Civil Unions, Divorce, Richard Cizik, and Rick Warren

Over at Religion and American History, Matt Sutton has an excellent post about the evangelical response to Newsweek’s recent cover story on the religious case for gay marriage. Sutton is a historian and is clearly not interested in delving into the debate over whether or not gay marriage is condoned in the Bible. He does, however, remind his readers that divorce is a much bigger problem in evangelical churches than gay marriage, yet few evangelicals are railing against the former with the same zeal that they oppose the latter. Sutton writes:

If conservatives really believe that allowing homosexuals to marry is going to undermine God’s immutable laws and therefore wreak havoc on American society, they need to deal first with the problem that is closer at hand and FAR more prevalent—divorce. Until they fight to make church policy and American law reflect Jesus’ teachings on divorce, their efforts against gay marriage will continue to look much more like a crusade of hate than a legitimate response to the teachings of their scriptures. We need to either throw out the divorcees and the gays, or welcome them both to the altar.

This leads me to a recent Steve Waldman interview with Rick Warren. As some of you may know, Warren supported proposition 8 in California, but has no problem with civil unions between homosexual couples. For Warren, one can respect the civil rights of homosexuals without having to redefine the institution of marriage. Like Sutton, Warren thinks the real “marriage” issue that evangelicals must take up is divorce.

Which finally leads to the recent resignation of Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik was forced to resign because of his support of civil unions for gays. Now whether or not Cizik should have resigned for making these statements is up for debate. But it seems to me that regardless of whether or not Cizik can reconcile his support for civil unions with his evangelicalism, the fact remains that most of the constituent denominations of the National Association of Evangelicals are not willing to do so. As a result, NAE president Leith Anderson probably made the right decision in asking Cizik to go. Though some pundits and bloggers will defend Cizik’s views, it does seem that his convictions on this issue no longer represent the majority of the membership of the NAE. This is not a judgment on the validity of Cizik’s position on gay unions, it is merely stating the fact that his views are out of touch with most self-professed evangelicals.

But what about Rick Warren? Waldman raises an interesting question: Should Rick Warren be fired for his views on gay partnerships? While this is unlikely since Warren founded the Saddleback Church and it is not connected to a particular denomination, his position on gay unions is virtually identical to Cizik’s. Waldman writes:

Of course the difference between Warren and Cizik is not substantive, it’s that Warren is untouchable — the much beloved “America’s Pastor” — and Cizik has been getting under the skin of religious conservatives for some time. They were looking for a reason to show him the door.

Cizik’s getting “under the skin of religious conservatives” is a reference to his strong support of “creation care,” or the protection of the environment. I don’t know if Waldman is right in suggesting that Cizik’s support of civil unions was the straw that broke the camel’s back at the NAE, but he is certainly correct in calling attention to the way conservative evangelicals have, so far at least, given Rick Warren a free pass on this issue.

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