I have made no secret of my respect and like of Rick Warren (for example, here). I have been to Saddleback, attended several conferences and training events and read a ton of his writings. I have been on conference calls with him and consider him a mentor-from-a-distance. While we have shaken hands and spoken a half dozen times, he would have no idea who I am.
There has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about a possible connection between Warren and Martin Ssempa, one of the primary sponsors of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill (which would make homosexual activity between consenting adults punishable by life in prison and certain aggravated offenses punishable by death.) Warren has been involved with ministry and P.E.A.C.E. Plan initiatives for many years.
Recently, Rick & Kay Warren released a statement in response to direct inquiries about their connection with Ssempa. Here is what they wrote:
STATEMENT FROM PASTOR RICK & KAY WARREN REGARDING ACTIVITIES OF MARTIN SSEMPA IN UGANDA
Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church, nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy. In 2007, we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own. Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation.
For me, that settles it. I can honestly say I feel like I have a good sense for Pastor Rick’s heart and I have no doubt about the statement and about his opposition to the bill.
One of the things I think is interesting is the left’s almost obsessive hatred of Rick Warren. I can honestly say that I know if no one who is more often misquoted than Warren — always for the purpose of making him look bad. I think part of it is that people are scared of his influence. A second thing is that I think many on the political left (like Rachel Maddow) desperately need a replacement symbol for evangelicals. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, etc, are all now pretty irrelevant (both within evangelicalism and outside it) and Warren would be a nice post child to attack. The problem is that while Dobson, Robertson, etc, all gave plenty of material to legitimately attack; but Rick Warren is not Dobson, Robertson, etc. They are really attacking the wrong guy.
All of that said, I do wish Rick would be more public and forceful in his condemnation of the bill (read here). I understand his desire to stay out of politics and also not to compromise any of the really important P.E.A.C.E. Plan work that is happening in Uganda, but sometimes staying silent is itself to be guilty of injustice. As Desmond Tutu has written, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I also believe that Warren could have significant influence in defeating the bill and pray that he uses both his influence and affluence to do what is right in this situation.
While I am well aware that Warren and I have disagreements, both in terms of politics and theology, there are few pastors or leaders I respect more. It is sad when the fact that we disagree with someone translates into not respecting them and not being able to learn from them. And while Rick and I have many areas of disagreement (after all, I am not a Southern Baptist), he has influenced me as much as anyone in terms of ministry, church planting, etc. And let me address the gay issue head-on… I have no doubt that I would be fully welcomed as a brother in Christ at Saddleback and no doubts that I would be more than welcomed at any Purpose-Driven or P.E.A.C.E. plan training events. And I have no doubt that, if given the opportunity to meet with Rick personally, he would be nothing but compassionate, loving and graceful — and open to talking about areas where we may disagree.
I am curious to hear what your thoughts are about Warren (and/or the Ugandan connection or the Anti-Homosexuality Bill). You can also join the Facebook group opposing the bill here.