Rick Warren and Melissa Etheridge were both invited to the Muslim Public Affairs Council earlier this month. I watched the whole thing on TV last week, but I definitely missed a few things happening behind the scenes. You’ve got a pretty interesting collection of people coming together for this one: Rick Warren, whose church has become enemy #1 for gay rights activists, and Melissa Etheridge, a woman who is a gay right activist. Oh and a room full of Muslim Americans!
Melissa had this to say about her experience at the conference:
I hadn’t heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know. One more hater working up his congregation to hate the gays, comparing us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, blah blah blah. Same ‘ole thing. Would I be boycotting the inauguration? Would we be marching again?
Well, I have to tell you my friends, the universe has a sense of humor and indeed works in mysterious ways. As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I’d agreed to play a song I’d written with my friend Salman Ahmed, a Sufi Muslim from Pakistan. The song is called “Ring The Bells,” and it’s a call for peace and unity in our world. We were going to perform our song for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group of Muslim Americans that tries to raise awareness in this country, and the world, about the majority of good, loving, Muslims. I was honored, considering some in the Muslim religion consider singing to be against God, while other Muslim countries have harsh penalties, even death for homosexuals. I felt it was a very brave gesture for them to make. I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night… Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, “Are you really about peace or not?”
I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say “In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him.” They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn’t sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn’t want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.
When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
I’d encourage you to read the whole article. I’m so encouraged by this subtle shift in the tide of this situation. The Church at large has done a horrendous job of showing the love of Christ through this whole situation. We stand up for truth really well, but we will trample anyone who gets in our way. I think it’s time for the church to figure out what it means to be as “conservative as Scripture but as liberal as love“. Kudos to Rick for walking the fine line in this situation.