Pastor Rick Warren is known as a faith leader who is trusted by millions of people as well as presidential candidates. He's also the author of the popular "The Purpose-Driven Life" book, among other related projects. But this week, he's gaining attention after catching the ire of atheists and other critics who found themselves outraged over a tweet he sent on Friday.
The message, which read, "When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it," has sparked outrage. Almost immediately, it was assumed that Warren was drawing a connection between evolution and Friday's tragic shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado.
"The mega-church pastor of the Saddleback Church, Rick Warren, took to Twitter on Friday to express his thought about the recent shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater," wrote atheist Staks Rosch of The Examiner (also the coordinator of PhillyCoR, Philadelphia Coalition of Reason). "Warren blamed the shooting on the teaching of evolution in public science classes."
Following the publication of the tweet and the subsequent outrage, Warren deleted it -- creating even more controversy. This, of course, led Rosch to post another article entitled, "Rick Warren Deletes Tweet Blaming Shooting on Evolution." In this subsequent piece, Rosch continued airing his views on the matter:
This was obviously in reference to the recent mass-shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. This Examiner reported on the story with a screen capture of Pastor Warren’s Tweet. Just two days after the Tweet was made it was deleted presumably by Warren.
In Warren’s haste, he failed to delete the Tweet from his Facebook page. A screen capture of that status update is above. It clearly shows that Rick Warren did indeed Tweet that message and instead of issuing an apology to scientists, secularists, and atheists, Warren seems to be trying to pretend that it never happened by deleting the Tweet.
Rosch said that while it may be "possible" that the tweet wasn't meant to comment on the shooting, he said such a prospect "is not probable" and pointed to past controversial Twitter statements by Warren. Rosch continued:
As a Christian, he no doubt believes God has forgiven him, but if Pastor Rick Warren really feels sorry for his ill-thought-out comment, he should issue a full apology through the media to actual people. Science education is a serious problem in this country and blaming this horrific attack on the teaching of evolution in science classes doesn’t help.
Blogger Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist was even harsher with his critique of Warren. As of this morning, it also appears that he has yet to publish a clarification of his initial post lambasting the prominent pastor (even after new details, which you will read about in this piece, were released). Mehta wrote:
Let’s hear those Warren-defending Christians explain this tripe that the pastor tweeted earlier today...
So, according to Rick Warren, pastor extraordinaire, teaching scientifically-sound evolution is the reason the shooter went into that theater.
Tell me again why he deserves our respect?
Dr. James F. McGrath, a New Testament Language and Literature professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, also criticized Warren in an extensive piece on his Patheos blog. He, too, assumed that the pastor was commenting on evolution and the shooting.
But after responding to the tweet, McGrath apparently received a response from Warren further explaining the real meaning behind his initial tweet (he published it, along with a clarification).
In a statement published on the professor's blog, Warren said:
TWITTER'S limit on words allows no context for statements. A lack of contxt causes misinterpretation. So when you tweet what’s on your mind, people preassume (incorrectly) that you are talking about what’s on THEIR mind. This is a clear example. My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado.! I had received this email from a dad: “Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class “There's nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, inate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.” THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context.
Interestingly, Warren responded via Twitter as well following the controversy, seemingly corroborating his response to McGrath. "No context causes misinterpretation: When u tweet what’s on your mind, people assume ur talking about what’s on THEIR mind," he wrote on Sunday.
While Warren has come out to explain the meaning behind his tweet, there is, of course, the question of why he deleted it in the first place. It's possible he wanted to avoid further controversy and misunderstanding that would come from leaving it up. Regardless, it seems some of his critics jumped too quickly to lambaste him and to draw connections and assumptions that simply weren't represented in his initial Tweet.