if others do, I will never deny you," declared the Apostle Peter some 2,000
years ago just hours before he did exactly that, three times, when the heat was
on. Ten others boasted the same, but when the risk was more than theoretical,
all deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Only one was seen at the
A fascinating story...the "old story," as the secularists like to call it. Barack Obama alluded to this in his speech in France. We need a new story...a discovery of "new ways" of thinking. We must throw off the old, and embrace a much more enlightened, intelligent point of view, he said. By doing so, our president argued, we remove inconvenient barriers, cumbersome moral values and achieve self-determination with our new understanding of the world guiding the way. Surely we cannot be bound in this advanced new age by the old moral codes or put plainly, by what Jesus taught -- certainly not if we are to curry favor with the world in which we live.
During Holy Week, Peter's portion of the "old story" was
revisited in a very contemporary way. The last instruction Jesus gave as
He left earth was that His followers should tell His story of forgiveness and
redemption not only in their communities, but to the "ends of the earth." And as
His followers told the "old story," they should not leave out all the other
things He had carefully taught them. He wanted future generations to go
beyond mere intellectual understanding and move to actually living out the
One of those principles was marriage. "For this reason shall a man leave his parents and join with his wife and the two shall become one flesh," Jesus instructed. One man...one woman...for a lifetime; no sex outside of that union. His clear moral teaching applied to homosexuality and never entertained a discussion of same-sex "marriage," because it would have been unthinkable. "I have come to fulfill the law, not to destroy it," Jesus said in regard to Old Testament moral standards.
Fast forwarding to November 2008, California voters of various religious persuasions -- in a ballot measure called Proposition 8 -- held to the Judeo-Christian teaching that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Pastor Rick Warren -- author of the multi-million selling book The Purpose Driven Life; pastor of Saddleback, one of the largest churches in the country; deeply influential -- rightly told his congregation just weeks before the election: "...if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8. I never support a candidate, but on moral issues I come out very clear."
Until last week...Holy Week.
"Though others may turn away, I will never deny you," promised Peter. But then in the chill of night in a courtyard just outside the place of Jesus' trial, as others around the fire began to probe his relationship to Jesus, he denied even knowing him. No one was threatening his life, but the derision increased, until Peter's denial escalated to a curse to more emphatically deny he had ever known Jesus.
Peter was worried about his reputation. He didn't want to be the odd man out in the courtyard over the fire...it wasn't a Roman soldier with a sword who challenged him, it was a servant girl.
"On moral issues I come out very clear," declared Warren when speaking in the safety of his church last October. But when confronted by homosexual friends and by CNN's Larry King, he folded like Peter. He told a national television audience that he had "apologized" to his homosexual friends for making comments in support of Proposition 8. He "never once gave an endorsement" of the marriage amendment, he declared in that much larger, electronic courtyard. "I never once issued a statement." But that was not true. He had given an impassioned plea on camera for support of Proposition 8...a plea worthy of a Christian leader...a plea to follow Jesus' teaching on marriage. Then in one CNN moment, he not only backed away from the hard teaching, but lied in the process. On camera...both times...for all to see.
Seduced by the pressure of fame? Driven by the desire to please his friends? Afraid to be seen as bigoted to a national television audience? Whatever the motivation, the denial is no less significant.
After Peter finished his denial, he went out and wept bitterly. Jesus later forgave him in a personal exchange, and Peter became one of the greatest examples of Christ following of all time...crucified upside down for his faith...fearless to the end.
But he repented. If Rick Warren does not, he has lost his moral authority as a Christian leader. Without repentance, he joins the apostate ranks of others who declare Jesus' teaching when it is expedient and deny it when it interferes with choice or reputation.
Another Easter denial -- but we pray Warren will not let his story end there.