Watching Rick Warren moderate the Saddleback's Civil Forum on the Presidency, was extremely interesting and it was interesting because of Rick Warren.
Warren is the evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and seems to have found the key to being religiously conservative without being obnoxious. He also found a way to host the forum without getting in the way of the forum. His questions were challenging, but present value issues, as wedge issues the way most Christian conservatives have for more than a quarter of a century. I'm not a Rick Warren 'fan'. I do think that he is a thoughtful, strategic pastor whose perspective on the Christian faith, and contemporary church, offers much that is of value to the church at large. I don't agree with the obvious perspective from which some of the questions were asked. But he asked those questions in ways in which they could be heard and in ways that made you look forward to hearing the answers.
Warren was at appropriate times humorous, serious and he was somewhat substantive. He came off neither as a grave theologian, a policy wonk, or a representative of church leaders looking for a combination president/pastor-in-chief. He presented himself as a citizen of faith.
I found it very interesting! Was I surprised? No. I know a number of them. Some are more liberal than I, others are more conservative. They have no political 'agenda' so to speak. They have a few core values, based on their faith in Christ and their enlightened self interest as citizens and they love their country and their church, based on those two merged perspectives.
For the most part, their ministries don't have the reach of a Rick Warren. And, for the most part, they don't get involved in public life in high profile ways. But they are around. Whether labeled conservative or liberal, they are progressive enough to express their views in public debate and express those views without being stuck in polarizing positions.
The problem is, that for nearly 25 years they haven't been the ones doing the talking. It was both interesting and refreshing to see Rick Warren model, in some respects, the other side.
Warren has been seeking to extend the impact of his ministry to speak not only to issues of personal morality, but social issues to which, he is teaching, believers have a spiritual imperative to address through advocacy and service. So he is addressing, or finding ways to address issues of hunger, racism, environmental stewardship, poverty and AIDS. The man whose book sales are reported to be somewhere near $25 million and could settle into the type of celebrated irrelevance of some other mega church pastors, has made the decision to deepen his ministry and not just broaden it.
Whatever you think about mega churches and their pastors, Warren acquitted himself well on Saturday night. I think those of us who are members of the church community ought to say well done.