(Photo: Hudson Tsuei)
In an Easter Sunday interview on ABC's "This Week," megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren talked about a range of cultural and political issues, including President Obama's birth control mandate, the intersection of religion and politics and whether one can get to Heaven by being a good person.
Host Jake Tapper noted that Warren has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's decision to require employers to provide insurance coverage of free birth control without a broad religious exemption. In a February speech, Obama offered what he considered an accommodation. Religious employers with objections would not have to provide the coverage, but their employees must be offered the coverage at no additional charge by the insurance company. Warren said that his concerns were not satisfied by this change.
"The issue here is not about women's health," Warren explained. "There is a greater principle and that is, do you have a right to decide what your faith practices. Now, I don't have a problem with contraception. I'm a Protestant, I'm an evangelical. But I do support my Catholic brothers and sisters to believe what they want to believe."
Warren also said that he believes in the separation of church and state, but does not believe in the separation of faith and politics. Faith is "simply a worldview," Warren explained. And, since everyone has a worldview, those who have a religious worldview should not be excluded from politics.
"Of course, everybody's worldview informs how they vote on any particular policy. So, I'm in favor of everybody being able to come to the table with a worldview. I do not believe in imposing what I believe on everybody else."
Warren tied many of the nation's current difficulties in the economy and politics to spiritual problems. The biggest source of the nation's economic problems, Warren said, is Americans' inability to delay gratification. He believes that the nation is worse off now that it was four years ago, but believes that all are responsible.
"I hold everybody responsible for that. I hold the people who got themselves into debt. I hold the government who got themselves into debt. I hold multiple administrations. It's not the fault of any one person. There's plenty enough blame to be passed around."
One of the things that concerns him the most about the United States, Warren said, is "the coarsening of our culture and the loss of civility in our civilization," and he dislikes it when "people are constantly blaming everybody else."
"We don't know how to disagree without being disagreeable. The fact is, you can walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye. What we need in our country is unity, not uniformity."
When asked about a controversial Newsweek article and cover this week titled, "Forget the Church. Follow Jesus," Warren explained that he has a "personal gripe" against secular magazines that run religion stories on Christmas or Easter because they know it will increase circulation, "but it's always bait-and-switch."
"They never tell the stories, never tell the stories of what good the Church is doing. Never. Does the Church have problems? Of course it does, like every other institution made up of human beings. So there's sin, failure, mistakes, stuff we would disavow."
"It's like, this is news?" Warren said with sarcasm. "This is worthy of putting on the cover?"
Tapper asked if Warren's church, Saddleback Church in Southern California, needs to adjust its opposition to same-sex marriage in order to remain relevant in the culture.
"If the Bible is the word of God, then I don't have a right to change it. Policies come and go over the years. And so, if I'm unpopular for certain beliefs, well, then, I'm unpopular for certain beliefs," Warren answered.
Tapper then tried asking the question again: "I wonder if you think your church, in order to thrive, might have to adjust its policy on same-sex marriage?"
"Actually, history shows that when the Church accommodates culture, it weakens it. This is why there is very weak Church in Europe today. It's almost non-existent in many areas," Warren said.
The controversy over Tim Tebow's public expressions of faith shows how far the nation has come in the last 50 years, Warren said.
"The fact that Tebow would get criticized for kneeling and praying? I could give you 15, or 50, other things you should be more worried about in that coliseum than a kid kneeling down to thank God that he played good."
Mormonism has become a controversial topic with the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. The "key sticking point," for many Christians regarding whether Mormons share their faith is the trinity, according to Warren.
"That's the historic doctrine of the Church. That God is three-in-one. Not three Gods. One God in Father, son and Holy Spirit. Mormonism denies that."
When asked if he believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven, Warren answered, "I do believe that, and I believe that because Jesus said it. See, I don't set myself up as an authority. Jesus said, 'I am the way.' He didn't say, 'I'm one of the ways,' he said, 'I'm the way, I'm the truth and I'm the life.' I'm betting my life that Jesus wasn't a liar."
Tapper noted that Warren does a lot of work with members of other faiths and asked, "Why would a benevolent God tell those friends of yours who are not evangelical Christians, 'I'm sorry you don't get to go to Heaven'?"
Warren answered that one does not get to Heaven by being a good person, but through grace.
"Most of us think if my good works are higher than my bad works, then I'm gonna kinda make it in. Most of us want to have enough good works to get in to Heaven, but enough bad works to be fun," he said with a laugh.
"The bottom line is God doesn't grade on a curve. People say, 'well I'm better than so-and-so.' You probably are. In fact, I have no doubt many nonbelievers are better than me in some moral issues. They probably have more integrity, or something like that. I'm not getting to heaven on my integrity. I'm not getting to heaven on my goodness. I'm getting to Heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace. The fact is, it's available to everybody."