All posts from “Pastors/Spiritual Advisers”

April 19, 2011

Keller, Jakes Among Obama's Prayer Breakfast Guests

President Obama spoke of the “grace” demonstrated by the resurrection at the Easter prayer breakfast Tuesday morning in the East Room of the White House.

Pastor Tim Keller of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Bishop T. D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Texas also spoke at the event. The breakfast is a “good excuse to bring together people who have been such extraordinary influences in my life and such great friends,” the president said in his opening remarks. Keller’s attendance was his first visit to the White House.

Other guests also included Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Suzan Johnson Cook, the president’s recently confirmed ambassador of international religious freedom, and faith leaders from Protestant, Catholic, and other religious groups. North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley and National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson were among participants in a list provided by the White House.

The president noted recent storms that have swept North Carolina, specifically pointing out Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and his wife, Dee, who “will be helping those communities rebuild after the devastation.” He also singled out USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah for his work with faith leaders.

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Obama acknowledged the “hustle and bustle” as the “inbox keeps accumulating,” to a chuckling audience. Easter puts everything into perspective, the president said. “Everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways,” he said. “And I admit that my plate has been full as well.”

But Holy Week is a reminder of God’s grace, Obama said after reading Isaiah 53:5. “This ‘Amazing Grace’ calls me to pray,” he said. “It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of … his Son and our Savior.”

Over a breakfast of mini foods—including mini yogurt parfaits, muffins and bagels—attendees also heard prayer from Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie and the Rev. Sharon Watkins and performances by the Washington Performing Arts Society Children of Gospel Choir and gospel singer Wintley Phipps.

“You notice that these days prayers are on an iPad,” the president said, pointing out the Apple device when he introduced Bishop McKenzie for the opening prayer. McKenzie thanked God for Easter as the “reversal of Good Friday” in her prayer.

The breakfast was hosted on the Tuesday before Easter in order to avoid conflict with Holy Week services, a White House official said. Joshua DuBois, the head of White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, opened the event with a short guest list and limited press coverage.

The president said that he plans to make the event, now in its second year, “annual” from now on. “The Easter Egg Roll, that’s well established,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. Last year, Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the breakfast.

February 22, 2011

Glenn Beck Meets with Billy Graham

Conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck met with evangelist Billy Graham last week, Beck said on his show.

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"Just spent 3 amazing hours with Billy Graham at his mountain top home in SC. His son Franklin joined my wife and me for a talk and prayer," Beck tweeted on February 19. "I will share some of my visit with Billy Graham on radio Monday. Side note: I expect tweet hate for me, I cannot understand BG hatred. Sad," he said in a separate update.

A spokesperson for Graham said in an e-mail that it was a private, personal meeting (not an interview) arranged by a family member. Graham lives in North Carolina.

Beck is a Mormon and has received mixed reactions among some evangelicals. James Dobson, Richard Land, Jerry Falwell Jr., and other evangelicals followed Glenn Beck's call for national renewal in August 2010. Some, however, expressed concern about his Mormon faith while others disagreed with his call to "leave your church" if it promotes social justice.

Beck had wanted to meet with Graham before his "Restoring Honor" rally, a round-up on his website states.

According to Glenn, Billy Graham was probably the only other person who had tried to do something on the scale of what Glenn was hoping to accomplish. However, according to Glenn Rev. Graham and his team did not feel that "the time was right."

"Two weeks ago as I have been struggling with some ideas and some things that I am working on for the future and I am trying to get clarity again, I thought of Billy Graham. When the phone range and they said the Reverend feels it's time to meet, I met with him. We had an hour scheduled. It lasted three hours," Glenn said.

"He is a very clear individual. He's slowed down quite a bit," Beck said on the site. "But he is of sound mind and a man of great peace."

Beck gave his impressions saying, "These are not his views but mine."

"My message to you is we must come together. Evil has -- the left has stood -- is standing now with profound and clear evil and they've connected from evil all the way to the average Democrat and everything in between."

"And we are sitting here arguing with each other over, well, how do you mean that exactly? Well, what exactly do you believe in religion, et cetera, et cetera? While none of us can sacrifice what we believe as an individual, we must stand together with those who believe in God and that God endows each individual with the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Graham, who is 92 and has trouble hearing and seeing, makes rare public appearances and does few interviews. A few weeks ago, Christianity Today posted an interview where Graham suggested he wishes he had stayed out of politics.

In other Mormon-evangelical relations, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) announced it will hold its next board meeting in Park City and Salt Lake City on March 10. The NAE leaders will meet with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert at the governor's mansion and will also meet a leader from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

“We hope this time of dialogue with LDS leaders will deepen our understanding of the Mormon faith and contribute to the ongoing work of evangelicals in Utah,” said Leith Anderson, president of NAE. “For the sake of Christ and his kingdom, we seek to represent biblical evangelicalism to those who wouldn’t hear or know. We also look for common ground on issues where we can work together.”

November 30, 2010

Rick Warren & Bush Talk Politics, Book

Former President George W. Bush and pastor Rick Warren said they hope the tax cuts continue under President Obama's administration, among several comments made last night at Saddleback's Civil Leadership Forum.

"We'd like to see those continue," Warren responded. "Yeah, I would too," Bush said.

The tax cuts will expire at the end of the year, and Congress is debating whether to extend them.

Warren and Bush joked like old friends, giving each other a high five and fist bumping at one point. "I have known this man for some time, and he has a wicked wit," Warren said.

Bush talked about some of the struggles he refers to in his new memoir Decision Points. "My love for alcohol was replacing my love for a lot of things, my love for my family, my love for my God," he said.

Bush spoke about the impact of prayer during his time in office and how it made the White House "joyous." "One of the biggest surprise if not the biggest surprise was the power of prayer of strangers and friends," Bush said, as a protester appeared to yell in the background. "You think you got it tough? Imagine the risen Lord, how he felt."

Bush reads voraciously (including the Bible every morning) and said he doesn't watch television except for the occasional sports game.

"I think religion is discipline," he said. I think you have to be disciplined, particularly when you’re being bombarded with stuff."

 

April 6, 2010

Hybels, Osteen Among White House Easter Breakfast Attendees

Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the White House Easter prayer breakfast where President Obama briefly addressed 90 Christian clergy and guests this morning. Obama offered his “deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers” to the families of dead and missing coal miners in West Virginia.

He said he had offered federal assistance to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Obama asked his guests to “pray for the safe return of the missing” and for the souls of the victims, according to the pool report.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also attended the breakfast. Here's more from the pool report:

Obama said his breakfast for Christian clergy was part of a broader effort to welcome all faiths to the White House that had included a celebratory dinner to mark the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan and a sedar as a part of Jews’ commemoration of Passover.

The President, speaking from notes, spoke in personal terms about the inspiration he drew from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, recalling the scorn and derision heaped upon Jesus en route to his crucifixion, the “torture” of his death by the Roman Empire and the “agony of his crucifixion.” Obama said that he drew particular inspiration “that speaks to me” from Christ’s final moments on the cross when Jesus “summoned what remained of his strength” to say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Obama introduced the Rev. Cynthia Hall to deliver the first prayer as the pool was escorted from the East Room.

The WH press office released a partial list of attendees:

Pastor Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, IL
Pastor Joel Osteen, Pastor, Lakewood Church
Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Papal Nucio to Washington, D.C.,
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, A.M.E. Church
Elder Nancy Wilson, Metropolitan Community Church
Commissioner Israel Gaither, National Commander, Salvation Army
Hyepin Im, Korean Christian Community Development
Dr. Arturo Chavez, President, Mexican American Catholic College
Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Fr. Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches
Dr. Julius Scruggs, President, National Baptist Convention of America
Sister Carol Keehan, President, Catholic Health Association


Continue reading Hybels, Osteen Among White House Easter Breakfast Attendees...

March 12, 2010

Joel Hunter Leaves the Republican Party

Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter told CT today in an e-mail that he has left the Republican Party.

For 40 years I was a registered Republican like Paul was a registered Pharisee after he became a follower of Christ - when it furthered the agenda of the Gospel (as I understood it) then I was active as a Rep. When it didn't, I wasn't.

I was never comfortable being identified with a political Party but the hyper-partisanship and the outside voices hijacking legitimate political debate is not something of which I will be a part.

Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson left the GOP to become a Democrat in May 2009.

CT has profiled Hunter and interviewed him several times in the past about his relationship with President Obama.

(h/t Ben Smith)

April 14, 2009

Pulpit Made Rick Warren Sick

Mega church pastor Rick Warren canceled an appearance on ABC's This Week after he took heat for remarks on same-sex marriage.

"For those of you tuning in this morning expecting to hear from Pastor Rick Warren, we were too. But the pastor's representatives canceled moments before the scheduled interview, saying that Mr. Warren is sick from exhaustion," George Stephanopoulos told the audience on Easter Sunday.

Amy Sullivan responded with: Is Rick Warren Scared of George Stephanopoulos?

But Dan Gilgoff reports and a spokesperson confirmed with me:

Talking to a close Warren associate yesterday, I learned that the megapastor was not only too exhausted to tape a scheduled weekend interview for ABC's This Week - because of fatigue, Warren preached just six of a dozen planned Easter services on Saturday and Sunday - he was also a little nauseous.

That's because Fox News Channel, which carried a couple of Warren's Easter services, insisted that his Saddleback Church apply a fresh coat of varnish to the pulpit lectern before broadcast. The varnish was still drying when it was time for Warren to preach his next service, and the fumes got to him.

April 13, 2009

In Midst of Church Search, Obamas Spend Easter at St. John's

While aides scour the nation's capital for a new spiritual home for the first family, the Obamas spent Easter Sunday at an historic Episcopal church across the street from the White House.

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It took the presidential motorcade less than two minutes to drive from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to St. John's of Lafayette Square, a small, yellow Episcopal church with an impressive presidential pedigree.

Every U.S. president since James Madison has attended a worship service at St. John's, according to the church, which reserves a pew -- No. 54 -- whenever the chief executive attends. Former President George W. Bush, a Methodist, made St. John's his unofficial D.C. church home; John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and Franklin Delano Roosevelt also worshipped there, said Gary S. Smith, a historian at Grove City College in Pittsburgh.

Obama himself attended St. John's, sometimes called the "church of the presidents," for a pre-inaugural prayer service on Jan. 20; several days earlier, he visited Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of the city's oldest black churches.

Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the Obamas have "not made a decision yet on which church they will formally join in Washington, but they were honored to worship with the parishioners at St. John's Episcopal Church and at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church earlier this year."

Continue reading In Midst of Church Search, Obamas Spend Easter at St. John's...

April 9, 2009

Rick Warren Clarifies Same-Sex Marriage Remarks

Several writers have questioned whether Rick Warren backpedaled on his opposition to same-sex marriage. Earlier this week, I asked Warren when he told Larry King he did not campaign for Proposition 8.

The truth is, Proposition 8 was a two-year campaign in the state, and during those two years, I never said a word about it until the eight days before the election, and then I did make a video for my own people when they asked, "How should we vote on this?" It was a pastor talking to his own people. I've never said anything about it since. I don't know how you take one video newsletter to your own church and turn that into, all of a sudden I'm the poster boy for anti-gay marriage.

A spokesperson for Warren and his church sent me further clarification tonight:

Throughout his pastoral ministry spanning nearly 30 years, Dr. Warren has remained committed to the biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, for life -- a position held by most fellow Evangelical pastors. He has further stressed that for 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion has maintained this worldview.

When Dr. Warren told Larry King that he never campaigned for California's Proposition 8, he was referring to not participating in the official two-year organized advocacy effort specific to the ballot initiative in that state, based on his focus and leadership on other compassion issues. Because he's a pastor, not an activist, in response to inquiries from church members, he issued an email and video message to his congregation days before the election confirming where he and Saddleback Church stood on this issue.

During the King interview, Dr. Warren also referenced a letter of apology that he sent to gay leaders whom he knew personally. However, that mea culpa was not with respect to his statements or position on Proposition 8 nor the biblical worldview on marriage. Rather, he apologized for his comments in an earlier Beliefnet interview expressing his concern about expanding or redefining the definition of marriage beyond a husband-wife relationship, during which he unintentionally and regrettably gave the impression that consensual adult same sex relationships were equivalent to incest or pedophilia.

April 9, 2009

Is Rick Warren Backpedaling?

Beliefnet Editor Steve Waldman responds to a CT interview with Rick Warren.

Finally, he's currently getting mocked for claiming to have not endorsed Proposition 8, the California amendment banning gay marriage. To be fair, in the Larry King interview he didn't actually claim that he hadn't endorsed Prop 8. Indeed, he actually acknowledged that he had supported Prop 8. Rather, he claimed he didn't "campaign" for it. A slight but meaningful difference.

January 22, 2009

Rabbi Under Fire for Attending Inaugural Prayer Service

An Orthodox rabbi broke Jewish law by participating in an interfaith prayer service on Wednesday (Jan. 21) at Washington National Cathedral, according to the Rabbinical Council of America.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who leads Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, was one of three rabbis who participated in the National Prayer Service. The others were from Judaism's Conservative and Reform branches.

Lookstein recited a nondenominational prayer during Wednesday's service.

"The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America," the RCA said in a statement, "in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited."

Rabbi Basil Herring, RCA's executive vice president, said he does not expect Lookstein to be punished for his role in the service. "We simply wanted to make the point that he was not going there on behalf of the rabbinical council, and that whatever he did, he did in his own capacity."

Continue reading Rabbi Under Fire for Attending Inaugural Prayer Service...

January 21, 2009

Poor Pastor Rick

All that praying outside yesterday got him sick.

January 19, 2009

Warren asks ‘Can we not all just get along?’

Rick Warren spoke to a packed house for the annual King Day service at Ebenezer Baptist Church today, telling the crowd that the invitation meant more to him than praying at Barack Obama's inauguration tomorrow.

Manya Brachear posted some of the quotes from Warren's sermon.

"I am a white, overweight, southern California mega-church pastor. I love you. And I reach out my hand to you and I say to you and to anyone of good will--to quote that great theologian Rodney King--‘Can we not all just get along?’" he said. "You don’t have to agree on everything. You don’t have to agree to be agreeable. You can disagree without being disagreeable. You can walk hand-in-hand with out seeing eye-to-eye.

"You know what I love about America? It’s diversity. I don’t know if you’ve figured this out, but God likes variety."

"I consider this opportunity as one of the greatest privileges in my ministry," Warren said. "It is even more important to me personally, than praying the invocation for my friend President Obama’s Inauguration the next day."

"For so many of us, Dr. King was a role model, not just for justice, but also a role model for local church pastoring and preaching," Warren said. "I have a personally typed and signed letter by Dr. King framed on my office wall."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also has a news story on the sermon and the protests outside.

January 18, 2009

Gay Bishop Kicks off Celebrity-filled Event

WASHINGTON -- Gene Robinson, the divisive figure who was the first openly Episcopal gay bishop, led the invocation at today's inaugural kickoff.

Robinson prayed for God to "bless this nation with anger ? anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people." He also prayed that God would bless us with "the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah."

Overall, his prayer was not especially surprising, since Robinson had told the Concord Monitor that it wouldn't be "especially Christian" and wouldn't use a Bible. Below is the video I took on my camera of Robinson's prayer.

The event was mostly focused on the celebrities, including Bono, Tiger Woods, Beyonce, and Bruce Springsteen. Several journalists clearly need a brush-up on People, In Style, and US magazines because people had to call out each celebrity for those of us who were clueless. My favorite moment was when it looked like Samuel L. Jackson peeked around the corner to take a picture on his phone. Even Malia Obama pulled out a small digital camera.

Click below for the full text of the prayer and more pictures.

Continue reading Gay Bishop Kicks off Celebrity-filled Event...

January 18, 2009

Obama Surprises Church with a Visit

Barack Obama and his family surprised Nineteenth Street Baptist Church by attending its services this morning.

Director of religious affairs Joshua DuBois said in a statement that the Obama's "look forward to learning more about many churches in the District. They will choose a church home at a time that is best for their family."

Nikita Stewart and Hamil R. Harris give some background on the visit and the history of the church in the Washington Post.

As a midsize church, it's often a campaign stop, particularly for local politicians. Obama's visit there came after four weeks of secret planning, according to people involved in the discussions. Nineteenth Street has the kind of political and social mix that might have drawn the transition office to make it the place where the Obamas would worship two days before the inauguration.

Nineteenth Street Baptist originated at 19th and I streets NW, where slaves and whites worshiped together at Baptist Church of Christ. Later, white church members moved out, selling the property to a group of black Baptist ministers and others in 1839. They organized the "First Colored Church of Washington," later changing the name to Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in 1870.

Obama will also attend St. John's Episcopal Church on Tuesday, the morning of his inauguration.

Update: Joe Biden Vice worshiped and received communion today at the same Catholic church President John F. Kennedy attended they day of his inauguration, the Associated Press reports.

January 12, 2009

Gay Bishop, Woman Added to Obama's Inaugural Prayers

After choosing an evangelical pastor to deliver the invocation at his swearing-in, President-elect Barack Obama has chosen two progressive Protestant leaders – a woman and an openly gay bishop – to bookend his inaugural ceremonies.

"It reflects his commitment to pluralism," said Shaun Casey, an ethics professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington who advised Obama during the presidential campaign. "My advice is for folks to look at the full range of people invited (to deliver prayers) – the sum is larger than its parts."

Obama's pick of California megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20 was heavily criticized by liberals, especially gay groups. Warren advocated for the passage of Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in California.

Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson was among the most vocal critics, saying that Obama's decision to invite Warren "was like a slap in the face."

Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, announced Monday (Jan. 12) that he's been invited to kick off the inaugural ceremonies on Sunday (Jan. 18) by delivering an invocation at a celebratory concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

The Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman elected to lead the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will preach at a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral that concludes the inaugural ceremonies. She will be the first woman to deliver the sermon at the traditional inaugural event, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Obama's invitation "is an indication of the new president's commitment to being president of ALL the people," Robinson said in an e-mail to supporters. "I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community."

Robinson endorsed Obama in August, 2007, and has remained an adviser to him, a spokesman told the Concord Monitor newspaper in New Hampshire.

"This is something the gay rights movement should focus on as much as the Warren pick," said prominent blogger Andrew Sullivan, "(that) Obama's understanding that American Christianity is not a monolith on the question of the sacredness of gay marriage."

Watkins, who was elected general minister and president of her 700,000- member denomination in 2005, serves on the board of the National Council of Churches and Sojourners, an anti-poverty ministry in Washington.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is closely aligned with the United Church of Christ, the denomination Obama joined when he became a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ nearly 20 years ago. Obama broke ties with Trinity, however, during the campaign, after controversial church sermons were broadcast.

Unlike the UCC, which endorses gay marriage, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) does not have a denominational policy on same-sex unions.

"I hope that my message will call us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and remind us to reach out to all of our neighbors to build communities of possibility," Watkins said.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist and civil rights pioneer who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., will deliver the benediction at the swearing-in on Jan. 20.

December 31, 2008

Can a pastor get some peace? LA Times reports on Warren’s Christmas Eve sermon

So it's come to this for the Rev. Rick Warren, and the once exceptional Los Angeles Times: Southern California's waning news leader, which today devoted two inches to the butchering of 189 Congo villagers, assigned not one but two reporters to find out what Warren was going to preach about on Christmas Eve. It wasn't that interesting:

Warren told the 3,100 people who packed the church's cavernous worship center about some plans that had not turned out as anticipated. "President-elect Obama's plans for a noncontroversial inauguration - right out the door," he said, drawing a round of applause from the congregation.

The prominent minister also delivered a sobering message for Christmas.

"You may be going through a change in plans right now," he said. "You hadn't expected to be laid off or to be financially tight right now. And when that happens, you're asking, ?Why me, why now??

"Jesus said you don't understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later. That's the . . . thing you have to learn when God changes your plan. You have to learn to trust him."

The article goes on to mention what Warren said the previous weekend at the annual conference of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which I reported on last Tuesday.

I know the pastor - the author of "The Purpose-Driven Life" and a rising voice in politics, evangelical and beyond - generated controversy when President-elect Barack Obama asked him to say the prayer at the Jan. 20 inauguration, and I know that the media is still suffering from its Jeremiah Wright hangover and the absence of Sarah Palin, but Warren isn't Wright and Obama's selection really wasn't as surprising as some want to portray it.

(Originally published at The God Blog.)

December 23, 2008

Rick Warren Responds to Criticism

Rick Warren remains prominent in the news this week after he agreed to give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20.

Here's a bullet-point roundup of the latest:

-- Warren posted a three-part video to his church's website responding to the backlash over his selection.

"The media never gets it 100 percent correct. I've never seen an in-print article that gets everything right," Warren says, adding, "The media lives for conflict. If there's no conflict, then somebody's going to create it."

In the series, Warren insisted he wasn't equating gay marriage with incest or child molestation referring to Steve Waldman's earlier interview.

"I have in no way ever taught that homosexuality is the same thing as a forced relationship between an adult and a child, or between siblings," Warren said in the video. "I was trying to point out I'm not opposed to gays having their partnership. I'm opposed to gays using the term marriage for their relationship." Waldman posts his response here.

-- Several bloggers, including Gary Stern of The Journal News, pointed out that the church removed a part of its website on the Bible and homosexuality.

A Saddleback spokesman, Kristin Cole, told me that the section "has not been permanently removed, but rather repurposed for clarity." Saddleback Associate Pastor Tom Holladay will post an audio clip titled, "What Does the Bible Say About homosexuality ? is it a sin?"

-- Warren will be the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service in Atlanta the day the inauguration.

Over the weekend, he spoke at the Muslim Public Affairs Council at its convention in California Saturday night. The L.A. Times reports that recognizing the potential for controversy, Warren said near the beginning of his speech: "Let me just get this over very quickly. I love Muslims. And for the media's purpose, I happen to love gays and straights."

Dan Gilgoff interviewed Muslim Public Affairs Council executive director Salam Al-Marayati about Muslim-evangelical relations.

We don't know the percentage [of evangelicals] that Robertson or [Focus on the Family founder] James Dobson represents. They're certainly significant but they are two voices. The rise of people like Rick Warren and Chris Seiple and Joel Hunter has changed that in the last 10 years.... It's a much needed and refreshing phase in terms of Christian-Muslim relations that we're in right now.

-- Just about everybody has an opinion about whether Obama should have chosen Warren.

It's particularly fun to read headlines if you click the "Rick Warren" tag on the Huffington Post:

Rick Warren Announcement Is Slap In The Face To GLBTQ Army
Obama's Pastor Warren Pick; A Bridge Too Far
Barack, Get a Klue
Right Message, Wrong Messenger
Dump Rick Warren - Letter to President-elect Obama
Rick Warren: What Was Obama Thinking?

However, Bil Browning, longtime LGBT activist writes, "Calm down. Rick Warren is not a big deal. This tempest in a teapot will only harm our community."

-- Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press wrote a piece yesterday about how Warren has battled complaints from fellow evangelicals that he isn't nearly conservative enough.

"The comments from many of the evangelicals further to the right of him are often critical for his lax stance on their passionate issues," said Scott Thumma, a professor at Connecticut's Hartford Seminary.

However, some conservative evangelicals such as Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham have jumped to Warren's defense lately.

Michael Paulson at The Boston Globe writes that CNN's The Situation Room has an interview with Pat Robertson today. Robertson also praises Warren, and says, "All he's been asked to do is give an invocation. He isn't asked to endorse Obama. He's going to stand up there on the steps of the Capitol and he's going to say, God, please bless this country. And he will do that very well."

On a side note, Robertson told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux that he is "remarkably pleased" with Obama.

"I had grave misgivings about him. But so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently. He's picked a middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great president."

-- Finally, a CNN poll suggests that public opinion on same-sex marriage has not changed in the last six months. In June, 44 percent of those surveyed said that gay marriages should be recognized by law as valid, and 53 percent said they should not. A poll release today showed that 55 percent oppose gay marriage.

December 23, 2008

Franklin Graham: Obama/Warren Criticisms Ludicrous

Evangelist Franklin Graham knows a thing or two about getting flack for praying at an inauguration. He took heat after praying in Jesus's name at President Bush's inauguration in 2001. I just spoke with Franklin Graham, who gave his take on Obama's decision to ask megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We have also compiled our coverage of Warren over the years in a special section.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

[Obama] is including evangelicals at his inauguration, but I don't know if he'll include them in his administration. Time will tell. But Rick Warren will have Obama's ear on important issues.


Does Warren's acceptance of the invitation give an implicit nod to Obama's administration?

For anybody to be upset at Rick Warren for offering a prayer to almighty God, asking God to give wisdom and guidance to the Obama administration, is ludicrous.

Should Rick Warren pray in the name of Jesus at the inaugural?

I would hope he does because he's a minister of the gospel. There's no other way to pray. A Muslim should not be offended. [Warren] has no other way to pray than in the name of Christ. No one should be offended, because Rick Warren should be who Rick Warren is, and that's a minister of Jesus Christ.

I know you said a month ago that your father would not be serving as a spiritual adviser to Barack Obama.

He's 90 years old. He's just happy to get up in the morning.

Do you have any advice for Rick Warren?

My advice to Rick is to stay true to your convictions, and don't back up one step. I don't think he will. When you have the far left and the gay advocates mad at you, you must be doing something right.

December 22, 2008

Pastor to the President

Once upon a time, presidents tended to choose their own pastors, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, to give the invocation at their inaugurations. The idea was: Here's the guy who presides over my religious life, the guy I go to for spiritual counsel, and so I'm going to honor him by letting him say the prayer over this latest ceremonial occasion of my life. Thus, John F. Kennedy gave the nod to Boston's Cardinal Richard Cushing in 1961 and, in 1981, Ronald Reagan tapped Bel Air Presbyterian pastor Donn Moomaw. From time to time, the invoking cleric would be chosen for symbolic reasons, as when Dwight Eisenhower selected Orthodox Archbishop Michael in 1957 and Reagan, in 1985, chose the president of Georgetown University, Father Joseph A. O'Hare S.J.

But over the past two decades, it appears that a new office has emerged--that of Pastor to the President. This emergence is a bit obscured by the fact that the only actual holder of that office has been Billy Graham. Graham gave the invocations at the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and both Clinton inaugurals, and was slated to do the same at George W. Bush's 2001 affair, but because of illness had to cede the job to his son Franklin. It is, I think, in this context that Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren needs to be seen. As has been widely noted, Warren bids fair to become the closest thing to Billy Graham that the country has today. At the moment, he's way more controversial than the now sainted Graham, but in his younger days, Billy was plenty controversial himself.

What's important to recognize is that the position of presidential pastor is not entirely bogus. It entails spiritual counseling, advice and friendship, pastoral care. Graham actually seems to have filled that role for Richard Nixon, which helps explain why Nixon tapped him for his first inaugural invocation. The Clintons are both attached to him; according to Burns Strider, who handled faith outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign, whenever Hillary was slated to make an appearance in North Carolina, she insisted on paying a call on the old man. And of course, George W. Bush has made central to his faith journey that walk on the beach with Billy. Even if that particular event is, strictly speaking, apocryphal, the personal connection seems real.

Rick Warren is of course the head of the Saddleback world, the crusader for AIDS, the best-selling author of popular religious books. But he also, from what I gather, has taken it upon himself to serve as spiritual counselor to the politically prominent. There is every indication that Obama has availed himself of his services. Amidst all the huffing and puffing about Warren's choice to give next month's invocation, hardly raised at all is the possibility that this was, for Obama, as much a personal as a political decision. His family is, famously, between churches, and his relationship with Jeremiah Wright can hardly be what it once was. Warren seems to have given the president-elect good reason to like him and value his advice; the two call each other friend. We may think whatever we want of either, but this may be more about them than us.

Update: In support of this view of Warren, here's an exchange with Steve Waldman from a recent interview:

Did you ever talk to President Bush to try to convince him to change his policy?

No. No.

Why not?

Never got the chance. I just didn't. In fact, in the first place, I'm a pastor, and people might misunderstand ? I don't deal with policy issues with Barack Obama or President Clinton or John McCain. I just don't. That's not my role. My role is to pastor these guys. As a leader I understand stress.

And even when I disagree with positions they hold, they've got plenty of political advisors. They don't need me to be a political advisor. I'm not a pundit. I'm not a politician and that's why I don't take sides. But I am a pastor. And I can deal with "how's your family doing? How's your stress level doing?"

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 18, 2008

How Should Warren Then Pray?

California megachurch pastor Rick Warren will be preaching at 16 Christmas services and was not available for an interview with Christianity Today. However, he sent us a statement about his decision to pray at Barack Obama's inauguration, in response to the criticism Obama has received for inviting Warren.

"I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.

Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.

The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God’s blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America’s leaders during this critical time in our nation’s history."

Obama's pick also begs the question that David Waters asks in the Washington Post's On Faith section: "To Whose God Will Rick Warren Pray?"

Billy Graham used inclusive language when he delivered the Inaugural Invocation in 1989. "0 God, we consecrate today George Herbert Walker Bush to the presidency of these United States," he said. But four years later, Graham ended his invocation at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration this way: I pray this in the name of the one that's called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Amen."

Waters also reminds readers that in 2001, Franklin Graham ended his invocation with, "in the name of the father, and of the son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit." And Kirbyjon Caldwell ended with, "'We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ."

At the DNC, Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller ended his prayer with "I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice," putting a slight emphasis on I. Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter took a more unconventional approach during his benediction.

Now I interrupt this prayer for a closing instruction. I want to personalize this. I want this to be a participatory prayer. And so therefore, because we are in a country that is still welcoming all faiths, I would like all of us to close this prayer in the way your faith tradition would close your prayer.
So on the count of three, I want all of you to end this prayer, your prayer, the way you usually end prayer. You ready? One, two, three.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Let's go change the world for good.

Waters also asks another question: "Does it matter?" What do you think?

December 18, 2008

Obama Defends Rick Warren's Inaugural Invocation Plans

Barack Obama defended his choice of California megapastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at next month's Inauguration, responding to severe outcry from gay rights advocates and liberals.

"I am a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on in my presidency," Obama said at a news conference this morning. "What I've also said is that it is important for American to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."

Gay rights advocates angrily denounced Obama's choice of Warren, who is an opponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

"Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans," the president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, wrote to Obama yesterday. "[W]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination."

To my knowledge, these groups didn't make a fuss when Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, who also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, prayed with Obama on Election Day and prayed at the Democratic National Convention. However, these groups are still stinging from California's decision to ban gay marriage, which Warren vocally supported.

December 17, 2008

Rick Warren to Give Invocation at Obama Inauguration

Rick Warren, senior pastor at Saddleback Church, will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inaugural swearing-in ceremony on January 20.

The benediction will be given by Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, dean of the civil rights movement and co-founder with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Obama will be the first president since Harry Truman not to have a close relationship with evangelist Billy Graham. Franklin Graham told CT last month that although his father is praying for and would like to meet Obama, his role as counselor is ending. Could Rick Warren fill that role?

December 15, 2008

Rick Warren's Dark Night of the Soul

Rick Warren is keeping a list, and checking it often. He'll have to memorize it because he can't count on having his Blackberry when he needs this list most. This is Rick Warren's list of questions for God.

In the course of a fascinating conversation last week with Beliefnet and our partner The Wall Street Journal -- click here for video of the full interview and here for a transcript -- Warren was stunningly candid about having doubts, even "dark nights of the soul."

"Oh absolutely. All the time."

"What do you mean 'all the time'?"

"I've never doubted God. But I've doubted why God does certain things....".

There are parts of the Bible, for instance, that he doesn't get -- "slaughters in the Bible and rules that don't seem to make sense and things that just don't seem to me, to be logical."

"And I still have doubts, I mean, I read the Bible and go 'whoa, why did God say that?'"

Continue reading Rick Warren's Dark Night of the Soul...