Evangelicals Embrace New Global Priorities

Some top leaders want to broaden the focus from culture-war 'family issues' to helping the world's poor.

Usually when the words "evangelical" and "poverty" appear in the same sentence, the minister at the helm is

Jim Wallis

,

Ron Sider

, or

Tony Campolo

. And when Rick Warren is written and talked about, it's almost never in the context of any political issue.



But Warren, who is the pastor of Saddleback Church, a megachurch in Lake Forest, California and the author of the blockbuster book "

The Purpose-Driven Life

," is diving into the issue of Christian responsibility to combat global poverty.

The move took the form of an

open letter campaign

to President Bush, launched June 3 by Warren together with heavyweights Billy Graham and British evangelical John Stott and sent to over 150,000 evangelicals nationwide.

"I deeply believe that if we as evangelicals remain silent and do not speak up in defense of the poor, we lose our credibility and our right to witness about God's love for the world," Warren wrote in his appeal for participants in the campaign.

A top evangelical leader, Warren's support lends powerful weight to the cause of ending global poverty. Barna polls have found that Warren comes in near the top of the list when pastors are asked who they feel is the most influential evangelical leader. He was listed first in the "Time" magazine list of the 25 most influential evangelicals, along with other more traditionally political evangelical leaders such as NAE president Ted Haggard and Southern Baptist

Richard Land.

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Following its publication in 2002, "The Purpose Driven Life" went on to become the best selling book for 2003 and 2004, and the best-selling non-fiction hardback in history, with sales of more than 22 million copies. Warren and his wife, Kay, have set up three foundations through which to distribute 90 percent of the proceeds from the book back into global ministry, including assistance to individuals in developing countries who have been infected and affected by AIDS.

Warren stressed that his action did not signal a new, political phase of his career, but rather was an urgent call to practice his Christian faith. "I've never been involved in partisan politics--and don't intend to do so now--but global poverty is an issue that rises far above mere politics," he wrote. "It is a moral issue . a compassion issue . and because Jesus commanded us to help the poor, it is an obedience issue!"

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Holly Lebowitz Rossi
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