Indeed, Warren has adopted causes important to the political right and the left. He toes the conservative evangelical line on gay marriage and abortion rights but has also decried global warming and taken a high-profile role battling AIDS in Africa, two traditionally liberal issues.
Lately, though, Warren has attracted more attention for his ability to rile both sides in the nation's smoldering culture wars. Months after his appearance at President Obama's inauguration enraged gay rights activists and abortion rights supporters, Warren has emerged from a self-imposed media exile only to outrage conservative Christians. That's because he appeared to dial back support for Proposition 8, California's recently adopted ban on gay marriage, in an interview last week with CNN's Larry King. "[I] never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop. 8 was going," Warren told King, even though he'd taped a video urging his Orange County congregation to support the gay marriage ban. Warren argued that encouraging parishioners to back Prop. 8 doesn't make him an activist against gay marriage.
When Warren canceled a scheduled appearance last Sunday on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, conservative evangelical activists grew even more suspicious. "He appears to be running away from the biblical truth on what marriage is," says Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. "He does need to do a public interview to clear this up."
Warren's aides say he plans to do an interview to clarify his support for Proposition 8. And they insist that Warren pulled out of Sunday's interview because of exhaustion. But at a moment when Warren is expanding his role from megachurch pastor to national and international public figure, his increasing proclivity for sowing controversy is threatening his status as political peacemaker. "He would really like it if everyone would love Rick Warren, and when they don't, he's troubled," says Jeffery Sheler, author of the forthcoming Warren biography Prophet of Purpose. "The most damaging thing would be if the way he's perceived makes it more difficult to be a bridge builder."
The flap over his Larry King appearance speaks as much to Warren's struggle to adjust to a higher-profile role as to his unorthodox politics. Long accustomed to speaking to like-minded evangelicals, Warren has developed an informal style that eschews speechwriters and image consultants. But in discussing Proposition 8 off the cuff on CNN, a close associate says, Warren misspoke in appearing to disavow his support for the measure. And Sheler says, "He would have benefited from writing out talking points or allowing a staffer to help vet his thoughts."
He's going to lose repect among centrists when it is clearly exposed that he lies regularly. That was part of the problem with his Larry King appearance. He lied about his previous support of Prop 8. Why not defend his actions?