy to move into a Democratic post-Bush era and still hold influence. He even — he freely admitted to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal

that the principal difference, the only difference, between him and James Dobson is a matter of tone. And when I called Rick Warren’s PR handlers, you know, the people that are responsible for making him into this major national figure, from Larry A. Ross Communications, they kind of laughed at the idea that he was America’s pastor. They said he’s consistent with what the Bible teaches. He’s not trying to be America’s pastor or whatever.

So, Rick Warren openly backed Proposition 8 in California last November — this November, and he did so in the terms that you heard him speaking to Steven Waldman, essentially saying that two percent of our population, the homosexual population, was trying to dictate to the rest us, which is a really demagogic thing to say. He told that to his congregation. And he’s backed every anti-gay proposition that’s come down the pike in California in the last ten years, including Proposition 22, which laid the groundwork for Proposition 8. He joined up with James Dobson and Charles Colson and Tony Perkins and these people to do this.

Beyond that, he compares pro-choice advocates to Holocaust deniers. He recently was interviewed by Sean Hannity, and Sean Hannity asked him, “Should we attack Iran?” And Rick Warren said, “Well, it’s our God-given obligation to take out evildoers.” He has recently scrubbed material from his website claiming that man walked the earth with dinosaurs, basically that, you know, history is one big Flintstones episode. He will not allow homosexuals to be members of his church, and he recently scrubbed that from his website.

So it’s just interesting to me that people are finally paying attention to this, after Rick Warren has never tried to hide his views. He’s never really gamed the media. It’s just that progressives have finally drawn the line, where Barack Obama has not.

AMY GOODMAN: You write about, one, Rick Warren saying he doesn’t feel that politics and religion should be mixed. But you also talk about how in the last days of the presidential race of Bush’s 2004 re-election bid, Warren sent an urgent blast email to hundreds of thousands of evangelicals, insisting they base their votes on five non-negotiable issues: abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, human cloning and euthanasia.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. And this is before Rick Warren became a member of the ONE Campaign, before, you know, the media had began puffing him, and before people — Democratic consultants like Mara Vanderslice, who ran a sort of Christian front group for Obama called Matthew 25, and self-proclaimed progressive evangelicals in the media, like Amy Sullivan, began presenting him as one of the new evangelicals who was going to take us beyond the Christian right. But the evidence was there that Rick Warren had sort of insidiously backed George W. Bush by saying that pastors had to vote and urge their congregations to vote on issues like abortion and homosexuality. If you vote on those issues and you say that those issues are non-negotiable, then of course you’re going to vote for George W. Bush, and of course you’re going to back the Republicans for Congress.

Beyond that, you know, Rick Warren says he’s for the environment. Rick Warren says that he’s for fighting poverty, which is great. But what has he actually done? You know, I’ve spent hours scouring the internet, calling around, trying to find some results that Rick Warren has produced in Africa against AIDS, results he’s produced against poverty. And all I can find is that his peace programs, which he calls them, are sort of recruitment vehicles for the churches that he’s planning in Africa and that he is using these programs actually to evangelize, and there’s no real way of measuring his results. And there are Christian groups that are doing good work, you know, in the third world, that are fighting poverty, and they measure results, groups like Medical Teams International. Even World Vision measures results. But we have no way of knowing what Rick Warren is doing. It looks to me like he’s going around to the Aspen Institute and to these big elite festivals and telling people who expect evangelicals to be retrograde and who expect evangelicals to be draconian, that he’s doing something different. And he speaks the language that people want to hear in the media-manufactured age of post-partisanship. But it’s unclear what he’s actually doing, beyond fighting the culture war with a velvet glove.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, let’s turn to another clip highlighting some of Rick Warren’s views. Earlier this month, he was interviewed by Ann Curry of MSNBC.

    ANN CURRY: If science finds that this is biological —-


    ANN CURRY: —- that people are born to be gay, would you change your position?

    REV. RICK WARREN: No. And the reason why is because we all have biological predispositions. I’m naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Rick Warren. Max Blumenthal, final thoughts?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, that’s a bizarre remark I haven’t heard. And, you know, I like to get to know women first, and I think, you know, most people do. Rick Warren has a doctrine of women’s submission, which he preaches to his church, and he tells the female members of his church that they have to support their husbands’ decisions, even if they make bad financial decisions, because women have to submit in a biblical manner to their husbands. So this goes way beyond being anti-gay. He’s, you know, patriarchal. He’s supported assassinating Iran’s president. And he’s just —

You know, I have no problem, and I don’t think anyone should have any problem with Barack Obama going to Rick Warren’s church and meeting with him or working with him on good initiatives. But the question is, where does Barack Obama draw the line when someone demonizes a segment of Americans? Is this person really fit to address the nation and confer God’s blessing on the entire United States of America, when Rick Warren freely admits that he only believes that a small segment of Americans are going to heaven and that the rest of us are going to burn in an everlasting lake of fire? That’s the question. And I think that Barack Obama has answered it. But at the very least, progressives have drawn the line here, and I think they should hold the line.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, I want to thank you for being with us, Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute, writing a book on the evangelical movement. His latest article is called “Rick Warren’s Hypocritical Double Life.” It’s online at

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