October 10, 2005


Pastor rivets many without politics: Warren cultivates spiritual ground (Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff | October 11, 2005, Boston Globe)

Pastor Rick Warren is on his knees, hands pressed to the floor in front of 3,200 evangelical Christians from 50 countries, head trembling as he cries and calls for a divine embrace: ''Jesus, draw me close."

The congregants pray with Warren, some sobbing, others shaking, many holding out their arms in a supplicant's gesture toward the Almighty. ''We are starting something that all the forces of hell have not stopped," Warren says.

What [Pastor Rick] Warren has started is a seismic shakeup of the American evangelical movement from the sprawling campus of Saddleback Church, 65 miles southeast of Los Angeles, in the consumer-centric, middle-class mecca of Orange County.

A bear-like man who dresses in untucked Hawaiian shirts, Warren, 51, has managed to marry a simple message -- ''It's not about you" -- with an integrated mesh of mass media that is growing his audience exponentially. [...]

Although Warren is not an overtly political figure, his message is a conservative one on issues such as abortion, and his followers voted in lopsided numbers for President Bush. In this sense, Warren and similar evangelical ministers are a key aspect of the religious-conservative political ascendancy. While activist leaders such as James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention work more directly on political causes, Warren helps expand and prepare the spiritual ground that is the bedrock of the movement.

Warren ''really isn't a political figure to any significant degree, but he's a cultural figure, a fresh and contemporary face to evangelism," said John Green, a University of Akron professor who specializes in the impact of religion on American politics. ''He represents the high point of a trend that's been developing for a while -- the adaptation of evangelical Protestantism to contemporary culture." [...]

Unlike some of his high-profile peers, Warren steers clear of politics. Although he has signed a copy of ''The Purpose Driven Life" for the president, Warren speaks with lawmakers from both parties who seek his opinion on spiritual matters. True to his conservative religious background, Warren is opposed to what he has called non-negotiable issues: abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and euthanasia.

''I'm not trying to legislate change," Warren says. ''If I thought that legislation could change the culture, I'd become a politician. But I don't believe it can."

Warren's aversion to politics also puts him outside a swelling stream of evangelicals who see government as fair game for the religious-minded. Those evangelical leaders include Dobson and Land, who are in the vanguard of religious conservatives who moved off the sidelines and into the fray in presidential and congressional elections and in the crossfire over judicial nominations.

Warren said he has met Land, but that he does not speak with Land or Dobson about political issues and strategy. When asked about Dobson's scathing criticism of past Democratic filibusters over judicial nominees, Warren said he agrees that the president's candidates deserve confirmation by a simple majority, instead of the 60 senators needed to break a filibuster.

However, Warren made a distinction in his approach. ''There's an old style of Christian leadership and a new style of Christian leadership," Warren said. ''The old style tends to be more confrontational, and that's just not my style."

Shape the soul properly and the politics follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2005 11:47 PM

Warren, 51, has managed to marry a simple message -- ''It's not about you"

He hasn't read The Prayer of Jabez yet. It is about you!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at October 11, 2005 10:20 AM

Yes, he's displaced Jabez.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2005 11:30 AM

Warren supports the Miers nomination by the way.

Posted by: Bob at October 11, 2005 3:03 PM