Ethics Hero: Rick Warren

Sorry, no civility this year…

Rick Warren, Saddleback Church’s popular and nationally famous conservative pastor, has announced that his church’s civil forum planned with President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at the church this week has been canceled as a result of the relentlessly negative, mean-spirited and uncivil campaigns being waged by both parties.

The forum was to have been two hours long, with each candidate speaking with Warren for 50 minutes. Warren hosted the first presidential campaign forum in 2008 between Obama and his Republican opponent Sen. John McCain. Despite that forum’s success and the notoriety it brought him and the church, Warren decided that to host a “civil forum” with such uncivil candidates would be hypocritical, saying,

“We created the civil forums to promote civility and personal respect between people with major differences. The forums are meant to be a place where people of good will can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today’s campaign. I’ve never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don’t expect that tone to change before the election. It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day.”

Indeed it would.  Credit is due to Rick Warren for properly and meaningfully delivering a needed rebuke to both parties and their candidates, and for choosing integrity over publicity, unlike some ministers I could name. [Note: Later in the linked article, Warren says that he also cancelled the session because of what he perceives as the Administration’s hostility to religious freedom. This muddles his message, to be sure. Thanks to reader tgt for focusing my attention on it.]

Will it do any good?

Of course not.

_________________________________

Pointer: Ethics Alarms reader  “Brian”

Facts and Graphic: The Orange County Register

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

37 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Rick Warren

  1. Um, so because the campaign hasn’t been civil, Warren doesn’t want to hold an event that breeds civility?

    I hate what Warren stands for and supports, and I think the religious forum is antithetical to the spirits of both the US and rationality, but the reason for cancelling the forum is stupid.

    On top of that, it appears you didn’t read the article. The lack of civility is just the cover issue. The real issue is that Warren thinks that Obama and government are encroaching on the freedom of religion.

    Warren lies and makes up strawmen arguments to back his position. Warren’s position is not ethical. It’s cynical, and you fell for it.

    • I agree with him. The forum is a sham if it is the only time the candidates acknowledge civility. John McCain, if you recall, made great efforts to maintain civility during the 2008 campaign, and Obama’s theme was improving the poisonous environment in Washington.

      I wondered if you would try to spin this as something sinister, since it was Warren. Of course he doesn’t agree with Obama—he didn’t 4 years ago, either. The fact that he reiterates that in the interview connected with the article in no way suggests this was the subtext for cancelling the forum. Anytime a challenger is on the same stage as a sitting President, the challenger benefits in stature, absent a massive gaffe. The cancellation hurts Romney far more than Obama.

      I don’t care for Warren, but this was the right message to send. He doesn’t benefit from it—you really have to stretch to see it that way.

      • I wondered if you would try to spin this as something sinister, since it was Warren. Of course he doesn’t agree with Obama—he didn’t 4 years ago, either. The fact that he reiterates that in the interview connected with the article in no way suggests this was the subtext for cancelling the forum.

        From the interview:

        Q. You said you canceled the presidential civil forum because of the negativity and a larger issue. What is that?
        A. It is the crumbling of our constitution’s first guaranteed freedom: the freedom of religion. This issue is more significant and has far greater implications for America’s future. […]

        I’m not making anything sinister, and I’m not making a back of the envelope Glenn Beck connection here. I’m saying that Warren’s reason is the reason that Warren claims is his reason.

        Anytime a challenger is on the same stage as a sitting President, the challenger benefits in stature, absent a massive gaffe. The cancellation hurts Romney far more than Obama.

        In general, I agree with you. In this situation, though, the question isn’t what we believe, it’s what Rick Warren believes. Does Rick Warren really want to talk about mormonism for an hour…with the good guy, and Christianity with the bad guy? Does he think contrasting the beliefs to his evangelical followers is a plus or a minus for his guy?

        I don’t care for Warren, but this was the right message to send. He doesn’t benefit from it—you really have to stretch to see it that way.

        You mean other than getting a ton of air time to call Obama a foe of freedom of religion? Other than avoiding the religious contradiction above? Other than getting to believe he’s above the fray?

        This is brilliant marketing for his audience, and avoids a situation that would be a negative for him.

            • Yea, but it actually makes sense for Romney, though less so for Obama. Showing evangelicals that he’s a Christian is a plus for Obama: (“Maybe he’s not an athiest mooslim!”) but talking about Mormonism to evangelicals is a negative for Romney (“He believes what? That’s not what God says!”).

        • He certainly has muddled the message, I agree. The civility message is still the right one, and I can’t agree that he benefits more from cancelling an event that makes him and his church national players in a closely fought election.

          I’m going to add this to the post, though.

          • [Note: Later in the linked article, Warren says that he also cancelled the session because of what he perceives as the Administration’s hostility to religious freedom. This muddles his message, to be sure. Thanks to reader tgt for focusing my attention on it.]

            Thanks for trying to be fair, but I believe your addition is a serious understatement: This reason that only ranks as an “also” to you, is described as the larger issue by Warren. While the civility comment has been the lead by everyone reporting on it, including the OCRegister, that doesn’t jibe with the statements made.

    • “…Warren doesn’t want to hold an event that breeds civility?”

      More likely, he doesn’t want to hold an event that winks at hypocrisy, that fosters even more illusions (that’s why I’m surprised you don’t support his cancellation on that alone), and that distracts from even bigger problems than deciding which 2012 presidential candidate to support.

      “I hate what Warren stands for and supports…”

      What does he stand for and support that you hate, and why?

      “The lack of civility is just the cover issue. The real issue is that Warren thinks that Obama and government are encroaching on the freedom of religion.”

      You know all that for a fact? Perhaps the lack of civility makes for a convenient but weak excuse – the cancellation is possibly indefensibly late. But, it is not difficult to agree with Warren that threats to freedom of religion are worthy of more (and more urgent) attention than the incivility of political campaigns (or, than particular campaigns that are beset with incivility). I will admit that I am suspicious of “snub-upmanship.” I wonder if Warren was given a hot tip that the President was going to cancel at the last minute. After all, Obama’s using-up of Warren was all done in 2008.

      “Warren’s position is not ethical.”

      Okay, you said it; now, defend it: What position, and how is it unethical?

      • “…Warren doesn’t want to hold an event that breeds civility?”

        More likely, he doesn’t want to hold an event that winks at hypocrisy, that fosters even more illusions (that’s why I’m surprised you don’t support his cancellation on that alone), and that distracts from even bigger problems than deciding which 2012 presidential candidate to support.

        The event would give him access to say directly to each candidate: “If you can be civil now, why can’t you be civil on the trail? What’s so special about this event?”

        “I hate what Warren stands for and supports…”

        What does he stand for and support that you hate, and why?

        What Warren stands for is doing anything and everything, no matter how wrong, to convert people to his horrid beliefs… like using the death of a prominent Athiest to coopt him as one of the faithful. Like spearheading anti-gay movements and legislation in various African countries. Like claiming that abused women should not leave their husbands, as abuse is not a biblical reason for divorce. Is that enough? Rick Warren is a bad, bad person.

        “The lack of civility is just the cover issue. The real issue is that Warren thinks that Obama and government are encroaching on the freedom of religion.”

        You know all that for a fact?

        As noted above, that’s Warren’s own words.

        But, it is not difficult to agree with Warren that threats to freedom of religion are worthy of more (and more urgent) attention than the incivility of political campaigns (or, than particular campaigns that are beset with incivility).

        If the threats existed, then sure. Since they don’t, no. Christianity is still privileged in the US. What Warren calls threats to freedom of religion is pushback of secularism where Christianity is already impeding on separation of church and state. For example, Warren thinks that there should be a separation of church and state, but doesn’t see creation of laws to mimic Christian teachings as a violation of church and state. He calls for prayer to be allowed in schools, but it already is, just not mandatory prayer.

        “Warren’s position is not ethical.”

        Okay, you said it; now, defend it: What position, and how is it unethical?

        Warren’s position is the forum should be cancelled because freedom of religion is under attack. First, it’s false. Second, that’s a stupid reason to cancel the forum. Hence, unethical.

        • Addition:

          The other reason Warren claimed to cancel the forum was due to incivility. He had a forum to discuss and nail down the candidates on that issue. Instead, he refused what would be a proper journalistic approach, and said he’s taking his ball and going home. Not ethical.

          • I think it’s clear that neither Romney nor Obama were ever going to show up with Warren, anyway. It’s too bad that there seems to be no way for “us, the people” to set up anything to help ourselves know the candidates better and to genuinely test them and their views rigorously, without one kind of theatrical production interloper or another making a thick, frustrating fog out of the candidates’ every utterance.

          • No, he is not taking his ball and going home. Instead of holding a farce of a forum on civility in politics for two candidates who show zero interest in civility, he is instead holding a civil forum on religious freedom. Which, despite your assertions, holding the presidential forum would have given him much more publicity then cancelling this event.

            ‘That’s why we’ve chosen to host a civil forum on religious freedom in September instead of the presidential forum. It’s a fight for the constitution, not a personality.’

            You can disagree with him, hate what he stands for, and think he is a bad, bad man. That does not change the fact that he thinks civility is an important virtue, thinks (rightly so) that holding a civility forum for these two candidates would be a farce, and decided to cancel it in spite of the fact that he would loose a huge public audience. You hold it against him that it would raise his status for his ‘audience’, which I will remind you is a congregation not an audience. I think it speaks to the opposite, as a pastor he is showing more consideration for his congregation by leading from example and putting his own personal interests below his interest in not being a hypocrite on civility.

            Like I said, you don’t have to agree with his principles to appreciate that he has some, and in this instance he acted in accordance to those principles in a way that would lower his own personal publicity. To somehow spin that into a balkanized Christian vs. Mormon who would benefit more story is frankly conspiracy belief zone. You are grasping at Machiavellian type ulterior motives for people you don’t agree with so you can discredit the simple, straightforward explanation.

            • No, he is not taking his ball and going home. Instead of holding a farce of a forum on civility in politics for two candidates who show zero interest in civility, he is instead holding a civil forum on religious freedom.

              That is exactly taking his ball and going home. If I remember right though, the forum was not originally about civility, it was about religious beliefs. Instead of holding that civil forum, he’s holding a farce of an unnecessary forum on religious freedom.

              Which, despite your assertions, holding the presidential forum would have given him much more publicity then cancelling this event.

              I didn’t assert he wouldn’t get more publicity from the event from cancelling the event. I suggested he’d get airtime to bash Obama on religious freedom… and that as one in a list of benefits. You weren’t even close in characterizing my argument.

              You can disagree with him, hate what he stands for, and think he is a bad, bad man.

              Sold

              That does not change the fact that he thinks civility is an important virtue, thinks (rightly so) that holding a civility forum for these two candidates would be a farce, and decided to cancel it in spite of the fact that he would loose a huge public audience.

              When it’s to his benefit, Warren believes in civility. When it’s not (like when he’s talking about what should happen to gays), he ignores civility.

              You hold it against him that it would raise his status for his ‘audience’, which I will remind you is a congregation not an audience. I think it speaks to the opposite, as a pastor he is showing more consideration for his congregation by leading from example and putting his own personal interests below his interest in not being a hypocrite on civility.

              Except he already is a hypocrite on civility, so your argument is bunk from the start.

              Also, ‘audience’ is the proper term for Warren’s followers.

              Like I said, you don’t have to agree with his principles to appreciate that he has some, and in this instance he acted in accordance to those principles in a way that would lower his own personal publicity.

              Yes, he acted on his principles, but they aren’t the principles you’re claiming.

              To somehow spin that into a balkanized Christian vs. Mormon who would benefit more story is frankly conspiracy belief zone.

              Um…what? We have a history of Warren behaving horribly when it comes to his desires. Asking what his desires are here is not conspiracy theory territory.

              You are grasping at Machiavellian type ulterior motives for people you don’t agree with so you can discredit the simple, straightforward explanation.

              No, I’m judging Warren’s behavior based on his historical behavior. This is justified by the lies he told about freedom of religion while cancelling the event.

              Which, despite your assertions, holding the presidential forum would have given him much more publicity then cancelling this event.

              • Look, hosting a civility forum with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would be like holding a civil rights forum with the KKK and the New Black Panthers. It would be a farce, and in spite of the fact that it would draw a large audience Rick Warren put his reputation as someone serious about civility above any self publicity in this instance.

                The fact that he may be uncivil in other areas, and I have not seen you lay out the evidence here, does not mean that in this instance he choose the high road instead of the self-promotion road.

                Last point about the larger issue. Another interpretation is he called off the civility forum for exactly the reason he claiming. While doing so he also pointed out there is a bigger issue at hand in this election then civility, which is religious freedom. He cares about both, but on the whole an attack on a core tenant of our Democracy ranks above uncivil behavior in politics in anybodies book. You may disagree with his view that religious freedom is under attack, but that does not change the proper order of importance between those two issues.

                • Edit, meant to say:

                  The fact that he may be uncivil in other areas, and I have not seen you lay out the evidence here, does not take away from the fact that in this instance he choose the high road instead of the self-promotion road.

                • Look, hosting a civility forum with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would be like holding a civil rights forum with the KKK and the New Black Panthers.

                  The topic of the forum was not civility. Your comparison fails.

                  It would be a farce, and in spite of the fact that it would draw a large audience Rick Warren put his reputation as someone serious about civility above any self publicity in this instance.

                  Rick Warren is not serious about civility.

                  Last point about the larger issue. Another interpretation is he called off the civility forum for exactly the reason he claiming. While doing so he also pointed out there is a bigger issue at hand in this election then civility, which is religious freedom.

                  Is this an intentional misreading of what Warren said? He claims he cancelled the forum because of two reasons: incivility, and the bigger issue of religious freedom. He did not claim that he canceled due to incivility, and that, unrelated, there is also a bigger issue of religious freedom. If you’re going to completely change Warren’s words (which I have already quoted), then either you aren’t arguing in good faith, or you’re too stupid to comprehend the written word.

                  You may disagree with his view that religious freedom is under attack, but that does not change the proper order of importance between those two issues.

                  And I never did so. Of course, the latter doesn’t matter because his belief about the former is bunk.

                  • ‘If you’re going to completely change Warren’s words (which I have already quoted), then either you aren’t arguing in good faith, or you’re too stupid to comprehend the written word.’

                    The thing is, that article does not link to Warren’s words. The question is from a reporter, ‘You said you canceled the presidential civil forum because of the negativity and a larger issue. What is that? .’

                    What I was pointing out is, without seeing the text of the speech it is possible that he cancelled for the reason he stated, and in the process pointed out there is a larger issue. Using one sentence, and one point, to segue into a different one. Without the text, which the questioner is paraphrasing, we don’t know. I was making the point that my reading is equally as valid as your reading because we don’t have the source quoted.

                    ‘you aren’t arguing in good faith, or you’re too stupid to comprehend the written word.’

                    Typically false dichotomy, people who don’t agree with me are either stupid or bad. Thanks for giving a stranger the benefit of the doubt, ironic it’s a comment on an ethics blog.

                    • Your reading is only valid if you assume the interviewer messed up Warren’s words completely and that Warren chose not to correct the record on his previous statement. It would also require Warren to have not said in his response: “The constitution doesn’t just guarantee your freedom to worship; it guarantees you freedom from government intervention in you daily living out what you believe. That’s why we’ve chosen to host a civil forum on religious freedom in September instead of the presidential forum.”

                      The dichotomy was not that people who disagree with me are either stupid or bad. It was that people who represent plain English improperly are either too stupid to read accurately (implying responding to you is pointless) or arguing in bad faith. I stand by my statement. Suggesting that Warren did not mean what he said is arguing in bad faith.

          • Despite what you say and despite either your failure or your refusal to see it, threats to religious liberties in the U.S. do exist and they are increasing. That reality is a very good and true reason for holding a forum about religious freedom, instead of a forum featuring presidential candidates. Hence, not stupid, and ethical.

                • Let me give you a parallel example to show how stupid that is:

                  “People oppose kicking all women out of the military…. therefore Muslim chaplains will have to see unveiled women, and officiate over ceremonies where men and women are not separated, thus violating their religious liberty.”

                  This isn’t an impingement of religious liberty, it’s a case of people opposing theocracy and unequal treatment by the government. If you can’t follow secular, equal treatment rules (like the government has to), then don’t become a chaplain (part of the government).

              • Requiring religious affiliated organizations to provide birth control to their employees. And before you claim Obama compromised by making the health care insurers pay for it instead I have one word for you, fungibility.

                • Yes, the pay-for-my-birth-control issue is a solid case of erosion of religious liberty, and I don’t morally oppose birth control.
                  I think the issue of taxpayer-funded abortions is insane myself as well. Many Christians and others consider abortion murder, myself included, on convincing moral and biological grounds. The fact that making us all complicit in them is even a possibility is shocking. I could be mistaken, but even in 1830 I think that slaveowners couldn’t get the public to pay for their slaves.

                  • No, it’s not a case at all. There is nothing that the religious are being forced to do. If you don’t want to use birth control, then you don’t have to.

                    The abortion argument is even stupider. By your logic, anyone who believes in an eye for an eye has had their religious liberty trounced…as it’s illegal to exact revenge in such a way…even if both parties believe in the rule.

  2. tgt:
    “Warren’s position is the forum should be cancelled because freedom of religion is under attack. First, it’s false. Second, that’s a stupid reason to cancel the forum. Hence, unethical.”

    I realize I am old, unenlightened, uncool and not “with it;” but if Warren says he cancelled the forum because of incivility, have you superpowers to read his mind to proclaim that’s not so? If it’s his ballpark, he can shut off the lights whether you like it or not, but it is his right to make the call. You lose your argument by trying to use the words “false” and “stupid” as reasons for deciding that Warren’s decision is unethical.

    I get the feeling you just don’t like the man for his opinions and would criticize him no matter what.

    BTW, while religious freedom may not be “under attack,” religious freedoms are slowly being eroded away – whether you accept that fact or not. http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-08-21-religion-freedom-persecution_n.htm. There, I’ve “named one.”

    • For your link, it starts with a canard that our constitution was based on God and religious principles. Then it talks about religious liberty outside the US for a while, which is irrelevant. From there it brings up two court cases, but neither show an erosion of religious liberty. The San Diego State case is a government institution not discriminating against a protected class. If the religious group were to forgo public funding, they would be free to discriminate as they wished. This is actually a case where the government is backing religious freedom. The latter case was decided last January in favor of the religious school.

      You lose.

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