Steven Waldman

Juan Cole, a liberal Islam scholar, has a fascinating account of last night’s Muslim Public Affairs Council event — featuring Rick Warren reaching out to Muslims…at the same event as Melissa Etheridge, the singer who is lesbian and was prevented from getting married by the passage of Prop 8 in California.
Cole reports that Warren called Etheridge before the event, and he publically gushed about what a big fan he is of her music. Still, Cole was skeptical about Warren.

So imagine my surprise when I heard Warren talk at MPAC and found that he is a genuine, likeable man. And more than likeable, he seems admirable. A lot of pastors would tell the story of building their congregations and saving souls as the pinnacle of their lives. For Warren, that was only the beginning. He and his wife had an epiphany six years ago when she read an article about there being 12 million children in Africa who had been orphaned by AIDS. They started going to southern Africa, and Warren became devoted to helping those orphans.
But then he began thinking bigger. He has identified 5 major problems he wants to address:
Spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, disease pandemics, dire poverty, and illiteracy. He wants to do job creation and job training. He wants to wipe out malaria in the areas where it is still active. He is convinced that religious congregations are the only set of organizations on earth that can successfully combat these ills. And he is entirely willing actively and directly to cooperate with mosques to get the job done.
Warren, in short, is a representative of the turn of some evangelicals to a social gospel. Since evangelicalism is a global movement and very interested in mission, his social gospel not surprisingly becomes a global social gospel. He is active in South Africa, Rwanda and more recently Uganda.
In opinion polls, evangelicals are by far the most bigoted Americans versus Muslims. But that sentiment derives from theological competition (and competition for souls). Once a pastor turns, as Warren did, to a social gospel, then he has social goals to accomplish, and he needs all the help he can get. A social gospel creates a field of practical ecumenism.
Warren’s sincere friendship with MPAC founding father, Maher Hathout, was obvious from their body language.
So you begin to see why Obama is reaching out to this man. (In fact, Warren reached out to Obama 3 years ago and had him to his Saddleback Church despite it being a Republican bastion, and says he took heat from his congregants for that step). If Warren is the future of the American evangelical movement, then many more evangelicals might end up Democrats, since it is Democrats who care about poor people, illiteracy, and AIDS victims. And if any significant proportion of evangelicals can be turned into consistent Democrats, the party would more regularly win elections in some parts of the country and even nationally.
Moreover, Warren’s work to improve the lives of Africans probably means something to Obama.
I came away liking and looking up to Warren. In fact, I wonder whether with some work he could not be gotten to back off some of the hurtful things he has said about gays and rethink his support for Proposition 8.

A spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council also praised Warren to the Los Angeles Times:
“We’re always looking to work with unlikely partners, and I think he’s a new kind of evangelical,” said spokeswoman Edina Lekovic. “We have a lot in common.”
Not sure how this played in the room but Warren tried to break the ice early on by declaring, “Let me just get this over very quickly. I love Muslims. And for the media’s purpose, I happen to love gays and straights.”

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus