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Monday, December 22, 2008

An Open Letter to Pastor Rick Warren

Dear Pastor Warren,

Congratulation, I suppose, are in order on the occasion of your having been invited to deliver the invocation at the historic inauguration of President Elect Obama.

You will excuse me if I don’t stand and cheer.

Like you, I share the privilege of being a pastor. I know that, as pastors, we cannot be ‘all things to all people’. Many people have expectations for us that even Jesus himself couldn’t meet. We are God-representatives. We are not God. Alas, we are very, very human. And, therein lies the rub.

So, let me begin with the first sentence in your book, “A Purpose Driven Life.”

“It’s not about you.”

I take comfort in that sentence whenever I think about your invocation at that historic inauguration. You are the representative of one of the largest religious groups in America. I suppose, then, it is fitting that you should lead us in prayer on what e e cummings must have had in mind when he wrote the words ‘most this amazing day’.

I thank God, however, that it’s not about you.

I heard you laugh when Ann Curry asked if you were ‘homophobic’. And, you were right to do so. Being opposed to marriage for LGBT people does not necessarily make you homophobic.

It does, however, make you heterosexist.

Heterosexism is a social disease, the root cause of which is straight, white male privilege. It is the assumption that the ‘normal’ societal paradigm for marriage and family is male-female which has its basis in the ‘family values’ of scripture.

That is a decidedly false assumption. The biblical family was hardly male and female with 2.5 children. Polygamy was the norm, and the ‘family’ included slaves, male and female, adult and child. Furthermore, miracles aside, by ancient and modern cultural standards Mary was an unwed teen and Jesus was an illegitimate child.

But we know that scripture doesn’t tell the full story. John’s Gospel ends with these words, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25).

Jesus himself said, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

Gracie Allen, one of my favorite saints, is reported to have said, “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

Or, to quote the opening sentence of your book, “It’s not about you.”

You would be wrong, however, to think that you are not homophobic. Your ministry with people with AIDS is deeply commendable. Admirable, in fact. But to respond to the accusation of homophobia with the defense of your AIDS ministry is to find you guilty as charged, even though you probably would not be convicted by a jury of your Saddleback peers.

AIDS does not equal Gay. Hasn’t for a very long time, if it ever did. AIDS is now a pandemic, thanks, in part, to the homophobia fueled by the Religious Right which prevented earlier, more aggressive research and inhibited intervention.

To provide pastoral care for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people only when we are dying - or to care for them only if they adhere to your demand for celibacy - is prima facia evidence of homophobia and therefore, pastor, not very pastoral. Although, I suppose, better late than never.

I thank God the inaugural invocation is not about you.

You have compared abortion to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a most heinous form of ethnic cleansing, aimed at eliminating the entire Jewish race from the face of the earth. Abortion is, perhaps, the most impossibly difficult, personal decision a woman will ever make in her life about her body, her life, her present, her future.

The Holocaust was - and is - an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

Abortion is not; at least, not according to either Moses or Jesus. Neither did these two great prophets say a word about homosexuality. I checked. You might want to check, too.

Funny how some people pick and choose among the Levitical codes. For example, while your ‘reverse tithe’ is commendable, even it is not scriptural. Indeed, it is an in-your-face defiance of a venerable scriptural norm which is very clear about returning 10% of all that we have been graciously given to the Lord.

The only contrary statement to that standard is from the lips of Jesus who instructed the rich young man to “sell everything and give to the poor.”

That would be everything. As in 100%, not 90%.

I’m just sayin’ . . . .

It's not about you and what you want, no matter how noble or how good it makes you look. It's about what God wants - and God's desire for us is a very personal thing, something which is worked out between the individual and God, with the counsel of a wise and earnest priest and in community.

As Bishop Jack Spong once said, "Literalism in any form is little more than pious hysteria."

Indeed, were you to take scripture literally, you would be compelled to pick up a rock and stone me to my death. For, while I am enormously privileged to have been ordained an Episcopal Priest for almost 23 years, I have also been in a faithful, monogamous, life-long, loving relationship with another woman since 1976.

We have raised six children to adulthood, and are now grandparents to five beautiful children who are growing up in a country which is moving on, thanks be to God, from judging a person by the color of their skin – or their age, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability or economic status – and more by the content of their character.

To wit, the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President of these United States.

In the end, I take great comfort in the fact that this inaugural invocation is not about you. It’s about the invocation of the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

It’s about the invocation of the spirit of Abigail Adams and Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. It’s about the invocation of the life and times of Harvey Milk and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons.

It’s about all the saints who will rise up on that glorious morning and, in spite of all that you stand for, invoke in us all that is honorable, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is gracious; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, in the spirit of the Apostle Paul, we shall think about these things.

Truth be told, your invitation to provide the invocation is a very shrewd move on the part of our President-Elect, who has described himself as ‘vigorously supportive of LGBT people’, and stands on a solid record of reproductive choice for women.

Mr. Obama is probably weary, by now, of hearing the expression of outrage over your invitation. I suspect this will place you much deeper in this administration’s debt than you either care to admit or can possibly imagine.

This is the way change begins – by bringing disparate factors to the same table. If stroking your ego – a huge undertaking, to be sure – is what it takes to get you to the table with others of differing opinions and theologies in order to bring about change, then, there is a method to what, at least on the surface, looks to some like madness.

You see, it’s not about you, Pastor Warren, but I pray that something will be inspired in you when you give that invocation and enjoy the privilege of standing in most that amazing and historic moment. I pray that something in your soul will be stirred to work for the fulfillment of the prayer which was spoken at the inception of this great nation – “liberty and justice for all.”

Because, in the end, it’s about all of us. Not some, Pastor. All.

The words are: Liberty and justice for all. Not ‘just you’ or ‘just us.’


That’s the hope our hearts earnestly desire. That’s the prayer we fervently invoke. That’s the change we seek to be.

That’s the reason many of us will stand up and cheer.

Not for you, but for all.

(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Rector and Pastor, The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
President, The Episcopal Women's Caucus
Member, Steering Committee, Claiming The Blessing
Member Integrity, USA


Lauralew said...

Oh, wow. Preach it, Sister!

suzanne said...

When I heard about this invitation I thought of the the saying "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Thank you for this letter. You hit the nail right on his pointed head.

Jim said...

And let the people say Amen!


Anonymous said...

WOW! That is a real "sock it to 'em" response! Marvelous!!!

alicia said...


Sara said...

Thank you for putting this in perspective. I actually feel better now. One more "Amen".

C.W.S. said...

Thank you.

Kay & Sarah said...

Thank you for your wisdom and putting it in words for so many of us that are dismayed by having Rick Warren invited to perform the invocation for the presidential inauguration.

Jane Priest said...

Thanks for that!

VTcrone said...

Do you have a website for Pastor Warren that you can e-mail your letter to?
I e-mailed the letter and your earlier posting on the subject to Rachel Maddow. ( with the suggestion that she interview you on her show. ;~)
Merry Christmas!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you all for your affirmation of my letter. I must admit, I'm absolutely amazed that not one right-wing nut has crashed in. Well, not yet anyway. Amazing. I was beginning to think that the Rapture had come and they were right all along, and then I went over to HOB/D and some of them are still yammering away, so I suppose it's just a matter of time before they find their way over here. Sigh.

I did send a copy of this by email to Pastor Warren at the Saddleback Church webpage. I have no doubt someone will hit "delete" before it reaches his desk. And my snail mail letter will find it's way unopened into the "circular file" before it reaches his desk. But, I feel much better.

Rachel Maddow? VT Crone, you sent my letter to Rachel Maddow? And, you suggested she interview me?

Tell me you didn't do that!


Okay, so how much do I owe you?

VTcrone said...

You know me, always trying to get my friends in trouble. Rachel is always telling viewers to e-mail her and I have, more than once since she's been on the air. Early on I suggested that she stop having Pat Buchanan on as her "fake uncle" to talk her down on certain issues. While I'm sure I'm not the only one who contacted her, she rarely has him on these days, which is fine by me.
OK folks, how about some of the rest of you e-mailing Rachel.

ks. bp Szymon Niemiec said...

May God bless you Sister for your words.
It is so important for us, people from so many countries, to understand that God loves us all.

May He bless you for courage and love's power of speaking to other side.

Your brother in Christ
Rev. Szymon Niemiec
Elder Pastor of Free Reformed Church of Poland

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Szymon - Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. And to the rest of y'all, check out Szymon's Christmas picture. What a hoot. I once wanted those red pumps, too. Problem is, I can only walk in them for about 5 minutes before the rest of my body starts to rebel.

Mychals Prayer said...

Or, as Father Mychal Judge, the 'Saint of 9/11' asked, "Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love ?!"

Best wishes for a blessed and merry Christmas,
John Kelley

PS: I invite you to link Mychal's Prayer in your sidebar to the Saint Mychal Judge website. Thanks.