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Defending Rick Warren Amid The Donuts

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Breaking News: Pastor Rick Warren may be about to receive a bunch of gift cards.

The press release just arrived in my inbox this weekend. A gay marriage advocacy group, livid over Warren’s support of Proposition 8 in California, and even more livid over Warren’s selection to provide the invocation at President-elect Obama’s inauguration, has embarked on a campaign to send Dunkin Donuts gift cards to the Pastor.

Why donuts? Because in a recent interview where he was questioned about being afraid of homosexuals, Warren made it clear that he is not afraid of homosexuals, that he has always remained open to dialog with homosexuals, and that he treats them with the respect that they are due. He also stated that “when the protesters came (presumably he meant that they came to his church facility), we served them water and donuts…”

So the plan is to now “protest” Rick Warren by returning the favor of donuts. And at Dunkin Donuts one can apparently customize a gift card with personal photos, so the objective is for Warren to receive gift cards baring the images of gay and lesbian couples and families. Now, stimulating the economy via the donut sector is fine by me. However, things could get ugly if certain other activist groups try to make good on their plans to hit Warren in the face with donuts when he bows to pray at the inauguration (as has been discussed on certain blog sites).

But while Warren is being attacked by liberal America because he thinks marriage is a distinct relationship between one man and one woman, he has also been criticized by many moderate and conservative Americans because of his willingness to pray at Obama’s inauguration.

And let me be clear. I’ve never met Rick Warren, and I don’t belong to his church. Earlier this decade I interviewed him a few times about the release of his wildly popular book “The Purpose Driven Life,” and he’s a great interview guest. He’s energetic, well informed, witty, substantive. In many ways he’s a media host’s ideal guest - - and that’s a compliment.

But I was disheartened by the harsh criticism of Warren this past week, from listeners of my talk show at Washington, DC’s 630 WMAL. Even among callers to the show who identified themselves as “socially conservative,” the critique of Warren was often very negative. The rationale behind this criticism generally went like this: A) The professed social policy views of Obama and Warren are incompatible with each other; B) By agreeing to pray at Obama’s inauguration, Warren is necessarily endorsing Obama and his views.; and therefore C) Warren’s decision to participate in the inauguration is motivated by his own hypocrisy and self-interest.

Now if one-hundred percent agreement on policy issues is the requirement for a clergyman to pray at a President’s inauguration, it’s difficult to imagine how any religious leader could in good conscience participate in any inauguration. And if Warren is a self-interested hypocrite in this situation, then we’d probably have to say the same thing of Reverend Billy Graham, for having befriended, met with, and prayed with about a half-century’s worth of American Presidents.

And a Billy Graham analogy fits pretty well, here. Even if American media views Evangelical Christianity only through the lenses of political and policy activism, Warren has never allowed himself to be positioned as a political or policy activist. Like Graham, Warren has always positioned himself as a religious leader who, while remaining devout in his distinctly Evangelical theological positions, is nonetheless accessible to the broader culture, and willing to dialog with others who are not in total agreement with him.

This willingness to dialog has often resulted in Warren merely asking provocative questions, rather than lecturing. Those of us who watched got a good view of this, during last fall‘s “candidate’s forum” event that he hosted with Barack Obama and John McCain. The dialog between Warren and the two presidential contenders ended up being some of the most intelligent discussion of the entire campaign cycle - - and who else was going to have the insight to ask a would-be President “what has been your greatest moral failure?”

Six months ago, many Americans (myself included) were disgusted with what we learned of Obama’s Pastor from Chicago, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And recently it was disclosed that, because of his failing health, Billy Graham will no longer be paying visits to the White House.

Rick Warrren may be emerging in to a role in the life of President Obama that Wright used to play, and that Graham can no longer play. In short, Warren may be America’s next “Pastor to the Presidents” - - and that’s not a bad thing.

After reading this, I’m sure there will be many who want to throw something worse than donuts at me. But now is no time to detract from a good person’s possible influence in the White House.

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