Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stoning Obama

I've been wanting to write the column that appears in today's paper for about a month now. Most of the ideas bouncing around in my head have come from news made over the past couple of months. But one incident in particular has stuck with me since it happened nearly a year ago: the way the evangelical establishment reacted when the Rev. Rick Warren invited U.S. Sen. Barack Obama to Saddleback Church for a forum on how faith-based organizations can play a role in responding to the AIDS crisis. I didn't have space to cover it in today's column, so I thought I would lay it out for you here.

The e-mail below (in green) orginated with the Christian Coalition of Alabama and eventually made its way to me via a family member. I have redacted some portions of it in the interest of space, but I have included all relevant portions. The portion in red is the actual open letter to the Rev. Warren regarding his invitation of Obama to the forum.

My response to all this, in its substantive entirety, follows the e-mail and is in blue.



Begin forwarded message:


Date: December 3, 2006 10:40:04 PM EST

Subject: Purpose Driven Life, - Rick Warren - Liberal Deceit?

A message from Christian Evangelicals to Rick Warren

Rick Warren popular author of Purpose Driven Life, Purpose Driven Church has made recent headlines again. This time for inviting liberal heathen U.S. Senator Obama from Illinois to speak at his church. Christians across the nation are outraged that Rick Warren would invite a liberal anti-conservative to speak at his church. See the list of conservative Christians organizations at the bottom of this email who are protesting Rick Warren's action.

Rick Warren is best known for changing the basic philosophy of how churches operate in America. Many churches have adopted his methods and increased church attendance. Bring in the Christian Rock Music and church attendance may increase. Be very positive, do not preach
anything negative and do not preach against sin. If any Christian or any philosophy claims to be Christian, that is okay, anything goes.

The below is complied information on Rick Warren. Scan the below and decide for yourself. The teachings of Rick Warren are probably influencing the operation of your church. Is that good or

Rick Warren's methods have been even noted by the Wall Street Journal in a negative sense.


Christian leaders to Warren: Keep Obama from pulpit

Argue Democrat senator's support for abortion incompatible with Bible

Rick Warren called 'enabler and defender' of evil


A message from Christian Evangelicals to Rick Warren

In the strongest possible terms, we oppose Rick Warren's decision to ignore Senator Obama's clear pro-death stance and invite him to Saddleback Church anyway. If Senator Obama cannot defend the most helpless citizens in our country, he has nothing to say to the AIDS crisis. You cannot fight one evil while justifying another. The evangelical church can provide no genuine help for those who suffer from AIDS if those involved do not first have their ethic of life firmly rooted in the Word of God.

Accordingly, we call on Pastor Rick Warren to rescind his invitation to Senator Obama immediately. The millions of silent victims who have died because of the policies of leaders like Senator Obama demand a response from those who believe that life is a gift from God. The name of the seminar at which Senator Obama will be appearing is entitled, “We Must Work Together.” No, Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama, we will never work with those who can support the murder of babies in the womb.

Phyllis Schlafly, President and Founder, Eagle Forum
Judie Brown, President, American Life League
Tim Wildmon, President American Family Association and American Family Radio
Joe Scheidler, President, Pro-Life Action League
Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue
Matt Trewhella, Missionaries to the Preborn
Brannon Howse, President, Worldview Weekend, Christian Worldview Network
Janet Folger, President, Faith2Action
Peter LaBarbera, President, Americans for Truth
Greg Cunningham, President,
Center for Bioethical Reform, Lake Forest, California
Peggy Hamill, Director, Pro-Life Wisconsin
Cal Zastrow, Christian Action for the Preborn
Dr. Vic Eliason, President, VCY America Radio Network
Ingrid Schlueter, Host, Crosstalk Radio Talk Show
Kevin McCullough, Host, Musclehead Revolution, WMCA Radio
Chris Rosebrough, Capo Valley Church, San Juan Capistrano, California
Rev. Ken Silva, Apprising Ministries
Linda Harvey, President, Mission America


Rick Warren's philosophy is influencing churches across America. The culture of our churches is making major changes to the thinking of Rick Warren and away from the Bible.

Please forward.

If you received this update notice in error or want to discontinue receiving these updates, please use the link below:

Or if you do not trust remove links, just put REMOVE in the Subject and forward this entire message to the list moderator at:




I heard about this on the news the other day. As I understand it, Rick Warren had Sen. Obama out to talk about how to tackle the AIDS epidemic. It’s important to remember that there are two separate issues here, and I want to address specifically the reaction from Christian conservatives to the meeting that involved Sen. Obama. Let us lay aside for now the issues raised about the validity of the Purpose-Driven Life paradigm; I am not qualified to talk about Rick Warren’s credentials, motives, etc. It seems to me that many of the groups opposing Rick’s invitation to Sen. Obama are couching their objections in terms of their divergence with him on issues surrounding his church philosophy.

First of all, why is the idea that Rick Warren would invite Sen. Obama to a conference (Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a staunch Christian conservative, was among those in attendance) in itself offensive to Christian conservatives? If Republicans had the corner on the answers to stopping AIDS, we wouldn’t be talking about it right now, and a lot of people would still be alive tonight – including moms and dads whose babies are now orphaned in every corner of the African continent.

With that said, I reject out of hand the notion that Rick Warren should be (has there ever been a more appropriate use for the next word?) demonized for having a dialogue with Sen. Obama about AIDS. I understand that the senator is pro-choice. I understand that he is not on the biblical side of the marriage question. And I understand that his position on stem-cell research is unacceptable to those who cherish and seek to protect the sanctity of life. I will also say from the outset that I don’t agree with most of Sen. Obama’s positions on social issues, and I suspect most Christian conservatives share my views.

But this reaction of repulsion from our camp is out of line. Refusing to talk with someone about what is arguably the developing world’s number one problem simply because you disagree with him on other issues is worse than narrow-minded; it’s childish. How can we as Christian conservatives expect for those on the other side of our issues to be open to our arguments if we are unable – or, in this case, simply unwilling – to have meaningful dialogue with them? Consider especially, for the purposes of this discussion, those who consider themselves “personally pro-life” but support choice as a government policy. Why should they listen to us and be open to our ideas about why government policies should come down on the side of life and why it’s important to create a society that cherishes and protects life if we can’t hear out their concerns on these and other issues?

Worse than being out of line, the reaction of repulsion from our camp is unbiblical. The web site headed by leading evangelical Phyllis Schlafly heads articles about Sen. Obama’s appearance at Saddleback, “There are times when you just can't work together!” and the snidely clever, “Such a partnership is an ‘Obama-nation.’” Was this the attitude Jesus had when He encountered those who believed differently than He did? What about Him meeting the woman at the well (John 4:1-42)? He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. He was the Messiah; she was an adulteress. Morally speaking, she couldn’t have been more His opposite. But did He turn His back to her or refuse to speak to her? Quite the contrary: Beyond the polite and superficial, Jesus conversed with her in such an intimate way that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony” (v. 39). Contrast His approach with the stubborn and hard-hearted ultimatum flung at Rick Warren’s feet by the group of evangelicals (below, in red). Which approach do you think is more likely to turn hearts to Christ -– Jesus’, or Phyllis Schlafly’s?

When it comes down to it, it has been my experience that most of the time, the people who most stridently avoid debate are those with the weakest arguments. We live in a society that is supposed to be a “marketplace of ideas” – the system means to have the best ideas rise to the top by virtue of being haggled over, tested, tried and tweaked. This attitude that Christian conservatives should do the equivalent of put our hands over our ears, squeeze our eyes shut and yell, “LALALALALALALALALA” while our ideological opposites are talking does not reflect the confidence that Christians should have in their arguments – maybe that’s because so many of today’s Christians are just too lazy to understand why they believe what they say they believe, or maybe it’s because they would just as soon let Pat Robertson speak for them.

That reminds me of the Gospel stories where the Pharisees were always trying to trap Jesus in religious conundrums. They thought they had the market on all the right answers. And after a while, when they couldn’t best Jesus in their arguments, they decided to kill Him. Don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not comparing Sen. Obama to Jesus. But the behavior of some in our camp in this episode certainly reminds me a lot of the behavior of those religious “leaders.”

Finally, what disappoints and saddens me about this whole episode is this paragraph, the final graf in liberal stalwart E.J. Dionne’s latest column:

“One more thing: If you read Obama’s speech, you'll realize he demonstrates a
much truer Christian spirit than the GOP masterminds who have recently tried to push people away from Obama by pointing out that his middle name is Hussein.”

These Christian leaders basically gave Mr. Dionne that free shot on us.

In addition, I think that for as well as President Bush and the Republican Congress have done on life issues since 2000, they have not done nearly enough in the areas of sheltering the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick or shepherding single-mother families through their unique struggles. I know; I sound like a liberal. “PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!!” yells someone from the GOP rafters. “TEACH A MAN TO FISH!!” from someone else on the floor. “A HAND UP, NOT A HAND OUT!!” thunders a voice from behind. And I believe in all these things. But why does modern Republicanism have to choose aspects of Christianity – the sanctity of life and marriage, for example – and ignore others, such as caring for the less fortunate?

I know another story about pious people who were too busy with their “religious” work to stop and help the needy. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero, in Jesus’ eyes, was the one who stopped to care for the beaten man. And as I recall, in telling the story, Jesus didn’t mention anything about the Good Samaritan lecturing the poor victim about how dangerous it was to be traveling that road alone, how he had it coming, how he needed to be more “personally responsible,” etc. The Samaritan just addressed the wounds of the body – and of the soul.

The bottom line is that if we as Christians believe that we are the salt of the earth, we should look for opportunities like these to have an audience with the decision makers of our country, not run from them simply because we disagree. If the philosophy of the now-repulsed Christian conservatives was applied to our overall interactions with everyone else in the world, Christians would never interact with the lost, and the word of salvation could never be spread.

I just think that as Christians, we have bigger and more important things with which to concern ourselves than with whom Rick Warren wants to discuss AIDS.

P.S. Here’s a good background piece on the conference, including several good quotes from Warren:

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