Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mr. Warren’s Profession

The Los Angeles Times looks at the Southern California pastor who is getting John McCain and Barack Obama together in his Orange County church this weekend.

The presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees won’t debate during the Civil Forum on the Presidency. But they will make a brief joint appearance, their first of the campaign, and Warren will interview each separately about the Constitution, poverty, AIDS, human rights and other subjects.

“America has a choice. It’s not between a stud and a dud this year,” Warren said. “Both of these men care about America. My job is to let them share their views.”

Many evangelicals believe that Warren’s growing profile, and his willingness to welcome Obama to his pulpit, are evidence that he has emerged as the most pivotal figure in U.S. evangelicalism.

The 54-year-old pastor, they say, is emblematic of a new breed of evangelicals who put social justice ahead of partisan politics. Some go so far as to call the plain-talking Warren, a bear of a man who prefers bluejeans to business suits, the Billy Graham of his era.

“He’s a guy whose message has met the right moment,” said Richard Land, a leading authority with the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination to which Warren’s church belongs.

But he’s not right-wing enough for some.

“For many evangelical leaders, Rick Warren is either a little too naive or a little too shrewd,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, a Washington group that works to meld Christian teachings into the debate over public policies.

“He is threatening to water down the essential message of evangelical Christianity,” Schenck said. “And that is what causes people to grow a little insecure and concerned, and maybe even disconcerted.”

In other words, Mr. Warren refuses to demonize the gay community and Charles Darwin. And he’s also too willing to be a peacemaker for the rest of the Christian soldiers.

“It’s not our business to make friends with all of the political leaders of the world,” said Bob DeWaay, an evangelical minister from Minnesota whose book, “Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Movement,” critiques Warren’s work.

“We have a message about how people get right with God, not about how the world is going to get rid of its problems,” DeWaay said.

Yeah, following the dictates of “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “turn the other cheek” is for wimps.

I don’t think anyone doubts that there’s an element of self-promotion to Rick Warren and his message, but unlike his counterparts in Colorado Springs like James Dobson, at least he doesn’t go around espousing terrorism.