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Several years ago, a pastor’s son planted a church in a tough-to-reach upper middle class suburb in Southern California. For years–even decades–he shunned the spotlight to focus on his ministry.
His church grew. It spun off other churches. He coached and trained the leaders of churches across the country.
Years later, one of his books–“The Purpose-Driven Life”–became the best-selling book of all time, aside from the Bible. A longtime evangelical figure, he began to cross over into a mainstream identity. He began showing up on talk shows, was frequently interviewed on national news shows and hence the rumors began: here is the new Billy Graham, America’s minister.
Then, during this election cycle, he (and his church) hosted what was widely received as the finest formatted debate that we’d seen in a long time. And now, controversy seems to have found him as his long quest to avoid the politics of being a media figure has found him.
The Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in South Orange County, has received President-elect Barack Obama’s invitation to give the Invocation at this year’s Inauguration ceremony.


“[It’s] shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now,” said Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic Web site Wednesday.
Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way, told CNN she is “deeply disappointed” that Mr. Obama chose Rev. Warren, calling the ladder out as someone who does not “consistent mainstream American values.” These and other opponents of the choice of Rev. Warren were highlighted in a recent Beliefnet interview and CNN.com article.
A follow-up article pointed out that Rev. Warren had spent so many years avoiding the “lighting rod” of public controversy, but was not seemingly following the path of Dr. James Dobson and other evangelical leaders. Steven Waldman, founding Editor-in-Chief of Beliefnet.com also has commented on this on his blog.
“There is no substantive difference between Rick Warren and James Dobson,” Ms. Kolbert said. “The only difference is tone. His tone is moderate, but his ideas are radical.”
I think Mr. Obama’s choice shows great poise and prowess. Rev. Warren clearly is of a different opinion of what the scriptures say about homosexuals and abortion, but is more of the same mind when it comes to caring for the poor and creating equality for all of God’s people under the sun.
The Rev. Billy Graham found a way to steer clear of these kinds of political debates. The Rev. Warren has gained a following by speaking his version of biblical truth directly into them. Whether he is our next “nation’s minister” or not remains to be seen. Whether his leadership is appropriate and cutting edge for our time or rather too divisive also remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, it has the blogosphere buzzing and it will no doubt build until the moment when our nation ordains its first African-American President…just moments after a prayer from a white, suburban, upper middle-class pastor and author who believes in quite a few things that the President (apparently) does not. Whether that’s progress or egress, I suppose, lies in the opinion of each of us.
As for me, I think Rev. Graham did what was appropriate for his generation: he focused on being a chaplain, pastor and evangelist and left the politics to others. Rev. Warren is attempting to do the same, but what he sees as Biblical revelation is interpreted today as politics. Whether that can work in our generation remains to be seen. But the discussion is certainly heating up. What do you think?

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