When accessing the political apologetics of evangelicals, it is tempting to deal with them on their own terms and question whether their contrition is perfect and sincere enough to remove the stain that their sins have placed on their souls.
In Christian terms, forgiveness for sin requires a deep and sincere change of heart accompanied by sorrow for the wrong committed, and not merely regret for its consequences or an external manifestation of repentance. You can’t cleanse the soul of sin with an insincere, superficial, or merely pragmatic apology.
In those terms, perhaps Pastor Rick Warren’s statement on the Larry King Show that he is “not an anti-gay or anti-gay marriage activist. Never have been, never will be” fails to meet the requirements for forgiveness and his apology for having misspoken on this issue (as he now claims) should be dismissed as insincere.
If I were fighting evangelical fire with evangelical fire, perhaps I’d say that Rick Warren’s contrition for his anti-gay and anti-gay marriage statements is inadequate and that he still deserves to be damned to progressive Hell.
But I am not an evangelical, and, frankly, I don’t think that the status of Rick Warren’s soul is any of my business.
For that reason, I would approach Rick Warren’s statements on Larry King about gay marriage from a different – and more secular -- perspective.
I would note that as the leader of one of the largest evangelical churches in the nation, Rick Warren’s claim that he has “Never... been, never will be” an activist opponent of gay marriage is strikingly good political news for progressives, especially in California where the Prop 8 debate is far from over.
I would note, too, that Rick Warren’s mea culpa could not come at a better time – when the Republican Party, both nationally and in Warren’s home territory of Orange County, California – is desperately searching for traction in its losing battle against progressives, Democrats, and President Obama. At the least, Warren is giving a clear signal to Republicans who think they can reverse the political tide by turning politics into a culture war, that he is not going to fight on their side.
Instead, Pastor Rick makes clear that, for him, the social gospel (the fight against AIDS in particular, but also fighting poverty and climate change, and ending the genocide in Darfur) is more important than social conservative issues like gay marriage.
That’s very bad news for Republicans.
So I would celebrate the Good News of Pastor Rick Warren’s awakening – and welcome him with love and open arms.