Steven Waldman Interviews Rick Warren

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose of Christmas," spoke with Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman at the offices of our partner, The Wall Street Journal.

It’s interesting, the mainline died. It’s an irrelevant word. The mainline is sidelined. There are more Muslims in America than there are Episcopalians. There’s less than two million of ‘em. We’ve had a 40 year decline in all the mainline denominations while the independent and charismatic and the evangelicals kept growing and growing. So there’s been a shift.

This relates to something else I’ve seen you talk about -- the way the Christian brand, if I might call it that, has become tarnished. And there’s been research from the Barna organization saying that people have come to have a negative view of what Christianity is all about. First, do you agree with that?

I absolutely do. I absolutely do. And I feel like in many ways in the last, oh, 25, 30 years the word evangelical came to be a political view. It became associated even with the religious right. Now an evangelical is not a fundamentalist and a fundamentalist is not a religious right – they are different. But I don’t think faith should ever have be captivated by any political view or political party.

So what were the mistakes that Christian leaders made in leading this to happen?

In the first place thinking that politics could bring in social change that only…if I believed you could change people’s hearts through laws I’d be a politician. But I don’t believe that. I believe only God can change a heart, and I believe that change can only take place in a spiritual conversion inside. And you can’t legislate people to, for instance, drop their prejudice against another race or drop their war mongering. So I’m not looking to any government.

In fact, the Sunday before the election I said, “Folks you vote your conscience tomorrow but I’m not looking to any candidate to be my savior. Jesus is my savior.” The Bible says you respect the president, you pray for the President, you honor the president, we’re to support the President. Obviously, disagree on the things you disagree on but treat him with respect and give him our prayers and our support.

But ultimately I don’t think politics is the answer. Politics is always downstream from culture. By the time you make a law about it, it’s already in the water. So these people trying to make laws either for or against gay marriage – well I’m sorry, that started 25 years ago. If you want to change culture, you start with music, art, sports entertainment. Until Barack Obama came along there wasn’t a single kid who had a politician on his wall. It was Michael Jordan, or it was Tiger Woods or it was a musician. So if you want to change culture you start with the arts and music and things like that. Politics is always after the fact. They don’t have nearly as much power as they think they do.

So who did you vote for?

I’m not about to say [laughs]

You got a great a website. Beliefnet fills a need and it’s really a neat thing.

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