By Lisa Miller
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, drew fire last year when he was invited to give the invocation at President Barack Obama's inauguration. His support for Proposition 8 in California, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman only, and his anti-gay-marriage views concerned many in Obama's base.
Now Warren's on the defensive again, this time for his affiliation with Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan pastor who has endorsed proposed legislation in Uganda that makes certain homosexual acts punishable by life in prison or even in some cases death. Ssempa has made appearances at Saddleback and has been embraced warmly by Warren and his wife, Kay.
In October, Warren distanced himself from Ssempa and the Ugandan legislation, saying, "Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church, nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy," a reference to Warren's work in the developing world and Africa in particular. "In 2007, we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own.
"Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation."
But Warren won't go so far as to condemn the legislation itself. A request for a broader reaction to the proposed Ugandan anti-homosexual laws generated this response: "The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations." On Meet the Press this morning, he reiterated this neutral stance in a different context: "As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides." Warren did say he believed that abortion was "a holocaust." He knows as well as anyone that in a case of great wrong, taking sides is an important thing to do.