Barack Obama has a controversial relationship with a Pastor.
I am not here referring to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama has fallen under harsh scrutiny because of the actions of his own Pastor, and this has become quite widely known within the last week.
But Mr. Obama has also had at least some sort of “connection” with a Pastor of a different church, and the very fact that this “connection” exists has implications for the next election.
Pastor Rick Warren heads up the popular “Saddleback Church” in suburban Orange County, California (it’s name comes from the nearby Saddleback Mountain range). A trend setting institution within the Evangelical “mega church” movement, the congregation makes up the largest church in California, and the fourth largest church in the United States.
Yet Pastor Warren’s influence reaches far beyond his own, local pulpit. Widely known for publishing “The Purpose Driven Life” book earlier this decade (a New York Times’ bestseller), Warren’s pastoral advice has impacted untold numbers worldwide. And Warren’s influence among Evangelical clergy has been steadily building for at least the past two decades, reaching a high point with the publishing of “The Purpose Driven Church” book back in the mid-90’s.
To his credit, Warren has tried to compel Evangelicals (and thoughtful Christians of all sorts) to engage on a wider array of social and cultural concerns - - caring for the poor, fighting disease in the third world, and, yes, a proper care of the environment. In so doing, Warren has expanded upon the accomplishments of the older Evangelical activists who have over the past three decades narrowly defined their efforts as comprising the “pro-family movement” - - a movement dedicated to protecting the life of the unborn child, and the historic definition of marriage.
And this is where Obama comes in. In November and December of 2006, Saddleback Church hosted the 2nd annual “Global Summit On AIDS and the Church,” and Senator Obama, along with Senator Sam Brownback, were two of the more high-profile speakers at the event. At the time, Warren was harshly criticized by other Evangelical leaders for having invited the staunchly pro-abortion Obama. Warren’s response? "Jesus loved and accepted others without approving of everything they did” he told his detractors. “That's our position too, but it upsets a lot of people, so we get attacked from both sides."
The Evangelical reaction to Obama was predictable, and Warren’s pursuit of “unity” and “bi-partisanship” was commendable. But if Obama’s stance on abortion is troublesome for Evangelicals, why wouldn’t his stance on a variety of other policy issues - - and in particular, economic issues - - be equally as troubling?
And the controversy doesn’t begin and end with Obama. Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has spoken at Saddleback Church as well, and while she is also criticized by the Evangelical brethren for her stance on abortion, rarely if ever is there an Evangelical critique of her economic policies.
So let’s be clear about what’s at stake: Obama and Clinton are both advancing economic ideas that are essentially Marxist in their nature. They both have proposed radical new levels of taxation for Americans whom they believe possess “too much” wealth, and unprecedented new levels of governmental intervention and regulation with American enterprise so as to “fix” our nation’s problems with healthcare, energy, and the environment.
This reality poses a dramatic challenge for American Christians. While churches of all sorts are quick to embrace the wealthy when it is time to take up a collection, Christian clergy and the “pro family” activists have virtually nothing to say about the virtues of wealth creation, and the kind of economic environment that fosters prosperity. This ambivalence towards economic paradigms - - which is at its core a failure to adequately understand economics as a “moral issue” - - leads people to attach their best humanitarian intentions to flawed and dangerous economic ideas.
So while Warren and other Evangelicals awaken to a broader realm of social concerns (which is in itself a good thing), all American Christians should keep in mind these core realities: the Bible itself (both Old and New Testaments) presupposes that it is quite a natural thing for private citizens to own the means of economic production (land and other resources); and that it is okay for individuals to create wealth for themselves and their families; and that private citizens should care for the needy of society, rather than abdicating this responsibility to “the government.” From this foundation, we can then envision the private sector doing a much better job with the pressing domestic issues of our time - - healthcare, environmental stewardship, and energy independence.
To put it more succinctly, there is nothing “moral” about Obama’s plan to tax capital (not just earnings or profits or interest income, but, yes, he wants to now tax money in the bank), and there is no virtue in Hillary’s proposed governmental take-over of the automotive industry. Humanitarian intentions must be attached to sound economic principles - - and there is no “justice” in abusing the nation’s wealth producers, or in strangling the national economy.