This is an exclusive transcript of Pastor Rick Warren’s remarks at the 2009 Islamic Society of North America conference that concluded a few weeks ago, kindly provided to me by his staff and reprinted with their permission. I think it’s a fantastic outreach by a prominent Christian evangelical to the muslim community, and I hope that this is just the beginning (and that muslim americans respond in kind at Christian conferences as well).
Remarks as Delivered at the 46th Annual ISNA Convention
By Pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback Church
Washington , DC
July 4, 2009
I come here today with a spirit of love, a spirit of friendship, a spirit of deep respect. I love my dear, dear Muslim friends, my next door neighbors, ….and so many that are friends,…and I love you. Now dear friends as globalization draws us closer and closer together, one of the most pressing questions we have to ask ourselves is how to we deal with our deepest differences? It is a fundamental question that we have to wrestle with. How do we live together in peace and harmony, and not only that, how can we actually work together, maintaining our separate traditions, maintaining our convictions without compromise, working together for the greater good of everybody in the world. Secularists, those who don’t believe in God, don’t understand really, how deeply your ability, my ability and other people of faith, how our identity is tied to what we believe. They just don’t get it. Now of course you understand that. You know that obviously as an evangelical pastor, my deepest faith is in Jesus Christ. But you also need to know that I am committed not just what I call the “Good News,” but I am committed to the common good. And as the Scripture says “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I am commanded to love and I am commanded to respect everybody. Everybody. Now I was asked to speak to you about how Muslims and Christians can work closer together for the greater good, in our world. And I will tell you that I am not interested in interfaith dialogue, I am interested in interfaith projects. There is a big difference. Talk is very cheap. And you can talk and talk and talk and not get anything done. Love is something you do. It is something that we do together. Love is a verb. Now as the two largest faiths on this planet, Muslims and Christians, we must lead in this. We must lead. With over one billion Muslims, and over 2 billion Christians, together, as half the world, we have to do something, about modeling what it means to live in peace, to live in harmony. And there are a lot of things that we could do together but tonight I would quickly want to mention 4 things. Can we work on these things together? And I know we can.
The first thing we have to do is what I call on Muslims and Christians together to model; what it means to respect the dignity of every person. The tensions that we see in our world, and we see these tensions all around us, friends, dear friends, they are not going to be solved by mere tolerance. Tolerance is not enough. People do not want to be tolerated, they want to be respected. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to be listened to. They want to be valued. And as the Holy Scriptures tell us since we are created in the image of God, each person has intrinsic value and dignity. We may disagree over policy, we may disagree over behavior, but we are called, and we are commanded, to treat each other with dignity and respect. Now let me get real practical about this. That means we need to join together, and I call on you, members of Islam, we need to join together to create some kind of coalition to end stereotyping. For talking to my Muslim friends I know without a doubt you have experienced the stupidity of stereotyping, as I have as an evangelical. And since today much of the press is actually clueless of what you believe, and as to what I believe, and then there are frequent mischaracterizations in the media, frequent ignorant generalizations, generalizations are generally wrong, and frequent stereotyping, of all of us. And friends, it needs to be challenged. And it needs to be challenged not just point by point through, in other words, Muslims challenging Muslim stereotypes, Christians challenging Christian stereotypes, Jews, or gays, or Hispanics, or African Americans, or anybody challenging their stereotypes. But we need a coalition of people of, as Dr. Mattson calls “people of good will.” People of good will committed to the common good. Who’d say: “We are not allowing this stereotyping about anybody, it is the truth that sets us free, and we will challenge it.” That’s why I hope that we can, maybe even in this year, have some kind of coalition on stereotyping and say we are not going to allow this and we will challenge it when we see it in the media.
But there is a second thing and I think that it is even greater. Not just do we need to show dignity and respect to each other, treat each other with love, treat each other with respect, you can disagree without being disagreeable, you can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye, you can have unity in America without uniformity. We don’t need that. I don’t know if you have discovered this, but God likes variety. Have you noticed this? God likes variety, He likes diversity. In fact, when God created insects, beetles, did you know that He made over 60.000 kinds of beetles in the world? You would have thought that 3 or 400 varieties might have been enough. But God overloaded on variety and created that many. And there are not as many like you in the world. You have a unique hand and thumb print, eye print, voice print. God made you to be you, and He made you to be broke the mold.
Not only do we need to show respect and consideration of dignity of everybody. The second thing we need to do together is we need to work together to restore civility to civilization. I am sure you noticed that our world is getting more rude. It is getting more impolite, it’s getting more disrespectful. People talk AT each other on television; they don’t talk WITH each other. They talk about each other. They talk at each other; they don’t talk with each other. And we need to restore here in America a rebirth of what I call the civil public square. The civil public square; where people of all beliefs, get to be and discuss, and yes, even disagree, without demeaning or debasing each other. And in a civil public square, people of all faiths are free to engage in what they do best, sharing their faiths, sharing their ideas, where it depends on persuasion, not coercion, with each other. And just because you disagree with somebody, does not make it right to demonize them. Now when I speak of the civil public square, I am not talking about civil religion where everybody compromises their beliefs and we dumb it down so really we don’t believe in anything. Differences make a difference.
Differences do matter. And the right to believe anything does not believe that everything is right. But you can, as I said, disagree without being disagreeable. And we show grace to each other when we make mistakes. Now in order to restore civility to our civilization, I call on American Christians, American Muslims, American Jews and everybody else to be a part of this. The problem is that a civil vision is not of the interest of either political party or any of the media. The fastest way to raise money is to demonize the enemy, make people afraid or hate them. And the fastest way to raise ratings on television is to create a conflict. Civility, politeness is not a very interesting story. Now to restore civility, it means that as we try to walk down this pathway together, in the middle, not on the extremes. You know what I discovered, if you walk down the middle of the road, you get hit coming and going .You get hit on both sides. Actually it is easier to be an extremist of any kind, because then you have only one group of people mad at you. But if you actually try to build relationships, like invite an evangelical pastor to your gathering, you get criticized for it. So will I. But that is not what matters. Now the problem is to restore civility to civilization you are going to have to make, and I am going to have to make some very courageous decisions. And one of those decisions is to challenge conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom now today, political practice says if you disagree with an idea, then you are intolerant, you hate that person, or you are afraid of them. No, you can disagree with somebody without hating them. You can disagree with somebody without being afraid of them. My wife disagrees with me all the time, but she still loves me. Actually she respects me, but we disagree all the time.
Now there is a third thing that we need to do together and I think we can do these, hand in hand, and that is promoting peace, promoting freedom, and protecting freedom, particularly the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. Today as we celebrate Independence Day, on the 4th of July, we need to remember frankly, freedom never ever lasts unless we intentionally cultivate it. History has proven over and over again that freedom is eventually lost to either license, or political correctness, or the fear of security. And so we have to work at protecting that freedom. I had ancestors, Baptists, who died in the Revolutionary War, fighting for my freedom of speech and my freedom of religion. And yet today, over 200 years later, those freedoms are still under attack by people who don’t want you to talk about the things you want to talk about and the things that I want to talk about, or anybody else and they want us to just talk about what they want us to talk about. So we need to work together, in promoting religious freedom and freedom of speech wherever. And part of that, let me just say this to those of you who that defended America for many generations now, part of your responsibility is helping the newcomers to learn what is means to be American. The old-timers help the newcomers in every generation. America is a nation not built on a race, not built on a creed but built on an idea; Liberty and Justice for all. And freedom for all. It is very easy to become an American, but it is much more difficult to explain the responsibilities of being an American. And we need citizen education.
Finally, I believe that there are some problems in this world that are never going to be solved by the governments of the world. I call these problems the global giants. These are problems that affect billions of people, not just millions of people. There are a lot of problems that affect millions. But as I travelled around the world and I’ve trained leaders of 169 countries, I have seen these same 5 problems over and over; I have seen them in America and in every other country. The 5 global giants. These problems are so big the United States has failed to solve them, the United Nations has failed to solve them, and so has everybody else. What are they?
Number 1 is the problem of Conflict. War, confrontation, hostilities, terrorism, refugee camps. All of the things that cause hostility between generations, hostility between races, hostility between nations, hostility between ethnic groups and economic groups, and it is just an evidence of our unwillingness to reconcile with God and to reconcile with each other. The second big problem that is all around the world is corruption. And we see corruption in government, we see it in business, in academics, we see it in healthcare, we can see it in religion. It is actually everywhere. It keeps people stuck in poverty; it keeps people being abused, and it robs them of their dignity. The third biggest problem on the planet is poverty. Half of the world lives on less than 2 dollars a day. One billion people live on less than 1 dollar a day. We’re working in countries in humanitarian efforts, like in Rwanda where the average income is 16 cents a day. Now in Rwanda they grow coffee, but a farmer will work all day and could not afford a cup of Starbucks coffee from his entire day wages. Something is wrong with that. Poverty.
The fourth big problem is disease. This year 500 million people around the world will get malaria. That is a problem we solved 100 years ago in Teddy Roosevelt’s administration. Why do people still get malaria today? Because we don’t have the leaders who will say enough is enough, we are going to stop this and we are going to wipe this out right now. The number one killer of children in the world is poor water. It is diarrhea; it is water born eye disease. Things we know how to get rid of, how to prevent or how to cure since the 19th till the 21st century….and the 5th biggest problem in Illiteracy. Half of the world functionally can’t read or write. Five years ago I began working with our network of congregations around the world on what we call the PEACE Plan. That is promoting reconciliation, equip servant leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick and educate the next generation. In the last 5 years we had over 8000 members of my congregation go overseas, somewhere around the world in nearly 100 countries to do this PEACE Plan. And I want to close with this story to show you how it is possible for Muslims and Christians to work together, for the greater good or the common good around us, without compromising my convictions or your convictions.
Two years ago I was invited by President Bush to be the closing speaker for the global summit on malaria. And I stood up in front of that group of world leaders and I said; I have heard of everything you said, but we will never solve any of the major problems of the world until you involve houses of faith; mosques, temples, synagogues, churches and so forth. There are 600.000 Buddhists in the world; there are 800,000 Hindus in the world, over a billion Muslims and a couple of billion Christians. Most of the world has some kind of faith. And if you say only secularists can do humanitarian care you have ruled out the rest of the world. Now, I believe that we can do this together. And I said let me just show you an example, so I put three slides on the screen. The first slide was a picture of the western province of Rwanda. And I said this; this is the western province of Rwanda, and it has 750.000 people in it, and one doctor, and no nurses. No registered nurses for 750.000 people. I said it has 3 hospitals but they’re staffed by people who are not fully trained, and I said it is a 2 day’s walk to any hospital, and you have to you walk up and down the mountains, you get sick, and there is no guarantee that you will get in the hospital, it is a 2 day’s walk to the nearest hospital. And by the way, 2 of these are faith based hospitals. So you would not have that if it would not be for people of faith. One of them is a secular governed hospital. Then I said let me show you the second slide, and I put up the second slide and said; here are the 18 clinics in the western province of Rwanda. And I said now that is better for that is only one day’s walk to get healthcare. If you have been to many developing countries they have a bottle of aspirin and that is it. Nothing else. I have been in clinics in Africa and they have a stethoscope or a microscope and no medicine. And I said it is better for it is only a one day’s walk, but it is not good enough for nearly 750.000 people. By the way I said of these 18 clinics, 16 of them are faith based. They would not be in existence, if they would just left it up to the government. Then I put up a third picture and I said, oh, it was covered with dots, dot, dot, dot, all over the whole the province of west Rwanda. I said all of these dots; they represent the 729 congregations of faith in this region. Now, if you needed healthcare where would you like to go to get it? 2 day’s walk, a one day walk or 5 minutes away? So we began in the western province of Rwanda, about a year and a half ago. We invited 2 imams and 18 pastors, those in the area to come and involve themselves in training. The pastors and the imams said of course we can. So the 2 imams and the 18 Christian churches from Kibuye came and we said what we are going to do is we will teach you basic healthcare skills. And we began to train, and that training began to multiply in the mosques and in the churches together. And first there were 32, and we asked each imam to pick 2 members of his congregation and each pastor to pick 2 members of his congregation. And so the first group we had about 38 people take the training. Three months later they went out and got 36 more, 38 more, brought them back and began to train them. You begin to see how this began to multiply? We began to train them in how to care for basic human health needs, for since there is only one doctor for 750.000 people. That project has exploded with growth from 100 to 200 to 400 and 800. By the end of this year, in a province in Africa, they had only one doctor, a year and a half ago, a certified doctor, by the end of this year, because of the monsoon, and churches working together, there will be over 15,000 trained health care workers, in that area.
Friends, this is the time for action. This is the time for civility, this is the time for respecting of each other, and this is the time for the common good that we work together. Some problems are so big you have to keep tackle them, may God bless you. And on the 4th of July, may God bless America.