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Rick Warren’s Teaching

Jan 13, 2009 — Categories: , ,

Since Rick Warren was invited to give the Invocation at the Presidential Inauguration next week, he has been attracting some attention and scrutiny. Warren is the Senior Pastor at Saddleback Church in California.

Since Rick Warren was invited to give the Invocation at the Presidential Inauguration next week, he has been attracting some attention and scrutiny. Warren is the Senior Pastor at Saddleback Church in California.

There are two areas of teaching, according to his website and interviews, that require a comment in my blog. First, Warren seems sadly ill-informed about homosexuality and sexual violence. He teaches that gay and lesbian relationships are the equivalent of incest and pedophilia and therefore should not have the legal protection of marriage. His analogy is wrong-headed. Incest and pedophilia are crimes involving the abuse of children by someone more powerful. Lesbian and gay relationships are just like heterosexual relationships: two adults who choose to make a commitment and share their lives. Misinformation is not helpful to these areas of discussion.

Secondly, his colleague, Pastor Holladay, teaches that domestic terror is no reason to divorce your abusive spouse. Now, in fairness, the message is mixed--and confusing:

"There's nowhere in the Bible that says it's an attitude of submission to let somebody abuse you," he said. "That is not submission. So we recommend very strongly separation . . . When I say physical abuse, I mean literally somebody is beating you regularly," he said. "I don't mean they grab you once. I mean they've made a habit of beating you regularly. You need to separate in that situation, because that's the only thing that's going to solve that."

If you are being beaten regularly, you don’t have to put up with it--which suggests he would not recognize the subtleties of power and control which define an abusive relationship. You should separate--but not divorce. You can leave your abuser, but you must remain bound to him for life--which for too many battered women isn’t very long.

The biblical teaching on divorce in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is concerned primarily with prohibiting men (who were the ones who could divorce) from casting off their wives for no good reason which left these women destitute and vulnerable. This would be one of those ethical questions that I would hold up to the question: What Would Jesus Do? Somehow I can’t see Jesus reaching out to help a battered woman by the side of the road, bandaging her wounds, and then telling her that she must stay married to the man who tried to kill her.

Divorce in this case is the public acknowledgement of the irreparable damage done to the marriage covenant by the abusive partner. The covenant between two people is broken by the violence and betrayal of trust. The divorce makes this fact public and offers some protection for the victim to be able to be safe and hopefully get on with her life.

Some people are able to separate and eventually reconcile their relationship. But this requires that the abuser acknowledge the harm he has done, take responsibility for it, work to change that behavior and never repeat it. Even then if the victim/survivor doesn’t feel safe around him, she should not return to the relationship and risk her life and the lives of her children.

What worries me about this teaching at Saddleback Church is that these leaders do not understand abuse and do not realize how they may be endangering battered women who follow their teaching. If a woman is being told that the violence does not allow her to divorce and yet she knows that her life depends on getting as far away from this man as possible, then she is faced with a difficult choice: to be in danger and follow the teaching of her church or to be safe outside the teaching of her church. We should never ask her to do this.

I just wish that pastors would do their homework and consider the unintended consequences of their teaching and preaching.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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