The Warren Tragedy: Is This a Time for Cruelty?

04/15/2013 03:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

I have enormous respect for Rick Warren, despite our deep disagreements on certain matters both theological and social. At this moment, in particular, along with millions of others I feel tremendous sorrow, solidarity and compassion for him, for Kay and for their entire family.

Never were the words of the biblical book of Job more apt. Eliphaz says to the grieving Job: "Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you" (Job, ch. 4). At such a moment, we should all be offering whatever encouragement and strength we can in whatever language is true to our beliefs.

Or, we should shut up.

What we should not do, what is so vile as to be unthinkable, is to launch attacks on a man who just suffered the suicide of a child. But reports from all over the web remind us of the hatred in some hearts.

It is close to inconceivable that someone would be so callous as to use this moment of grief to further wound hearts that are torn from loss. I despair of awakening the decency in someone who could act so crassly and cruelly. So instead I encourage those of you who have not expressed your sense of sorrow to do so. The best way to wash back a tide of hatred is with expressions of goodness, of kindness and of love.

Yes there is much to debate. Salvation, sexuality, works, faith, reproductive rights -- these are touchy and difficult and fraught issues. On all of them there are many who feel hurt or offended by Warren's views. And there is a time for debating them. This is not the time.

As a rabbi I have rejoiced when Rick Warren came and sang Hebrew prayers in my synagogue, when he agreed to write a forward to my book, when he participated in public dialogues with both honesty and the capacity to listen. Together he and I have found areas of joyous agreement and deep division, of course, but there is little doubt about the essential goodness of the man's heart. Yet even if one doubted it, there are moments, as the Bible reminds us, to embrace (Ecclesiastes 3:5). Surely to anyone who has ever endured the anguish of loss, this is such a moment.

Of all the columns I have written in my life I cannot imagine one that would seem less necessary. Is it really essential to remind people that when an individual is experiencing the greatest possible pain one should either comfort or keep away? Yet the intractable hostility of some hearts will emerge even at a time like this. So let us be clear: Believer or not, no matter your religion, your politics, your sexual orientation, your views on Warren's views, please, be guided by the one value we all understand to be central to our lives -- the value of compassion.

And may the Warrens be comforted by their faith, their community, their son's memory and our outstretched hands.