Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jeff Lutes is the Executive Director of Soulforce, a national civil rights and social justice organization dedicated to freedom for LGBT people through nonviolent direct action.
According to the first three books of the New Testament, Judas identified Jesus to the soldiers by means of a kiss. An act of ultimate betrayal, that peck on the cheek led to the arrest of Jesus.
I know how Jesus felt. Well, sort of.
On June 15, 2008, mega-church pastor Rick Warren embraced me and my husband, and each of our three young children. Then, he apportioned his considerable power and influence to eliminate our California marriage. But the story really begins six months before that hug of pretense.
In December of the previous year, I wrote a letter to Warren outlining my plan to bring a group of gay and lesbian couples, and their children, to visit his Saddleback Church over Father's Day weekend. I expressed our intent to attend worship on Sunday, and my hope that he and some families in his congregation would share a meal with us in an effort to reach beyond our differences and focus instead on the commonalities we share as parents and people of faith. In due course, I began a series of phone conversations with Warren's chief of staff. Over the next several weeks, we agreed that eight of our families would eat lunch on June 16 with Warren, his wife Kay, and six of their staff members. After the family meal, eight people from our group would then convene for a 90 minute conversation with Warren, his wife, and the six other church leaders. Here's where it gets interesting.
The week before our visit, Newsweek senior editor Lisa Miller published an article that contained a single sentence about Warren's upcoming get-together with a bunch of gay dads. Suddenly, the tone and demeanor from those paid to protect Warren's public image began to deteriorate.
First, we were told that things had changed and Warren and his wife "might" attend the meal and forum. A few days later, Warren posted a message on a religious blog saying that he never intended to meet with our families. Once we arrived in California, I called his chief of staff to discuss final details. Implausibly, I was told that Saddleback had now decided to only feed the eight people from our group who were going to be in the meeting, but not our children or spouses.
I pushed back by expressing my opinion that it was not very Christ-like to renege on our covenant after we had already traveled thousands of miles from Texas. "We'll discuss your visit again and call you back," they said. An hour later they telephoned - this time with a much more serious tone. I felt like I was negotiating a nuclear arms deal rather than the breaking of bread and some fellowship among families. With seeming reluctance, they finally settled on feeding everyone but announced that now only four Saddleback staff members would attend and that Warren and his wife would not be among them.
They made a new offer. Warren had decided to preach from one of Saddleback's satellite facilities, 45 minutes away from the main campus. He would sit down with my family for ten to fifteen minutes after the early service, if we agreed to attend. I accepted that offer and on Sunday morning we waited near our seats at the conclusion of church.
Eventually, I heard Warren call out my name. As I turned to greet him, he hugged me, my partner, and our three children . . . and then walked away. No conversation. Minimal eye contact. Just an awkward hug and he was gone.
The following day we tried to initiate heartfelt conversation with the four Saddleback staff members who managed to show up. From the opening moments it was clear that this was a meeting to save face without any real interest in hearing our stories or getting to know us.
That frustrating experience behind us, my husband and I were married in Malibu the next day as our kids and friends stood watch on the beach. Thanks to Warren and others who worked diligently to eliminate equality with the passage of Proposition 8, our marriage now hangs in limbo.
On January 20, Warren will lead the invocation at Obama's inauguration. I'll pray with him because our country and our new Commander in Chief need all the prayers we can muster. Afterwards, I'll say another prayer - this one for Rick Warren. When I'm done, I'll get up off my knees and keep marching until all people, all couples, and all families have the same civil rights. I won't quit until the church and its leaders cease spreading fear and misunderstanding about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
That's my purpose driven life.