A couple Sundays ago Rick Warren appeared on the “Piers Morgan Tonight Show.” There are times I click past these shows but I’ll admit seeing a prominent evangelical on a prominent antagnoizer’s show is always interesting or as they say, “makes for good television.”
First, you have to understand a few things. One, I’m not a fan of the show but he gets great guests. The most frustrating part is Piers – he’s difficult for me to like (where’s the British charm, Sir?). I thought I would like the fact that he asked pointed, tough questions but the problem is that just about every time I watch, his questions are charged in the negative. He was intolerable when he interviewed Harry Connick Jr. because he kept trying to uncover some controversy with the guy. Come on Piers, get with it, there is not much controversial with Harry. I don’t watch the show regularly so maybe I’m tuning in at all the wrong times.
Then there’s Rick Warren. His name brings up a lot of thoughts. First, the good. I was among those that liked the fact that Obama selected him to pray at his inauguration, in fact, I appreciated his heart more after that. Some evangelicals saw that as selling out, like Rick was going to be flying the world on Air Force One and ghost writing Obama’s memoir Purpose Driven White House. Others thought that Warren was being used by the Democrats to warm up to some of the evangelical Republicans “See guys, even Rick Warren loves Obama!”
Maybe but I know two things. One, Jim Wallis must have been disappointed not to be asked and two, it was good for Rick Warren to be there. The myth in America is that everyone is going like you or agree with you. That really only happens in places like North Korea where recently their media outlets announced to their population that Kim Jong Un was voted Time Magazine “Man of the Year.” It’s called “Person of the Year” now and let me tell you, it’s more impressive that I won my fantasy football championship than Kim Jong becoming Time’s POY. Simple reason being there is a greater likelihood that he will win it again next year than me chance of repeating. I know they’re saying this was a hacker thing but it wouldn’t surprise anyone for the N. Korean government to actually do this. In any case, the lesson is:
Beware of the person that everyone likes. Don’t worry Pastor Rick, this is not your problem ;)
In America and the many wonderful free societies of the world, the goal isn’t to be liked, the goal is to be faithful to your calling, love and serve others, be a person of character and at best, you can be respected. It would have spoken volumes had Rick Warren declined praying at the President’s Inauguration and I think he would have been at risk of sacrificing his calling for his image. It would have sounded like, “See guys, Rick Warren hates Obama.”
There’s other things I like about Rick. I liked Purpose Driven Life for what it was and you can’t deny how helpful it has been to some. My hope is that those who were moved by it keep moving forward, keep maturing in their spiritual formation, kept serving others, etc.. That said, at the time hearing about every church going through “40 Days of Purpose” got to me and the 40 Days merch line was a bit much but my greatest concern was it seemed for too many, this was a moment of Christian consumption. It’s more of an observation than a judgmental statement, I’ll let you the reader decide. I can’t put that all on Rick but fair or not, all that hype became attached to his “brand.”
And then there’s the tough part with Rick. Over the years though there have been some not regrettable sound bytes and now tweets. I like that he runs his own Twitter but there have been times when I’ve been completely confused by why he would post certain things. Like back in 2010 when he tweeted:
“I challenge any church in America to match the spiritual maturity, godliness & commitment of any 500 members of Saddleback.”
The deal with Twitter is that it’s nearly impossible to control the context so not only are things easily misunderstood but every reader projects their context on to the tweet. Most of us found this one to sounds egotistical. A few other things come to mind but let’s leave it at that. I like what I hear coming out of Saddleback specifically their focus on justice and discipleship. I even like that he runs his own Twitter account (would you believe there are some pastor types who actually don’t? Won’t give names but it defeats the purpose of Twitter right?).
As far as the interview itself, I liked that Rick was in the New York Studio and at Piers’ desk as opposed to being interviewed via satellite. Rick appeared well-dressed (he’s not known for his GQ style you know), relaxed and by all accounts sounded so.
Of course no one watches the show to hear two people discussing the pleasing weather while trading compliments with each other. The show exists to provoke, stir, it hopes to be controversial, at best, offers an insight or two but really it exists, as Neil Postman would summarize, to entertain. Rick comes on the show for likely different reasons – to participate in the cultural conversation and to share the hope of Jesus with those watching.
First question from Piers was, ” What is the purpose of Christmas?”
I remained watching because Rick gave a great answer – here’s part of it:
“By the way, Christmas isn’t for just Christians. It says it’s for all people, good news of great joy. It’s a time to party. And I love it that in the Northern Hemisphere Christmas comes at the darkest part of the year, kind of brightens up everything, lightens everything. It’s there’s so much bad news in the world we need good news. So the first purpose is celebration …”
“Then it says for unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. And we all need saving, saving from our sins, saving from ourselves, saving from our weaknesses, but there’s a lot of other salvations too. A lot of people need to be saved out of their finances. They need a financial salvation, or they need a relational salvation or they need a physical salvation from an illness, something like that. So it’s a time to really look to God for salvation. ”
Warren did well on explaining how politicized the term “evangelical” had become. I liked how he didn’t dance around the wealth and platform Purpose Driven brought him. I liked the social justice inniatives he told of Saddleback, particularly the ministries focused on AIDS and poverty in Africa.
Morgan brought up the last time Rick was on the show, he called homosexuality “arsenic.” Rick was quick to say that was stupid, “But the illustration, I think, was stupid. I pull it back. I — I disavow it. It was a dumb thing to say.” Good for your Rick, it was stupid and it was hurtful.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel that he could have done better expressing more compassion and kindness to the gay community. They know the general evangelical position, they don’t know that many evangelicals still love them as they love all people. We evangelicals have done so much to single out abortion and homosexuality that the part of our message that says, “Actually all of humanity is sinful, us too” has been lost.
“We’re all sinners in need of being changed by God’s grace” seems to be the message we to work on. Which brings me to my other lesson – The Church needs to work on being known for expressing a message centered on hope, love and redemption (as Jesus did).
In thinking about this, the problem for me when I hear many evangelical Boomers talk about homosexuality is they seem too disconnected. I can’t help but wonder how many gay friends many of them grew up with. This isn’t to say that Rick Warren does not have gay friends and so forth. I’m sure he does, I’m sure he’s helped and counseled, etc. – but my point is that the Boomer generation was raised with a very different narrative of sexuality than X’ers and Millennials. My children, the Z Generation children (can we find a better name for them?) will grow up with a different narrative of sexuality as well. The Boomers will remind us of the sexual revolution, X’ers and Millennials will remind everyone all that came with the internet revolution and as the old joke goes, every new generation sincerely believes they were the ones who invented sex. That said, it’s no secret that the church needs to work on how we talk about sexuality and it’s evident in these moments.
As a Christian, I’m grateful that Rick appealed to Scripture. I would have also liked to see him tie this piece back in to what he said about Christmas in the beginning – it’s invitation to God’s salvation offered to everyone. I’m always unsure of how much good these television appearances actually do. I’m sure for some it reinforces negative feelings about the Christian faith and the Church, and of course, I’d like to think that some some people are either encouraged or inspired by these moments. Who knows?
Which brings up the next post – Is It Good For the “Rick Warren” Types Appear on the “Piers Morgan” Shows?
Did anyone else watch this episode? Here’s the transcript).
As always feel free to offer your thoughts on the post.