Perhaps you’ve noticed in recent days the criticism and verbal attacks leveled at Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Southern California. What’s all the ruckus about? Well, after the interviews Pastor Warren did last spring with then-presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, on the one hand Pastor Warren was roundly criticized for not asking tougher questions of the candidates; and on the other he was chastised for being too soft in his questions.
Now it seems, Pastor Warren has stepped in it again. Some folks are all in a twit because president-elect, Barak Obama, has invited Pastor Warren to offer the invocation at the inaugural on January 20th. The Lefties, and Righties, and the Self-Righteous have raised their ugly heads spewing venom at Pastor Warren for accepting this invitation.
In light of the unwarranted criticism leveled at this minister, I would like to offer a defense if you will.
I first became aware of Rick Warren’s ministry in the early 90s when he was being compared to Pastor Bill Hybels of the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. Since then I’ve read several of Pastor Warren’s books. They are very solid in their biblical content. The church I pastor has also used his highly popular “40 Days of Purpose” program. I have watched Pastor Warren on television and have been impressed with the manner in which he explains the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During the period of time when I was called back to active duty in 2002, I made it a point to visit the Saddleback Church since it was only a relatively short distance from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Both times I attended services, the message by Pastor Warren was right on the money. Despite the church’s huge size, I was greeted and made to feel welcome from the parking lot attendants to the after service coffee shop servers.
In case you missed it, FOX News had a special program on Christmas Eve. They set aside three hours of programming for the celebration of Christmas. One of those hours was the service held at Saddleback with Pastor Warren preaching a message of Christ and the hope that his life brings to our sin-fallen world.
Some will say if Pastor Warren is so strong an Evangelical Christian, why would he accept the invitation of President-elect Obama to pray at the inauguration? Because an invocation is a prayer that invites God to be present in the proceedings. It is not a prayer of support for the new administration’s policies and plans, or for any particular person in the administration. Instead, the prayer is offered where the person offering the prayer is beseeching God to exert his will in the affairs of men. It is also a prayer in which the person praying prays that those in leadership will have an ear to hear how the Lord would want them to lead. Could there be any greater honor than to be asked to pray for the nation and its leaders as a new administration takes the mantle of responsibility for all Americans? The invoker, in this case Pastor Warren, is speaking directly to God. Men and women who are watching and listening may eaves-drop on the prayer, but the prayer is not directed to them.
Does Pastor Warren agree with everything President-elect Obama believes? Certainly not! On the most critical of issues – life, Pastor Warren is clearly in favor of preserving life from conception forward. President-elect Obama holds to the opposing view, fully supporting a woman’s right to choose, and even signing legislation allowing a baby who has survived an abortion to be allowed to die.
Offering the invocation at the presidential inaugural is an honor that any person of the cloth should welcome regardless of politics. It is a golden opportunity for Pastor Warren to speak to God about America. It’s a free country. You’re welcome to eaves-drop on the invocation. Somehow, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with what you hear.