The Rick Roll
President-elect Barack Obama angered liberals on Wednesday when he announced that evangelical minister Rick Warren would deliver the invocation at his Inauguration.
Warren, the pastor of the Saddleback Church, in Orange County, California, and a best-selling author, has been courted by politicians across the spectrum. In an October 2006 interview with David Remnick, Obama contrasted Warren and his willingness to talk about poverty with the “hard Christian right.” But Warren is still a social conservative, and recently compared gay marriage to incest.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 “Letter from Saddleback,” Warren was portrayed as an entrepreneur whose megachurch and books provided a model for building community in exurban America:
Warren’s great talent is organizational. He’s not a theological innovator. When he went from door to door, twenty-five years ago, he wasn’t testing variants on the Christian message. As far as he was concerned, the content of his message was nonnegotiable. Theologically, Warren is a straight-down-the-middle evangelical. What he wanted to learn was how to construct an effective religious institution. His interest was sociological. Putnam compares Warren to entrepreneurs like Ray Kroc and Sam Walton, pioneers not in what they sold but in how they sold. The contemporary thinker Warren cites most often in conversation is the management guru Peter Drucker, who has been a close friend of his for years. Before Warren wrote “The Purpose-Driven Life,” he wrote a book called “The Purpose-Driven Church,” which was essentially a how-to guide for church builders. He’s run hundreds of training seminars around the world for ministers of small-to-medium-sized churches. At the beginning of the Internet boom, he created a Web site called pastors.com, on which he posted his sermons for sale for four dollars each. There were many pastors in the world, he reasoned, who were part time. They had a second, nine-to-five job and families of their own, and what little free time they had was spent ministering to their congregation. Why not help them out with Sunday morning? The Web site now gets nearly four hundred thousand hits a day.
Lauren Collins, in a Talk story for the August 11, 2008, issue of the magazine, spoke to Warren before a August 16th forum he was hosting between Obama and McCain:
Warren, who favors Hawaiian shirts over suits, wants “to sit down and do the sort of David Frost or the Charlie Rose interview,” and he gave a preview of some of the topics he might broach. “In most debates, ninety-five per cent of the questions have had to do with hot-button political issues—it’s the war, it’s oil, it’s the border, it’s health care,” he said, and explained that he finds these lines of inquiry “really quite short-term.” He offered some alternatives. Q.: “Are you a leader or a manager?” Q.: “Tell me the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make.” Think Human Resources.
About a month later, Peter Boyer wrote about how, at the forum, Obama stumbled over a Warren question on when life begins:
The prospect of McCain’s appearance with Barack Obama at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, on August 16th, made many evangelicals cringe. Mohler was among those who expected the worst from what seemed, given Warren’s disdain for sharp partisanship, a venue perfectly tailored to Obama’s strengths. But McCain surprised. For many evangelicals, the event turned on the question, posed by Warren to both candidates separately, “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama’s response, characteristically nuanced, came across as a dodge. “Well,” he began, “I think that, whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.” Asked the same question, McCain didn’t hesitate. “At the moment of conception,” he said, to the loud approval of the congregation.