Controversy is stirring over recent comments made by Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life and megachurch leader of Saddleback Church in California, who stated that homosexual behavior “might be” sinful, and that he believes homosexuals go to Heaven.
During an interview this week with the Huffington Post, Warren was asked by Marc Lamont Hill if having romantic feelings for a member of the same sex is a sin. Leading up to the question, Warren was explaining that he does not hate homosexuals, and that people should disagree politely on the subject of homosexuality.
“I have many, many gay friends, and have worked around the world with them in gay organizations to try to stop AIDS,” he said. “We’re doing ‘World AIDS Day’ this weekend at Saddleback Church. My wife and I have given millions of dollars to help people with HIV/AIDS and have worked with gay organizations on that.”
“What about the love part, though? I hear about the AIDS part,” asked Hill. “It’s not illegal to love somebody,” Warren replied.
“But you think it’s a sin,” Hill asserted. “No, it’s not a sin to love somebody,” Warren said.
“It might be a sin to have sex with them,” he added. “It might be.”
However, just moments prior, Hill aired a clip from an interview that Warren participated in on Piers Morgan this week, where Warren presented a slightly different answer. He began by responding to the question of whether or not a person can be born homosexual.
“I think the jury is still out on that,” he said. “It wouldn’t bother me if there was a ‘gay gene’ found, because here’s what we know about life: I have all kinds of natural feelings in my life, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling. … I do not believe that attraction is a sin, but I do believe that some actions are sin.”
Warren stated during his interview with Hill that he believes sex outside of marriage is always sinful, however, and that he obtains his views from the Bible.
“I make no bones about it. I’m an evangelical pastor, so my source of authority is, what does the Bible say about it?” he said. “However, people will have other sources of authority.”
“Or, different readings of the Bible,” Hill injected.
“Or different readings — that’s very true,” Warren agreed.
Later during the interview, when Hill asked Warren if he believes homosexuals will go to Hell, he replied that they will not.
“No, not because they’re gay,” he said. “We go to Hell because we choose to reject the grace of God.”
When Hill asked what happens to a homosexual that accepts Jesus, Warren responded enthusiastically.
“He’s going to Heaven!” he declared. “Without a doubt.”
Warren is not the first evangelical to make the assertion, however. Earlier this year, megachurch author and speaker Joel Osteen similarly told popular talk show host Oprah that he also believes homosexuals are saved.
“Will a gay person be accepted into heaven, as you see it?,” Oprah asked Osteen. “I believe they will,” he replied.
Craig Gross of “XXXChurch” also made statements in July that he doesn’t think God would send homosexuals to Hell.
“Why do they (religious people) believe that the gay guy goes to Hell, but the fat preacher who builds some of the largest churches in the world makes it to Heaven?” Gross wrote in an online blog.
However, many Christians view statements such as these as compromise against the word of God.
“The concept of a ‘gay Christian’ is an oxymoron in light of numerous Scriptural instances wherein homosexual behavior is forbidden,” Alex Mason, policy analyst for the Family Policy Network, told Christian News Network. “One cannot live in a continual state of unrepentant sexual sin while calling themselves a Christian.”
“That’s not to say Christians can’t struggle with sin, including sexual sin,” he continued. “The Christian life as a constant struggle against sin, and just as some Christians struggle to defeat heterosexual lust, others may struggle to defeat homosexual lusts.”
Peter LaBarbera, the president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, agreed. He stated that he was shocked at Rick Warren’s comments.
“You don’t want to give the impression that it’s fine and dandy to live the homosexual lifestyle and as long as I believe in Jesus, I can still go to Heaven,” he said. “It’s one thing to have attractions and [fight] that, [and another to embrace homosexual behavior].”
Mason, whose ministry operates the website HopeForHomosexuals.com, stated that Warren should have explained his beliefs further, so as not to jeopardize the eternity of valuable souls.
“Warren failed to define what it means to ‘accept Christ,’ leaving viewers with the notion that a person can simply express a ‘belief’ in Jesus’ existence without turning away from the sins He died to atone,” he lamented.
“When you accept Christ, your behavior changes,” LaBarbera said. “And the attitude is [people like Warren] don’t want to talk about changes. … We know that God changes homosexuals, so why isn’t Rick Warren saying that?”
LaBarbera also told Christian News Network that he thinks Warren is treading into very dangerous territory by insinuating that the issue of homosexual behavior is a grey area.
“What part of Romans 1 doesn’t Rick Warren understand? It’s so clear,” he said. “When you make statements like these, you end up losing the Biblical sense, and the Biblical sense is that this is an abomination.”
Mason agreed, and outlined that sin needs to be taken seriously by those who wear the name of Christ.
“Christians should not, for one moment, hesitate when asked about behaviors that Scripture clearly calls sinful,” he said. “It is impossible for anyone to legitimize or make holy what God Himself has called unholy.”
“The Apostle Paul did not hesitate to faithfully echo God’s standards in his letter to the Corinthians, wherein he included a long list of sins that will keep people from the kingdom of God, including the sin of homosexuality,” Mason continued, citing 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. “Modern preachers would do well to follow Paul’s example in condemning that which God has condemned, while also proclaiming that the only hope for sinners – homosexual and heterosexual alike — is faith in Jesus Christ: ‘All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
LaBarbera said that Warren should not only have called homosexual behavior sin, but should have gone deeper to the root issue.
“It’s also sinful to lust after another man,” LaBarbera said. “We can’t advocate sin as believers, and we have to think about how that the person that’s struggling with homosexuality is going to hear this.”
“There is no Biblical basis for his statements,” he added. “I think Rick Warren needs to retract that ['might be'] statement and clarify it. If he does not retract it, he has fallen into error.”
“Rick Warren has a heart for lost souls, but he seems fearful he’ll offend people he could otherwise lead to salvation by telling the truth about their sin. That may indicate an inadequate faith in God’s sovereignty, or a failure to fully believe God’s Word has the power to transform lives,” Mason concluded. “I pray he’ll find the courage to be just as determined to be the salt of the earth as he is to be a light to the world.”
Requests for comment were not returned by Saddleback Church.