Will The Real Rick Warren Please Stand Up

As I noted last week, Rick Warren had been on something of a media rehabilitation tour over the last few days, giving interviews to a variety of outlets, that was set to culminate with an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos that never materialized:

Pastor Rick Warren abruptly canceled an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” in which he would have had the opportunity to clarify his denial last week that he had ever endorsed California’s anti-gay-marriage ballot measure, when in fact he had done so on videotape.

A Warren aide e-mails the best-selling evangelical pastor’s view on both issues:

“Easter weekend is like the Super Bowl for a megachurch like Saddleback; this year they were expecting upwards of 43,000 to attend 43 service venues and locations offered at 13 separate service times, requiring an intense several weeks of preparation by the pastor and his team.

“I received a call from a Saddleback colleague (Pastor Rick’s chief-of-staff) [Saturday] morning that Dr. Warren awoke ill. He had already preached the first four services, beginning Thursday night (two of the Friday services were taped for broadcast six times over the weekend on the Fox News Channel.) I was informed that he would have to clear his schedule of interviews and preaching appearances yesterday in order to regain his strength to get back in the pulpit on Easter Sunday.

Warren had been coming under fire ever since he tried to claim to Larry King that his support for Proposition 8 and his past anti-gay statements were wildly overblown; assertions that didn’t fool or change the minds of anyone and ended up just bringing back the very issue he was trying to downplay.

Undoubtedly, questions over just what is Warren’s actual position on this issue was going to come up during his interview with Stephanopoulos, which would have just generated even more coverage and so it look like Warren just decided to cancel in order to avoid the whole thing.  

At the heart of Warren’s problem is his apparent desire to be all things to all people, as Amy Sullivan succulently explained it:

Warren’s other habit is to do his best to agree with whomever he’s speaking to. I suspect it comes partly from his pastoral experience, but even more from a desire to prove that he’s not one of “those” evangelicals. He wears Hawaiian shirts. He has an easy laugh. He hugs people. A lot. If James Dobson is the Grinch, Rick Warren wants to be Mr. Rogers.

It’s why when he’s talking to Larry King, Warren mentions his gay friends and says he “never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going.” And when he’s talking to Sean Hannity, Warren voices his agreement when the FOX host advocates assassinating the president of Iran. And when he sits down with the Wall St. Journal, he gets downright snarky about Democrats and religious liberals.

When it comes to gay marriage, Warren dearly wants to be a Southern Baptist who believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman–but also a man whose gay friends understand he’s not intolerant. He appears to have missed the fact that the gap between those two impulses is what the debate over gay marriage is all about. That’s not surprising, though, since as I wrote earlier this year, Warren also “wants to be both the universally admired pastor who speaks to the nation and the influential leader who mobilizes religious conservatives for political ends. But those are two inherently conflicting roles, and he cannot be both, no matter how hard he tries.”

The dilemma he has created for himself can be pretty well summed up by this Washington Times article from over the weekend noting that while Warren initially angered liberals with his anti-gay stances and statements, he’s now angered the Religious Right by trying to back away from those very statements:

Evangelical leaders say they are bewildered and stunned by the Rev. Rick Warren’s apparent turnaround on gay marriage after the famous California pastor said earlier this week that he was not a proponent of California’s Proposition 8.

“I was extremely troubled by the way he appeared to be so anxious to distance himself from the same-sex issue and to make clear he was not an ‘activist’ and that he’d only addressed the issue in a very minor way,” said the Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said his denial is “absolutely baffling.”

“Whether he supports Proposition 8 now, after the fact, is overshadowed by the bizarre claim that he did not say what the evidence so clearly proves he said.”