By MARC McDONALD
Rick Warren is a big fan of the late Southern Baptist pastor, W.A. Criswell (1909–2002). Warren once wrote, "In fact, I believe W.A. Criswell was the greatest American pastor of the 20th Century."
And just who is this pastor, who Warren believes is worth of such praise?
Criswell, like Warren, was a pastor and author. He was a president of the Southern Baptist Convention. And he was regarded by many as a major figure behind the right-wing fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, beginning in the 1960s.
Oh, and early in his career, Criswell was a racist bigot. In fact, like Warren, Criswell used his twisted interpretation of the Bible to try to defend his bigotry.
In 1956, Criswell railed against the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Integration, Criswell argued, was "foolishness" and "idiocy."
Criswell saved some of his harshest words for the NAAACP. In one crude remark, he made a clumsy attempt at humor that wouldn't have been out of place at a KKK rally:
"Why the NAACP has got those East Texans on the run so much," he said, "that they dare not pronounce the word 'chigger' any longer. It has to be 'cheegro.'(sic)"
All white Southerners wanted, Criswell argued, was to be simply left alone:
"Don't force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision ... to cross over in those intimate things where I don't want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family"
Indeed, reading quotes like this makes it clear that Criswell believed that Southern whites were the victims and that they were the ones whose rights were somehow being infringed.
It's language like this that eerily echoes Warren's own twisted logic that the suppression of bigotry somehow leads to persecution of Christians.
An example of this is when Warren recently claimed he supported Proposition 8 because of free-speech, of all things. He claimed that "any pastor could be considered doing hate speech ... if he shared his views that homosexuality wasn't the most natural way for relationships."
Criswell later distanced himself from his 1950s statements on race and desegregation. But the fact is, in the 1950s, he was most definitely fiercely opposed to integration and used twisted interpretations of Bible to defend his racist bigotry.
It's clear that Warren is following in Criswell's footsteps when he uses Scripture to try to justify his own bigoted views.
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