The roles of Newsweek and its religion reporter Lisa Miller's as reporter (conveyor of information) and pundit (advocacy) have been blurred for a while now. One minute, Miller is reporting on a story, the next, she's offering her personal opinion on it.
This week's target is California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who is being connected to the proposed legislation in Uganda that would, among other things if it were passed in its original version, execute homosexuals who are infected with HIV. On Thursday, Warren condemned the legislation. Miller responds in a column titled, "What Took You So Long? Rick Warren does the right thing."
Excellent. Righteous, even. But I can't help wondering: what took him so long?
Since when is Miller setting the standards for righteousness?
Also, it boggles my mind how Miller and others were connecting Warren to this legislation before he made his statement. NPR and Foreign Policy wrote that he was under fire by critics, but by whom? Andrew Sullivan counts as "critics"? NPR and FP seem to be taking Miller's cue that Warren should have reacted long ago, but let's reexamine whether Warren should be connected to this legislation. Warren has worked with a pastor on HIV/AIDS in the past who happens to now support legislation against homosexuality. I've been trying to think of an American equivalent: Say President Obama works with a pastor in Chicago to promote responsible fatherhood; on a separate occasion the pastor also happens to oppose same-sex civil unions; therefore, Obama opposes same-sex civil unions. No one would make that stretch, so why are reporters doing the same to Warren? Perhaps there is a reason why Warren is relevant. We know that he has been active in Africa for a while now, but my understanding is that he's only been there to fight HIV/AIDS. Instead of following Miller's example, perhaps reporters should dig a little bit more to find correlation or causation because I'm not seeing it.
Should reporters expect a statement from pastors like Warren on every single outrageous piece of proposed legislation in another country? That seems like media bullying to me. Lots of ridiculous ideas are proposed and never passed, right? Also, I'm guessing Lisa Miller would not have written the same column, if, for example, Warren had condemned Spain for proposing that 16-year-old girls can have an abortion without parental consent.
Let's take a look at some of her logic, and I'll give a few quick reactions:
But what did Warren--who believes that homosexual acts are unbiblical and yet has devoted himself to solving the problem of HIV/AIDS--think about the law?
Does she really think that it's incompatible to oppose homosexuality and work against HIV/AIDS?
"It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."
...Moreover, it simply wasn't true. Warren has spoken out on politics, most recently on Meet the Press over Thanksgiving weekend, when he called abortion "a holocaust."
Miller did not read his statement. He says he doesn't want to comment on the political process of other nations. She gives an example of him commenting on abortion, which is hotly debated within the political process in America. He didn't attack a specific piece of legislation in another country.
The generous interpretation here is that Warren is working within the mainstream evangelical tradition. Following the model of Billy Graham, Warren has long proclaimed himself "a pastor, not a politician."
Memo to Miller: Graham does not necessarily represent "mainstream evangelical tradition." That's a fairly sweeping generalization for a pretty fragmented movement. Also, reporters' comparison of Billy Graham and Rick Warren always make me a little uncomfortable because while Graham was a global evangelist, Warren is a local church pastor. Also, Graham may have condemned proposed laws in other countries, but Miller doesn't provide any specific examples besides slavery more broadly. Did Graham ever condemn another nation's law that allowed slavery?
The problem for Warren is this: his positions on homosexuality are controversial. Articulating them too clearly might alienate his allies who disagree with him, as I do.
Uh oh. To alienate Lisa Miller is like alienating...the world? I think the problem for Warren was articulated in his earlier statement: he does not want to dictate policy for other nations. For example, there's this reoccurring debate among Christians over whether missionaries should speak against a country's culture or whether they should work within it. What if the roles were reversed? How would Americans respond if an African pastor spoke against same-sex marriage legislation? Did Miller stop to think that maybe a statement from him or other American pastors would push the legislation closer to being passed? It's not always well received when Americans (in some people's eyes, the epitome of unchristian values) try to dictate international law. I'd be curious, for example, what she would write if Uganda were an Islamic country.
Also, what if Warren was trying to change the legislation quietly behind the scenes? A tweet from Warren suggests he had been working to kill the bill. "DThanks Bob! It seem our quiet effort helped kill part of the Uganda b so it was worth being misjudged, but our job isnt done yet." This seems pretty relevant if this is indeed the case.
Here's how Miller concludes:
Warren arrived on the world stage through his authenticity. So to him I make this plea: Your Uganda statement was a good, brave start. Continue to say what's on your heart, and earn back the trust of your opponents.
Does she really think that Warren's goal is to "earn back the trust of your opponents"? What if what's on his heart is something she happens to disagree with, like on homosexuality? Perhaps Lisa Miller should do the right thing and stick to reporting.