The Real Rick Warren

Amie Newman

Religious leader Rick Warren has been picked to provide the invocation at President Elect Obama's inauguration. Does his extremist position on social issues represent the common ground Obama is striving for?

Rick Warren understands politics.

It was announced today that Warren would be giving the invocation at President Elect Obama’s inauguration. It’s shocking, to say the least, but a little less surprising considering Warren’s Saddleback Forum, a campaign season event in which Warren questioned Senator Obama and Senator McCain about faith and politics – two issues Warren feels very comfortable merging. The Saddleback Forum, however, was no more an opportunity to discuss faith than it was an opportunity to discuss science. It was an opportunity for Rick Warren to "catch" the candidates in what he deemed inappropriate positions.

WARREN: That was a freebie. That was a gimme. That was a gimme, OK? Now, let’s deal with abortion; 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. As a pastor, I have to deal with this all of the time, all of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

It is beyond me how Warren feels that a perspective that so few Americans hold (reflected this election by the sound defeat of three anti-choice measures, the victory of pro-choice Democrats in Congress and, well, Obama’s win), is a viable basis for a question for our presidential candidates? Luckily, Obama understands what most Americans do – it’s about prevention and education, not religious extremism, and he responded:

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OBAMA: But let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion, because this is something obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. And so I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue, I think, is not paying attention. So that would be point number one.

But point number two, I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don’t think women make these decisions casually. I think they — they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors or their family members. And so, for me, the goal right now should be — and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I’ve now inserted this into the Democratic party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address.

Rick Warren is also the man behind these (recent) statements on abortion:

“But to me it is kind of a charade in that people say ‘We believe abortions should be safe and rare,’” he added.

“Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust, ‘Well, maybe we could save 20 percent of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that,’” Warren said. “I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.”

Now we unveil the story of a religious leader who is adamantly against prevention; in favor of reducing abortion by stripping women of their rights; a leader who compares embryos in utero and mothers who make the best, most loving choices they can when faced with an unintended pregnancy or medical condition, to a murderous movement of anti-Semites who brutally slaughtered Jewish women, men and children. 

We do not have a religious leader here who agrees, in any way shape or form, with what Obama and the emerging common ground movement members believe – that to ensure women’s optimal health and lives, elevate women’s status in society and safeguard public health, we need to focus on comprehensive sex education and prevention measures like family planning and contraception access — not more of the same extremist elements of the anti-choice movement.

There are so many religious and spiritual leaders who understand the above. They understand that justice in the form of equal access to health care and respect for women’s health, decisions and privacy are critical components of any health measure – including one to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and ensure women have the tools to plan for the families they want now or in the future. In The American Prospect, Sarah Posner discusses the Religious Declaration on Sexuality Morality, Justice and Healing,

…which advocates comprehensive sex education and "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment." The Religious Institute on Sexuality, Justice, and Healing, which authored the declaration, has also called on Obama to adopt an approach focused on preventing unintended pregnancies.

Rewire has featured the voices of Rev. Debra Haffner, Rev. Carlton Veazy and so many others who advocate for a faith-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights, one that aligns so well with President Elect Obama’s vision.

And, yet, it’s Pastor Rick Warren who will join President Elect Obama on stage when he is inaugurated. Warren who advocates strongly for the abstinence-only based ideological restrictions in our Global AIDS Plan – PEPFAR. It’s Warren who has advocated to retain these restrictions which clash wholeheartedly with Obama’s plan to strip them away. 

Warren awarded President Bush the first ever "Medal of P.E.A.C.E." for his work on HIV/AIDS, as Lindsay Beyerstein reported for Rewire. However, as Beyerstein writes, 

For all the mutual good will on display,
Warren’s agenda may well clash with Obama’s plans to reshape American
AIDS policy.  

It is hard to imagine Obama and Warren’s agendas for any sexual or reproductive health issues aligning at this point, making it all the more puzzling why Obama chose Warren for this role. In an expose on Religion Dispatches, Tom Davis writes of Warren’s die-hard positions on social issues all while taking more "moderate" stances on issues of global warming, poverty, war and AIDS (though, as I note above, supporting the imposition of religious restrictions on global AIDS policy is not moderate). Davis writes of Warren,

On the eve of the 2004 presidential election, he sent a letter to his congregation telling them that there were five non-negotiable issues that should determine their vote—abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, homosexual marriage, and euthanasia. In fact, these five issues are barely mentioned in the Bible; Jesus never spoke about them, nor did the prophets.

Curiously, however, Warren made no mention of those issus that he had claimed to care deeply about as a "new evangelical" – global warming, poverty, and war. Warren seems to have empathy for some and not for others – and this is where Davis identified Warren’s weakness:

As far as empathy is concerned, there seems to be scant evidence that Rick Warren and many other evangelical writers have tried to put themselves in the woman’s position, or that they can imagine what it would be like to have to make that decision.  

Rick Warren is not a man that symbolizes common ground. Warren has positioned himself as a key player in what in words has been called a new evangelism but in practice is nothing more than shining up some old shoes. As soon as the announcement was made that Warren would provide the invocation, protests sprung up on Facebook and elsewhere. We’ll see if Warren really does have such a front and center role at the inauguration after all. As a religious leader, he is a brilliant politician. 

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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