Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County California has gone to the bad place. The bad place is easy to get to in the evangelical world. Take a pastor or Christian leader with some insight or gift of communication, give them book with an idea that takes off on a grass roots level, and a best seller is created. Christians love “the latest book” more than anything else, so the more it sells, the more the book becomes required reading. The pastor is flying all over the place answering questions, giving interviews, and receiving big fat royalty checks. And then they go to the bad place.
In this world, they are no longer satisfied being a pastor or a mere leader in the Christian community. In this place, they are more important than that. The bad place calls to them the same way American presidents immediately start to tinker with Israel after short runs of success. These people have done very well in the public eye and so they assume that they are here to tackle the big problems we mere mortals dare not address. AIDS, peace in the Middle East, and poverty are mountains that must be assaulted. They are there. The immensity of these issues entice the successful like an itch that must be scratched. AIDS is only a problem because Bono and Rick Warren have yet to address it. Poverty in Africa will be eliminated once Bruce Wilkinson goes there and pitches in. Why shouldn’t Pat Robertson be President of the United States? After all he is the host of the 700 Club.
To be certain, it is Christian to be concerned about those issues and more specifically the children of God all over the world that are afflicted by the climates created by devastation due to poverty, disease, and war. I do not insult these men for wanting to make a difference. I am warning them and all those that follow their leadership to be mindful of the fine line between a passionate desire to productively engage this world and hubris. Recognizing the terrible and destructive force of the AIDS pandemic is good, but listening to Rick Warren’s interview closely demonstrates some signs of something deeper. For instance:
“You know, I have to admit the Church was late to the table on this AIDS issue. And we had to repent on it. We just -- I just personally had to repent on it. I didn't get it for years. But once I understood, I said, okay, we're in, and we're in for the duration. This is not flavor of the month. This is not, you know, fad of the week for us. We're in it for long term because it's part of our mission, we believe.”
What does Rick mean that the Church was late to the table on the AIDS issue? What Church is he talking about? What organization repented? I assume he means more than Saddleback? This is the germ of the bad place. Who speaks for the Church and our terrible ills? What specifically had the Church failed to do universally? AIDS is most commonly spread through activities that both my home church and traditional Christian doctrine publicly recognize as poor decisions with sometimes terrible consequences up to and including contracting a deadly disease. We have not failed to inform people that promiscuity, adultery, and drug use are bad. In fact, Christians are often mocked and insulted for being so prudish and puritanical. Perhaps we have ignored people who are struggling and dying? I know that this is not universally true. Good Christians have been serving AIDS victims for years all over the world. I have missionary friends that see the devastation of it in Africa every day and have forsaken living here in the United States to serve God there. They are not alone and they host mission trips from American churches all year long. Christian Americans that have taken vacation from work and left their protected homes to go out into the world and help other people in desperate need. If Rick thinks we can do more, then great! Help us to see what that is and if we agree that your plans make sense we will join in and help. But that is not what he is doing. Rick behaves as if this issue is so vital that it supersedes other concerns.
I know what you some of you are thinking. “Oh, Jay, you are just worked up that he is inviting pro-choice politicians to address his church.” You are absolutely right, but not because he has one pet project that contradicts my own. I know a minister here in Marietta that has been moved by God to love and care for the homeless. Abortion is not on his radar, and that is fine with me. That said, would his passion for one particular area translate into supporting and promoting people that are opponents of other ministries? Absolutely not!! That God has moved Rick to a passionate level of interests is obvious. That Rick has subsequently become reckless and a touch arrogant as a result of his past success is equally obvious. Listen to this response:
SMITH: You know, there are people within the Evangelical movement who heard about Hillary Clinton speaking at Saddleback today who said this is a huge error and that just by inviting her you send the wrong message.
WARREN: Yeah. You know what? The greatest criticism Jesus got, he got not from political people or from secular leaders. He got it from religious people. And it's amazing to me that sometimes the people who understand grace are the least gracious people on the planet. And so, you know, we don't do things for cheers or jeers, for what I call strokes or pokes. We do it because we think it's the right thing to do. And we know that we need to be speaking up about this issue.
(See also here, here, and here for a WorldNet Daily Joseph Farah article)
Rick, are you telling me that inviting in a woman who has promised to repeal any and all Executive Orders that protect the unborn as her first priority in the White House to address the flock God called you to shepherd is the right thing to do? Why, because she has a favorable position on AIDS? Am I a Pharisee for questioning your wisdom? Am I one of the least gracious people on earth for thinking this beyond unwise? Are you now beyond reproach?
Rick is in the bad place. You may have noticed that I have referred to him this entire post by his first name. I do not know Rick Warren personally and do not want to give that impression. I do that to remind myself of something that perhaps Rick should consider. He is just some guy who God blessed with a great ministry. That blessing can affect us ordinary guys in odd ways. Let us hope that Rick realizes that soon. If not, we can only speculate how long until the next politician that is actively working to protect the state-sanctioned killing of 1 million innocent lives every year will be given the mic at Rick’s church.