Warren: A surprising take

From Bob Ostertag in the HuffPo:

…Through years of queer demonstrations, meetings, readings and dinner table conversations, about gay bashing, police violence, job discrimination, housing discrimination, health care discrimination, immigration discrimination, family ostracism, teen suicide, AIDS profiteering, sodomy laws, and much more, I never once heard anyone identify the fact that they couldn’t get married as being a major concern. And then, out of the blue, gay marriage suddenly became the litmus test by which we measure our allies. We have now come to the point that many unthinkingly equate opposition to gay marriage with homophobia…

He then quotes an interview with Warren:

Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family – divorce or gay marriage? A: [laughs] That’s a no brainer. Divorce. There’s no doubt about it.
Q: So why do we hear so much more – especially from religious conservatives – about gay marriage than about divorce?

A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.]

Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?

A: I don’t know if I’d use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don’t believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.

Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?

A: You know, not a problem with me.

And he continues:

I have an idea: let’s accept equal rights for all. Equal rights are the issue when it comes to national politics. That’s Obama’s position, and I think he has it right.

Then, for those of you who are truly concerned with marriage above and beyond the issue of rights, you should go to your church, or synagogue, or mosque, and have that battle. In your community of fellow believers. I wish you all the best. And the rest of us can move on to things that matter to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. Like, say, global warming.

Which brings us back to Rick Warren. Warren is the shiny new star of American evangelicalism. Just one of his many books has sold over 20 million copies. And his books, like his ministry, are all about rallying evangelicals to battle global warming, poverty, and AIDS. He rarely mentions culture war issues like gay marriage…

I am delighted that there is a new generation of evangelicals that thinks the biggest issue isn’t homosexuality but global climate change, AIDS, and poverty. And who “don’t believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles.” I am so ready to make common cause with them. I couldn’t care less about what they think of gay marriage.

It seemed to me worth having this dissenting gay view out there for discussion. My initial reaction is that I’d be far more persuaded if it looked like Warren really did support equal rights (other than marriage) for gay people, but that’s kind of hard to believe given his claims (noted by Ostertag) about how they’ll burn in hell.

13 thoughts on “Warren: A surprising take

  1. Of course, he also thinks that atheists and many others will go to hell; I’m not sure I would look to that comment to establish Warren’s stance on rights for gays and lesbians.

    “And he believes that everyone who does not accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell. He doesn’t single out gays and lesbians in particular.”

  2. Ostertag’s piece is fantastic, and it’s nice to see a radical queer voice at HuffPo.

    His analysis follows nicely from the 1999 book by Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal. That is, it’s not so much “surprising” that this radical queer position is out there, but more that it lost out so dramatically to pro-normalization forces. It’s worth remembering that in the late 90’s, when Warner wrote his book, he was in the middle of public fight with Andrew Sullivan over the role of gay marriage. Sullivan (before he was a huge Obama supporter, he was a pretty vocal conservative republican) insisted that marriage rights represented the end of the gay rights movement, and that this is a good thing: i.e. that being “normal” should be the explicit and final goal of the movement.

    Warner took elegant exception to this position, and argued nicely in that book that we should be extremely weary of the desire to be normal, especially since all structures of marriage (no matter who or how many people are involved in them) are expressly about moral hierarchy: my relationship (and by extension, my sexual activity) is morally superior to your relationships. Warner argues that it is precisely these kinds of moralizing statements and actions that should be resisted by queers, questioning the widespread adoption of bourgeois and middle-class norms of morality, which effectively destroy freedom, despite being claims made in the language of “equality.” The rights and privileges that adhere to marriage, no matter how it is defined, are explicitly anti-egalitarian and exclusionary, even if the circle of who can be included has been effectively broadened. Ostertag makes this point nicely where he says, “Instead of tearing down the walls of privilege enjoyed by the nuclear family, we are demanding our own place at the married couples’ table (leaving all those other unmarried people out in the cold).” He even quietly invokes the Warner/Sullivan debates when he says the following:

    “Is this really where decades of struggle for sexual freedom ends? With the state granting its blessing to homosexual nuclear families emerging from City Hall, husband-and-husband or wife-and-wife, with the photographer and the rice and the whole bit, finally having become just like them?

    Not for me. Not for my family, with its various men, each of whom I love in a different way, a child, and two moms. Not that my family is any sort of queer norm. But that’s the beautiful thing about queer culture: there is no norm. We piece together our families, holding on to those relationships that work.”

    It is a line of critique, I think, that we can trace from Marx’s analysis of liberalism in “On the Jewish Question” and is maintained in various schools of critical theory all the way to Foucault’s analysis of normalization, and put effectively into voice by Warner on this issue.

    Of course marriage should be available to everyone. Of course there should be equal access and rights to these institutions of privilege and exclusion. And then we should get down to the business of dismantling these very institutions because they do nothing but confer privilege through exclusion, precisely for the same reasons that we want them. It’s part of the that ongoing critique of what Spivak called “that which we cannot not want.”

    Kudos to Ostsertag.

  3. Sulla, I’m less sure that it is a good point. If you are religious and believe what a church says, then it is very serious to be told that some action of your puts you on a par with those who deny God’s existence. Sex for gays costs them the eternal loss of God’s love. Yikes! I can remember in my RC days that to be told some action would have that consequence was a completely terrible burden.

    The marriage question is a red herring in this discussion. The thing to look at is why he’s against gay marriage and why he wants a law about it.

    He’s against it since he thinks gay sex is on a moral par with incest and child abuse. And he isn’t willing to have this decided on a church by church basis; he wants a law binding everyone. That’s a lot less warm and fuzzy than the image he projects.

    Further, he won’t let “unrepentent” gays into his church as members. I guess having lost God’s love, they are pretty much outsiders as far as he is concerned.

    Not only does he think some of us are like child sex abusers; others are murderers of innocent children.

    He certainly knows how to make himself look friendly, but someone like him who wants his views to be public law is really doing a number. Finally, he simply lies, telling people that ministers loose free speech if gay marriage is legalized.

  4. I agree with jj: “marriage question is a red herring.” The problem I have with the piece by Ostertag is that he seems to focus entirely on Warren’s support of Prop 8 and the opposition to gay marriage. Warren’s positions are not limited to that. There is an interesting discussion at Newsweek where Chris Crain makes similar points as Ostertag but is correct by Leah McElrath Renna (again and again). Warren does not believe that homosexuals exist – they are simply confused and with god’s love they can overcome their sin and become normal heterosexuals (talk about normalizing, atd). Plus, there’s the “abortion is murder” idea. And the believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. And that a wife should be obedient to her husband. Oh, and that marriage is the only valid way of being in a relationship (a very, very normative approach). (The Saddleback church seems to have done some redesigning of their website over the weekend. The most offensive positions presented in an FAQ are no longer there – the page is now empty. But you can go to http://www.saddlebackfamily.com and search for the terms.)

    I do agree with Ostertag (and Michael Warner and atd and the Alternatives to Marriage Project and others) that we need to move beyond marriage and start valuing all families. And that we need to have a discussion about the pros and cons of gay marriage that takes into account the discriminatory nature of marriage itself (it is a bright dividing line that the government uses to dole out rights & privileges but excludes many, many family forms).

    However, my – and I assume many others – opposition to the Warren selection is not based on his support of Prop 8. It’s everything he represents: The religious wrong with all its outmoded ideas. The stuff I was hoping we could leave behind when W leaves the White House.

  5. What!?! Warren’s church has changed its faq page and moved its anti- stuff onto another page?

    Talk about having the courage of one’s convictions.

  6. Well, maybe I am blinded by my lack of faith but I don’t see any question 49 answered here: http://www.saddlebackfamily.com/home/whatwebelieve/index.html#q_49

    (Oh, yeah, did I mention that they either think that women are men, too, or that we’re just not important…)

    If you utilize the search functionality, you’ll find similar things. The small excerpt gives a whiff of what you’re looking for but when you following the link, you don’t find anything.

    I am sure they’ll simply call this “good PR.”

    (If anybody knows how to find these pages in cache somehow, I think they were still out there as late as Saturday evening.)

  7. Rachel, it’s fascinating that they’ve felt the need to alter their website. A pleasing indication that their real beliefs are becoming socially acceptable. As to the Ostertag piece: yes, I think gay marriage is a red herring. If Warren really just said that he opposed gay marriage but was fine with all other rights, and if he didn’t spew all that hate around I don’t think folks would be bothered by having him speak. atd: It is indeed good to hear someone speaking against marriage from a queer perspective. What surprised me was not so much that as the defense of Warren. Though I agree with you that we need to hear more from the queer anti-marriage position, and more prominently.

  8. Is the original text really so surprising? If your moral law book asserted that homosexual behavior is on par with sexual abuse and worse than slavery, would you let an unrepentant and practicing gay in your house, especially on the days your most valued friends are over as guests? I expect not.

    Obama reads the same book, of course, so I’m not sure what we’re expecting here.

  9. Yes, except the moral law book is very hard on shrimp eaters and allows for enslaving women. So really there is a picking and choosing, which means more than the moral law book is needed for justification.

    Have a look at the video-argument posted.

  10. John McWhorter:

    “Overall, expecting Obama to treat social conservatism as beyond the pale proposes that Obama dismiss a frame of reference typical, whether many of us like it or not, of legions of the people we’re supposed to be so excited about including in the American fabric. Black he is not, but at the inauguration ceremony next month, Rick Warren will be every bit as much in line with the black American soul as Aretha Franklin.”


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