The Future of Evangelicals: A Conversation with Pastor Rick Warren
The evangelical Christian movement historically has been defined by its members’ distinctive doctrinal standards and practices. Yet in recent years many Americans have come to understand evangelicals more by their political, rather than religious, identity. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life invited Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., to discuss how this political association has affected the evangelical movement, what evangelicals’ most important concerns are today, and how the movement is evolving.
Warren is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, published in 2002. He hosted a presidential candidate forum at his Saddleback Church during the 2008 campaign. Several months later he delivered the inaugural prayer at President Barack Obama’s swearing-in. The founder of a global alliance of pastors from 162 countries, he currently leads the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, an international effort mobilizing Christians to attack what he considers the “five global giants” of poverty, disease, spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership and illiteracy.
Rick Warren, Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif.
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Navigate this Transcript
- The Future of Evangelicalism: Africa, Asia, Latin America
- Saddleback’s Six Signature Issues
- Bible-based Recovery
- Saddleback’s AIDS Initiative
- The P.E.A.C.E. Plan
- Focus on Orphans
- Definition of a Fundamentalist
- The Appeal of the Megachurch
- Promoting Civility
- Revisiting Prop 8
- Warren on Health Care
- Warren’s Successor?
RICK WARREN: In this morning’s paper?
LUGO: Yeah, this morning’s paper.
WARREN: Now, is that the best news we’ve got today –
LUGO: Well, it may be.
WARREN: – that I had a cup of coffee at Starbucks?
LUGO: You had a cup of coffee. We’re not going to ask you about the contents of the shopping bag.
WARREN: Oh, that’s hilarious.
LUGO: But this thing about meeting with radical young pastors, that’s fair game. I want you to know that.
WARREN: That’s very normal.
LUGO: Anyway, I’m Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. We are a project of the Pew Research Center, which, as many of you know, is a nonpartisan organization that does not take positions on issues or policy debates. This event is part of the Pew Forum Luncheon Series, whose purpose-driven mission is to –
WARREN: Boy, I like that.
LUGO: – whose purpose-driven mission is to bring together journalists and policy leaders to discuss timely topics at the intersection of religion and public affairs. Our format at these gatherings is very simple. After our special guest speaks for 15 minutes or so, we open it up for your questions and comments.
The Pew Forum’s partners in this series are Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Unfortunately, E.J. could not be with us today. He’s out of town. Mike organized this session, so he will serve as the moderator, but before I turn things over to him, I would like to mention that this meeting is on the record and is being recorded.
A few out-of-town journalists are listening in via conference call, and we welcome them as well. I think there are seven or eight. For those of you on the call who would like to take part in the discussion, please e-mail your questions to Robbie Mills, our communications associate. We’ll be sure to work your questions into the queue. Again, thanks for coming. Mike, over to you.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Thank you, Luis. Ladies and gentlemen, the bio of Rick Warren is in your packets in front of you. A friend of mine once said to me, how do you introduce somebody who needs no introduction? And I said, how’s that? He said, don’t introduce them; just get it going. They didn’t come to hear you. They came to hear him.
So my introduction will be short because you’re here because you know of Rick’s work and reputation. Some of you may not know that Rick’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best-selling nonfiction book in American history – I think over 30 million copies. Please feel free to ask him questions about how you could make your book sell that way. I’m sure he could offer some tips.
One of your colleagues who is not here, David Van Biema, did a cover story in Time magazine some years ago on Rick that some of you may have seen. I’ll never forget when David called me. He quotes me at the end of the article. He says, you know, I’ve been out to Saddleback. I’ve met Pastor Warren. I know what he’s doing in Africa. I know about his book sales. I know about his humanitarian work all over the world. And I need some negative information on Rick Warren.
WARREN: He should have called me. I could have given him that. (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: I say, well – he said, no, come on, just think of something that you could say that might be at least a concern of yours. And the one thing I said was, Rick is so busy and has so many balls up in the air that one might say that he might want to slow down. But I didn’t want him to slow down because we did want him to come to this lunch, so I’m glad he didn’t take my recommendation too seriously.
Rick, we know how busy you are. We know you’re leaving right after this for some international meetings in Africa, so thank you for taking the time. It’s great to have you.
WARREN: Thank you, Mike. Thank you, Luis. Good to see you too. Well, it’s good to see a lot of you guys, friends, and to make some new friends today. When we did this down in Key West a few years ago, I mentioned that if I wasn’t a pastor, I’d be a journalist. I absolutely love journalism. I actually started a couple of papers – one in high school, one in college – and what you do really does matter. It’s pretty significant.
I think that pastors, journalists and a few other people, like college presidents, have multiple constituencies to please and you can never please everybody. So really, you just have to do what you think is the right thing to do and ignore the rest.
I’m on a stopover to a couple of different places. We’re going into Paris. Many of you know that we have a network. I’ve trained over 400,000 pastors in 162 countries. I’ve been doing that for 30 years. Most of those years nobody knew I was doing it, but we were in 162 countries, 400,000 pastors, and then not including business leaders, government leaders.
And so we’ve built quite a network, and two or three times a year I go out of the country – in fact, most of my work is outside of the country, mostly in Third World developing countries, where I spend time checking up on those networks. I’m going to Paris to meet with a group of pastors. Then I go over to Vienna to meet with a group of pastors.
Peter Drucker was actually my mentor for about 25 years, and his birthday is coming up next week – his 100th birthday. He died five years ago at 95, and I spent 25 years going to his house, sitting with him, talking with him on leadership. He had a profound influence on my life. And they asked me to be the keynote speaker in his hometown in Vienna. So I’m going to do that in Austria next week.
Then we go down to Africa to check on some work. I’m actually taking Tony Blair down there with me to check on our P.E.A.C.E. plan progress in a number of different places, in Rwanda and others.
I’ve been given this subject of the future of evangelicals, and I’ll tell you – here it is in a sentence: I don’t know. Nobody can predict the future. In fact, vision is not the ability to predict the future vision; it’s the ability to see the opportunity in the current situation and jump on it. That’s vision.
Yesterday I was speaking to a group of business leaders in kind of a mini-Davos. I’ve spoken at that a few times, and they had come to do a small one here in D.C., and so I spoke to them on faith in the global economy and talked to them about vision.
Now, what I would like to do is, since you have given me this topic of the future of evangelicals, give you five minutes on that and then five minutes on what I want to talk about, and then –
CROMARTIE: Open it up.
WARREN: – open it up to whatever you guys want to talk about. That would be fine.
The last 50 years has seen the greatest redistribution of a religion ever in the history of the world. There is nothing even to compare to it. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1900, 71 percent of all, quote, “Christians” lived in Europe – 71 percent. By 2000 that percentage had declined to 28 percent. Only 28 percent claimed to be Christian, and I’m sure it’s far smaller than that who actually even go to a church.
On the other hand, Christianity was exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin America. If you want to know the future of evangelicalism, it is in those continents. To give you an example, in 1900 there were only 10 million Christians in all of Africa – 10 percent of the population. Today there are 360 million Christians in Africa, over half the population. That is a complete turnaround on a continent that’s never, ever been seen or done in history.
You may be surprised to know that there are more Christians in China than there are in America, by far – by far. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland, where they came out of with John Knox. There are more Baptists in Nagaland, a state in India, than there are in the South here in America. There are more Anglicans in either Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria – any of these – than in England. There are 2 million Anglicans in England. There are 17 million Anglicans in Nigeria.
The Church of England is a misnomer. It is now the Church of Africa. I have been involved in the ordination of many of those Anglican leaders. They have spread all over. Last Sunday there were more Christians who went to church in China than all of Europe combined. That is a fundamental shift. If you want to know the future of Christianity, it is the developing world. It’s Africa, it’s Latin America, and it’s Asia.
In fact, there are about 15,000 missionaries now working in England from Brazil, China, Korea, other countries that you used to think, well, those would receive missionaries. In fact, Brazil sends out far more missionaries than either Great Britain or Canada combined. So that’s a fundamental shift.
That’s all I’m going to say about the future of evangelicalism. It ain’t here. Okay? It isn’t Europe. Now, I will say this: The world is becoming more religious. There are 600 million Buddhists. There are 800 million Hindus. There are 1. billion Muslims. And there are 2.3 billion Christians.
That means the actual number of secularists outside of Europe and Manhattan is quite small. It really is quite small, and we don’t understand it. We’re in this little bubble that we think most people don’t have a faith. Well, you need to get a life and get around the world because most people have some kind of faith.
What I’m going to do is I’m going to give you an outline of the signature issues of Saddleback Church. If you want to talk about any of those, we can. So I’ll just quickly give them to you. I started Saddleback Church in January of 1980. Our first service was on Easter 1980, in April. I had one member – my wife. I preached the first sermon. She thought it was too long. It’s been downhill ever since.
Today Saddleback is a 120-acre campus. It looks like a college. We typically will have 25,000 people on the weekend. I have over 100,000 names on a church roll. You need to understand I grew up in a little town in Northern California during Haight-Ashbury, and in the town I was in we had 500 people, so my church is like 1,000 times bigger than the town I grew up in. I could be a mayor.
I actually know my valley far more than any politician will ever know them because I’ve spent 30 years there. This will be my 30th anniversary year. I’ve been listening to them, talking to them, praying with them, walking through the weddings and the funerals and the proms and all those different divorces and different things like that.
When we started Saddleback, we said, we’re going to develop what we call signature issues that we want our church to be famous for, we want to be known for, because we think that they’re important. Not every church is called to do these, but we are called to do these. There are actually six signature issues. I’m just going to list them for you. If you want to talk about them later, we can.
The first one is what we call purpose-driven training. We began that signature issue in 1983 and today that network of churches, as I said, is in 162 countries. It’s global leadership training. We do training of what we call the three legs of the stool: business leadership, church leadership and public leadership in government.
The second signature issue of our church we started in 1993, 10 years later, and it is called Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery is a Bible-based recovery program. It’s similar to AA but it’s built on the actual words of Jesus. It began in 1993. In our church alone we’ve had over 13,000 people go through recovery. We’re talking about addictions and you name it. You couldn’t name a problem we haven’t dealt with in our church over those years – 13,000. Now thousands of churches around the world use Celebrate Recovery. It is the official recovery program in 17 state prison systems here in America. It’s in Russia – it’s an official program in Russia – and many, many other countries use this.
This fall we did a 50-day campaign called Life’s Healing Choices based around that. It’s the third time we’ve done it in our 30 years, and thousands of churches will begin that in January. You’re going to be hearing about churches doing Life’s Healing Choices, a recovery program, there.
The third signature issue we began in 2002, and that is our AIDS initiative for people infected and affected with AIDS. I credit my wife for this. My wife got cancer, and one day, laying on a couch after some chemo and radiation, she read an article that said 14 million kids were orphaned by AIDS in Africa. And she said, I have to admit I didn’t know a single orphan. I couldn’t imagine them being orphaned by just one disease.
We began to study that and began to be a part of it and actually took literally millions of dollars from the profit of the book and opened a foundation called Acts of Mercy to help those infected and affected with AIDS around the world. We do an annual global summit on AIDS to which pretty much every world leader who has been involved in that fight has been, including last year or two years ago during the campaign every one of the candidates – presidential candidates – was represented there, either video or live.
I can talk to you later if you want to talk about the difference between slowing the pandemic or stopping the pandemic. There are two different strategies. You tell me in prevention whether you want to slow AIDS or you want to stop it, and I’ll tell you what it’s going to take. We are mobilizing churches literally all around the world to work with people with AIDS. That’s a signature issue with us.
The fourth signature issue we began in 2003. It’s called the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. Some of you have heard about that. Many of you who were at Key West know that I talked about it. It’s a global humanitarian effort to take on the five biggest problems on the planet: poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption and conflict. P.E.A.C.E. stands for Promote reconciliation, Equip ethical leaders, “A” is assist the poor, “C” is care for the sick and “E” is educate the next generation. We believe that these problems are so big government can’t do it alone; business can’t do it alone; churches can’t do it alone. Some problems are so big you have to team tackle them.
Last year I was speaking at Davos and I kept hearing people talking about how we need public and private partnerships. In other words, we need business and government to team tackle these major global issues. The problem is that’s good but it’s not good enough because you’re leaving out the third leg of the stool and that is there are three sectors of society, not two. There is the public sector, which is government and NGOs. There is the profit sector, which is business. But there is the faith sector, which is the biggest of all.
I could take you to 10 million villages in the world; there’s nothing in them but a church. The church has more locations than all the Wal-Marts and Starbucks and everything else combined. It has more volunteers. The church was global 200 years before anybody started talking about globalization. Nothing has as many people groups, as many languages, as many contacts as the church.
Now you add in Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus – as I said, you’ve basically got most of the world, and so we cannot ignore that area. If you want to talk about that, I would be glad to. As I said, I’m taking Tony Blair with me to inspect some of our P.E.A.C.E. sites in Africa. We intend to be the first church in the history of Christianity to literally fulfill the great commission. Jesus’ last words were: “Go to every nation.”
There are 195 nations in the world. There are 193 that are part of the U.N. – Korea and Bosnia are not a part of the U.N. – 195 recognized nations. In the last five years, I’ve sent out over 9,000 of my members to – let’s see, I wrote it down here. I want to get it right – 146 countries.
We have 49 countries left. We’ll easily meet that goal by the end of this next year. We will be the first church in 2000 years of Christianity to literally go to every nation. And what are we doing? Promoting reconciliation, equipping ethical leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, educating the next generation. That’s our fourth signature issue.
Our fifth signature issue – and I won’t talk a lot about this – is what we call our Civil Society Initiative. I believe that civilization is losing its civility. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not but the world is getting ruder. We’re getting more crass. You may not demonize a person just because they’re different, and differences do not demonize. Somehow we’ve got to follow that great theologian, Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”
You don’t have to agree with someone [not] to be disagreeable. You can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye. And the fact is, America is a democracy. In a democracy nobody wins all the time. I don’t. You don’t. Nobody does. That’s called a democracy. It doesn’t mean we pack up and leave the country because we don’t win. We are Americans, and we must –
I believe in the “good news.” I’m a Christian, I’m an evangelical, and I’m a pastor. I believe in Jesus Christ. But I also believe in the common good and that there are some issues that have to be dealt with with everybody on the common good. I don’t win all the time and neither do you, and so we have to learn to be civil. That’s why I spend most of my time not speaking to Christian groups.
In the last year I’ve spoken to atheist groups, secularist groups. I’ve spoken to the two largest Muslim conventions. I was the keynote speaker at the Reform convention of Judaism. I spend most of my time actually speaking to people who disagree with me, but I’m trying to build bridges because we’re on this planet together promoting civility and the common good.
Two other issues and then I’ll open it up. The fifth signature issue is our orphan care issue. This is a brand-new one. We just began it two years ago, in 2007. As I said, there are 146 million orphans in the world. Whoever gets to those people first is going to get their hearts and minds – either madrassas or radicals or fundamentalists or whatever. And whoever loves them – that’s anarchy waiting to happen, 146 million orphans growing up without moms and dads. We have to do that.
I have been trying to convince both the Bush administration and the Obama administration – it’s the only thing I actually have ever talked to – I don’t talk policy ever with politicians – never. Never. And let me just say it again: never. But I do care about orphans. And the one issue that I have talked to them about is it’s just good foreign policy to help the sick and help orphans.
It’s interesting that if you cross Africa – Bush is a hero all across Africa. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, my husband is alive because of PEPFAR [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief]. My wife is still alive because of PEPFAR. It is good foreign policy – and it’s a whole lot cheaper than tanks – to help people get well and to care for orphans.
But in our personal case in Saddleback, we have a goal of 500 families in our church adopting within the next three years. We already have 182 families that have adopted so far in this signature issue of orphan care. My wife Kay is actually right now – she’s spoken to four universities in the last two weeks. She’s in Michigan – spoke last night to 1,700 people on this issue of orphans and orphan care.
The last issue, which is our newest signature issue, is religious freedom and persecution. Many of you know that we do these civil forums. You probably saw the one that I did with Obama and McCain because that was the most famous one, but we do them all the time. The first one that we ever did was actually on the Holocaust. I brought in six 90-year-old Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and let them tell their stories to 4,000 people in our church. We all wept and said, we must not ever let that happen again.
So the first one was on the Holocaust. We’ve done other ones. We did one on religious freedom. We did one on genocide. In January we’re doing the civil forum on sex trafficking and slavery, and my guests are my friend Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They’ve written this new book – it’s a terrific book – on dealing with that, and we’re going to deal with that. We have a number of other issues.
CROMARTIE: And you had a good one last weekend.
WARREN: Michael Cromartie was one of the guests at the one we did last weekend, and representing the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom –
CROMARTIE: Yeah, keep going.
WARREN: – and did a terrific job. If you want to talk about my efforts in that, I can tell you about a state dinner I had a while back with the Cabinet of China in People’s Hall, Tiananmen Square, and got into a debate on religious freedom with the Communist leaders themselves. In fact, I’m probably one of the few people who has actually had the Chinese Cabinet in my backyard for a barbecue. They’d been to America. We didn’t tell the press about it when they came, but we have good contacts with them.
We’ve got a couple of big events coming up next year: the 30th anniversary of our church, April 4th. It will be only the second time in history – usually on Easter I have 14 to 16 services, but we’ve rented Angel Stadium, and it will be the second time in history I’ve had my entire church in one location. Normally I have to do service after service after service after service. On our 25th anniversary we had about, I don’t know, 35,000, 40,000 people at it. It will be well over 50,000 people – just our members on the anniversary.
I’ve been doing these interviews for 25 years, and I’ve noticed that reporters would rather talk about politics than anything else. I don’t know why, but would rather talk about politics. I am not a politician. If I thought politicians could change people’s hearts, I’d go into government. If I thought laws could change people’s hearts, I’d go into government. But I don’t, so I’m not.
If you ever see me with a politician, it’s – I have no political aspirations and I have no aspirations to even influence public policy. That’s not my role as a pastor. My role as a pastor is I counsel leaders about stress, about family, about integrity, about generosity. It’s all personal. I never, never, never counsel government leaders about policy.
So you can ask me all you want to about it. You’ll probably want to talk about Prop 8. My attitude is well-known and where I stand. I’m a pastor, I believe what the Bible says, and I’m bound to that. I also believe everybody should be treated with dignity and respect at the same time. And as a Christian, I am commanded to love everybody. I don’t get the generosity of hating anybody. I am forbidden to hate anyone. I must love everybody, even the people who disagree with me and say things against me.
You might want to talk about the health care bill. Well, why ask me? Have any of you read it? It’s 2,000 pages. I know absolutely nothing about the health care bill. What I would like to talk to you about is a revolutionary health care plan in Rwanda, where a year, a year-and-a-half ago, we had one doctor, and today, because of the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, we have over 1,400 trained community health care workers. I’d like to talk to you about that, not some bill I’ve never read.
So that’s kind of where we are, and whatever you want to talk about, we now may start.
AMY SULLIVAN, TIME: Thanks so much for coming. I just want to push you a little bit on that last point. I certainly don’t want to get into a debate about –
WARREN: Oh, yes, you do. (Laughter.)
SULLIVAN: – whether you want to influence policy, but I guess I wanted to connect it to some of these key issues that you just were outlining for us and ask whether or not it should matter to you what’s in that health care bill because one of the things you want to do is take care of the sick and take care of the poor. That’s something you’ve been obviously extremely involved with, particularly overseas, and it seems that it would have quite a lot of relevance to your mission, and if that’s not then maybe a question of balance that’s tricky to figure out but one that’s worth doing instead of kind of having a blanket approach –
WARREN: That’s a valid question, Amy. People have a hard time nailing me because I’m not religious right and I’m an evangelical. I have never been a part of the religious right, never even been to one of their meetings – not one.
On the other hand, I’m not a classic liberal. I happen to agree with the liberals on many of their views on justice, equality, poverty reduction and things like that. I just happen to disagree that the government is the answer. The government does not have a track record of being effective at very many things. It costs more money to do it and things like that.
Everybody has a different role, and my role as a pastor in dealing with poverty and dealing with health is totally different. So I’m not trying to do their role. For instance, let’s just take an example. I’m in California where a hot issue is illegal aliens. I live in a – my city, 51 percent speak Spanish. Saddleback Church has started over 30 daughter churches that are totally in Spanish.
When I am out on the street and I see a guy bleeding to death on the side of the road, I don’t walk up to him and say, are you gay before I help you, or are you illegal? I just help the guy. He needs – he’s bleeding to death. Are you an atheist? Are you a Muslim? You just help the guy because he’s bleeding.
My job at a pastoral level is to care, to love and to care on a personal level. So when you say, if you care about it you’ll care about the bill, I do care about the bill but it’s not my role to write the bill. And since I’ve never read it, I don’t even want to comment on it.
SALLY QUINN, THE WASHINGTON POST‘S “ON FAITH”: When you talk about 360 million Christians in Africa and how Christianity is spreading like crazy, why do you think that is? And is that important, I mean, whether it’s Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism or whatever, as long as the people stick with their basic tenets, essentially following the Golden Rule and helping other people?
WARREN: I can give you an answer, Sally, you probably won’t like. Of course it’s extremely important. It’s extremely important. One of the things I said to the group at Davos last year was – and they were all these secular business leaders – I said, you may not like it, but the truth is the future of the world is not secularism. The future of the world is religious pluralism, and we must learn to get along. It is not secularism.
There was the myth in the 20th century that if we just educate people they won’t need God anymore. Europe was the most-educated continent there was and it gave us two world wars. What we’ve found is that in globalization people are actually looking more toward those roots. There is resurgence in Hinduism, resurgence in Buddhism, resurgence in Islam. What I think we need to do is, rather than be afraid of these groups, we need to encourage those who care about the common good.
This morning I was on “Meet the Press,” and I told David Gregory, let me give you my definition of a fundamentalist. “Fundamentalist” actually started out as a good term among Christians in the early 20th century. It was a word developed by J.M. Pendleton, which meant a Christian believer dedicated to the fundamentals of the Bible: Jesus is the way to heaven, the Bible is the word of God, things like that.
The word has been hijacked now to basically mean a radical or terrorist or something like that. Here is my definition of fundamentalist: A fundamentalist is anybody who stopped listening. That’s a fundamentalist. There are Islamic fundamentalists. There are Christian fundamentalists. I’ve met Jewish fundamentalists. There are secular fundamentalists. There are atheist fundamentalists.
Richard Dawkins is an atheist fundamentalist. He won’t listen. He will not listen. He has preconceived ideas. You have to open up and say: You know what? I may not agree with you, but I will listen to you. A fundamentalist has stopped listening. So how do we marginalize the fundamentalists in every secular area – not just secular, sector is what I meant. Part of that is encourage those who are open.
QUINN: You maybe misunderstood what I was asking –
WARREN: I probably did.
QUINN: – because I didn’t not like your answer. Why do you think that Christianity is making such inroads in Africa and places like Africa?
WARREN: I’ll tell you why –
QUINN: That’s one question. And then the other is, does it matter whether it’s Christianity or any other faith that still sticks to the same tenets of Christianity, which is –
WARREN: Come on, you’re asking a pastor. Of course it matters.
QUINN: Well, no, but I mean –
WARREN: If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t be a pastor. Of course it matters. The Gospel – the “good news” that you can have your past forgiven, you can have a purpose for living, and you can have a home in heaven – is irresistible to many people. Past forgiven, purpose for living, home in heaven.
The Gospel has an amazing ability to change lives, to turn people who were hard-core drunk wife-beaters into responsible citizens, and people who were using and abusing humanity – I mean, in our magazine we did an early article on the killer who was responsible for all of the killings of Pol Pot.
If you want to read a story and talk about life change, this guy – and he says, I’m worthy of death. He’s in prison for life; he’s going to be executed, but he became a Christian believer, and that guy’s life is revolutionized. I don’t know anything else that does that. I don’t know anything else besides the Gospel that revolutionizes the interior of a person’s life like faith in Christ. Now I’m a pastor; what do you expect?
QUINN: So you think that’s why –
QUINN: – this is happening in Africa.
WARREN: I’m absolutely certain why. And I could give you millions of stories. At Saddleback Church – I have a church full of CEOs. It’s a white-collar area. It’s one of the wealthiest areas in America, and the Saddleback Valley is one of the top 10 most-educated areas in America with Ph.D. degrees. I think it’s in the same list with Stanford, Calif., and Fairfax, Va. We’ve baptized 27,000 adult believers at Saddleback Church. These are actual conversions. That’s radical life change.
KIM LAWTON, RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY: Back to the theme of the future of evangelicalism. I know that 30 years ago you didn’t start out to found a megachurch, but indeed that’s what happened. And a lot of these institutions, a lot of churches that are large like yours, are really wrestling with, what happens in the next generation? How do you sustain that? How do you sustain that kind of an institution –
LAWTON: – beyond the big personalities that began them? How are you guys preparing for that?
WARREN: Thanks for the question, Kim. There have been a lot of books written that the megachurches are a phenomenon of the baby-boomer generation and that the next generation, Gen X and Gen Y, is very much interested in smaller churches, not the large church.
It’s total bunk. The next generation of churches will be larger, not smaller, than the ones now because the churches have gone to what’s called multi-site, and that is they’re not all staying on one campus because we now have the technology, through Internet and through video, so that a church can be in multi-site locations. I can give you churches – 10, 15, 20 different sites.
Saddleback actually now meets in six different sites. We’re a combination of large church, small church. Now, here is the myth: People go to a megachurch they see Sunday morning and they think that’s the church. That’s not it at all. The Sunday morning event is the tip of the iceberg. What actually makes a megachurch attractive is not Sunday morning. Nobody goes to a church because it’s big. The only people who like big churches are pastors – (laughter) – because they like to speak to a big group. People put up with the inconvenience. On our campus we have over 30 acres of parking. Do you know how far you have to walk? It’s like walking into, you know –
CROMARTIE: Redskins Stadium.
WARREN: – Redskins Stadium, exactly, every week. It’s inconvenient to go to a megachurch, in many ways. So what in the world are they going for? Well, they’re not going for convenience. They’re going for the programs and the ministries, but what they’ve learned is big churches figured out how to meet the personal needs of individuals. It’s not the size; it’s that they’re doing a better job of meeting the personal needs than the little churches are.
For example, our church, while we have the big services on Sunday, we meet in homes during the week in small groups of six to eight people. We have over 4,500 small groups. They meet in every city in Southern California.
CROMARTIE: How many again?
WARREN: Four-thousand-five-hundred. They meet in every city in Southern California from Santa Monica to Carlsbad. It’s a hundred miles distance in our small groups. So on Sunday morning they’re coming to Saddleback or they’re going to Saddleback San Clemente or Saddleback Irvine or Saddleback Corona, but during the week they’re in small groups.
And it is in that small group – when you get sick, you’re visited in the hospital. When you’re out of work, the people help you out. There is a real tight-knit community. There is a longing for belonging in our community, and large churches have figured out it’s not the crowd that attracts; it’s the stuff under the surface that attracts.
It’s the biggest myth that reporters miss. They come to the service and think, oh, that’s Saddleback. It’s not that at all. It’s what’s going on during the week. We have over 300 ministries that operate during the week that could be offered in a large church you could never offer in a small.
For instance, we have a ministry to parents of Down syndrome children. Well, in a church our size we might have a dozen people who have Down syndrome children, but in a church of a hundred, or for that matter a synagogue or temple or mosque, a congregation of a hundred is not likely to have one person with Down syndrome. It’s so rare. And so you’re able to actually specialize and meet individual needs. By the way, America is just behind on this because all of the largest churches in the world are not in America.
LAWTON: But can that continue without you at the helm?
WARREN: Oh, sure it can.
LAWTON: How does that sustain itself without the big –
WARREN: I could give you a dozen names of guys you don’t know, you’ve never heard of, who are 20 years younger than me who have churches almost the size of Saddleback – 20,000, 25,000. They’re all over. Life Church is in Oklahoma City. There is one in Orlando. Of course, the largest churches in the world – the largest church in the world is in Seoul, Korea – 600,000 people. There is one in Buenos Aires – 250,000. There is one in Lagos, Nigeria – 180,000. These pastors have learned how to meet individual needs through the cells – the individual cell groups.
DAN GILGOFF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your relationship with the news media and what you perceive to be the way the news media have covered you. I think a lot of the reason why a lot of reporters are jumping at this opportunity to sit down with you is because we haven’t seen you in the news media in a while. I remember of course around last August Saddleback Civil Forum, there was media coverage around that, and then again attending the inauguration of the president.
This past Easter you did some media, but then there was this pullout of the “ABC News” interview, which raised some questions, and a lot of folks read probably way too much into that. You just talked about taping “Meet the Press” this morning. I’m wondering if you see this as something you do a few times a year and kind of limit it to that, if you see the media as an essential part in transmitting your message to people that you can’t address in person or through Saddleback –
GILGOFF: – in your own global network.
GILGOFF: And just how you see us.
WARREN: Well, first place, I think the media is entirely fair. I am not of the group that says, oh, the media is all bad; they’re all bashing – I happen to not believe that. I don’t believe that at all, and in fact, some of the stuff that has been said about me critical was flat-out true. It was just true.
CROMARTIE: Give us an example.
WARREN: Well – (laughter) – you know, I don’t – really, I don’t want to go revisit the issue of last fall, but I will tell you this: I misspoke, publicly apologized for it. Nobody saw the apology. Dan, you were the only guy who got it right. If you want to go read his column, he is the only guy who got it right. And I never talked to Dan, but the issue was – he figured out, this is what Warren is doing.
When President-elect Obama invited me to do the inauguration, I knew, A, he and I disagree on a lot of different issues, but we happen to be friends. I happen to be friends with a lot of people whom I disagree with. So what? We don’t agree on a lot of things but we are friends, and he invited me to do the inauguration.
Well, I knew, A, he would be criticized by his constituency, and, B, I would be criticized by my constituency. So what? I mean, that’s not hurtful. In fact, my attitude toward criticism is, if it’s true, listen and learn from it. If it’s false, ignore it and forget it and realize ultimately God is the judge of your life. So it doesn’t really bother me. If it’s true, I go, they were right. If they were wrong, they were wrong. But you can’t spend all your time defending yourself. Otherwise you’re not doing these initiatives that I’m talking about.
But when President Obama – I had just finished the Steve Waldman interview for Beliefnet, who is a wonderful guy – he’s gone to the FCC now, and he’s a terrific guy. So I had just finished that interview and I’m sitting on the plane here and President-elect Obama says, Rick, I want you to do the inauguration prayer. Fine. I knew I would be criticized; he knew he would be criticized. I didn’t want to make myself the issue so I said, I’m not going to speak about this at all.
So for 45 days I kept my mouth shut. All kinds of misinformation was said. Some of it was true, but most of it was totally false. But I had made a commitment to myself: This is his party. It’s not about me. It’s his inauguration, and if I get into it –
I’ve discovered – and there was an article in, I think, The Wall Street Journal about this – that when somebody is set in their ways about a certain thing and you challenge it with the truth, they don’t actually change. They become more hardened because their identity is so stuck with their view that they cannot accept truth and it makes them more eager to disprove you. It actually is counterproductive.
You know as a reporter that when you write something, as people read it, it’s often a Rorschach test on themselves how they read it. And when I say something publicly, everybody interprets it according to their Rorschach. Some people hear it this way and some people hear it this way and some people hear it this way. That’s just the way humans are.
I don’t live for the press. The reason I’m doing this is because I’m on my way to Brussels and then Paris and I happened to be coming out. Mike had given me an invitation like a year ago: Come back some time. I had an invitation from David Bradley to come and do one of his dinners. I just thought, maybe I’ll come do this on the way going out. And I had this invitation on Davos, so I just stack them all up.
I don’t come to D.C. or New York to do interviews. I come to do other things, and if I get to see some of you guys, well, that’s good. But really I didn’t have anything to say in the last year. I was just busy working.
And, by the way, the thing on the – people read into it when I canceled on George Stephanopoulos. Well, I also canceled on my buddy Huckabee, whom I went to seminary with. Nobody questioned that one. It was the same day. Well, what was it? I was supposed to do that Saturday morning before Easter, that interview. I was between services, service 12 of 17 services. And when I hit service 12, I’m going, I am worn out and I’ve got five more services to do. And I go, guys, cancel it.
That’s the honest truth. I’m not afraid of anybody or any question. They said, well, he didn’t want to answer the questions of George Stephanopoulos. Come on. I was tired. I had just finished 12 services; I had five more to do on Sunday. I was wasted. I was like backstage, give me some glucose, you know? You try speaking 17 times in a row to 4,000 or 5,000 people at a time, day after day on Easter week. It just wipes you out.
Now I could have gone back on and defended myself on that and said, come on, George –
CROMARTIE: Should we tell George you’re willing to come back sometime?
WARREN: In a heartbeat. (Laughter.) In a heartbeat.
CROMARTIE: Let the record show.
WARREN: When you have a political mindset, you view everything through politics. And when you have an inside-the-Beltway view, you don’t realize that most of the world doesn’t care about the Beltway. They couldn’t care less. They really don’t care about the Beltway. It doesn’t affect them one thing or the other.
CROMARTIE: Let me get some other people in here.
WARREN: I can pontificate a long time. Sorry.
CROMARTIE: I understand and that’s why I’m the moderator. (Laughter.)
WARREN: It’s a fate of preachers.
JILL LAWRENCE, POLITICS DAILY: Hi. I guess it’s only appropriate that somebody from a thing called Politics Daily would be the next person to speak. We are a new website, and we are devoted to politics. I guess the comments that we receive on our website make me particularly interested in your Civility Initiative.
It’s extremely upsetting, actually, to see the kind of discourse that goes on, and we have just hired a moderating team to try to raise the level. But I’m just curious about whether this initiative originated, to some degree, within political discourse and what you think of the cable and Internet phenomenon. And also, do you talk to any of these people, and do they ask for help? Are they receptive? What’s your view of all this?
WARREN: I actually heard Fred Barnes give a good reason for this one time when you guys were doing “Beltway Boys,” Fred, and the point was –
CROMARTIE: Civility personified. (Laughter.)
WARREN: Yeah, there you go. Right. Right. Well, let me chose somebody else. Okay, Jeff. (Laughter.) No, Fred was talking about the fact that 40 years ago the congressmen used to eat dinner together. Remember, Tip O’Neil and Reagan would fight it out, but then they’d go to a bar and have a drink together.
There was a camaraderie that came in getting to know each other. I think politics has become so expensive that you have to be in fundraising mode all the time, so every weekend you’re heading back to your constituency. Nobody is hanging around and, for lack of a better term, a Christian term or religious term, fellowshipping with other people and getting to know other people.
It is very easy to demonize somebody you don’t know. It’s very hard to attack – you may disagree with somebody, but if you know them, you temper your words and you’re not so personal in your assassination of character. We are moving more and more to a more polarized – and it’s not just right and left, friends. I could give you 50 kinds of varieties of Democrats and I can give you 50 kinds of varieties of Republicans. We are going into niche marketing more and more and more. Everybody is on a niche hunt, trying to find their little niche.
And that’s not good for America. We’re the big-picture people who say, as I said earlier, we don’t always win, we don’t always lose, but can we work on some common good, can we get some things moving?
CROMARTIE: – Are you seeing any success?
WARREN: Part of the issue is there are now people in this town whose entire career is built on tearing other people down.
CROMARTIE: No names.
LAWRENCE: They’re not necessarily in Congress, for the most part. They’re in these kind of auxiliary industries that exist to rev people up. So I guess I’m wondering, was this part of what precipitated this initiative on your part? And also, what are you doing about it?
WARREN: Yes, it was. Yes, it exactly was. I started thinking about returning civility to civilization and working on the common good. It actually was not started with politics. It actually started in me reaching out to other religions here in America – to Muslims, to Jews, to Catholic Christians, to every kind people go with. Then as it moved toward the last election, probably a year before the election, I turned on one day talk radio and I just started listening to talk radio.
In fact, this is the honest truth. Before the last election, I went out and I subscribed to eight magazines. Now, don’t ask me; I’m not going to tell you what they are. But they were eight partisan magazines. I picked four conservative ones and I picked four liberal ones – as conservative as they could get and as liberal. I thought, I’m going to read these eight magazines during the election. After the election was over, I didn’t renew a single one of them. Why? Because they were too derogatory. All they wanted to do was just – they could see no good in the other side.
The fact is, nobody is right all the time and everybody is right some of the time. A clock that doesn’t work is right twice a day. Even your worst enemy is going to say something that makes sense, if you listen. People are acting like babies, and they’re acting extremely immature.
CROMARTIE: Is your message resonating with colleagues? Is it resonating? Are you hearing other people who are glad you’re doing it?
WARREN: I’m not finding very much success in the political realm. I am finding great success in the religious realm. I met with Cat Stevens the other day – Yusuf Islam. He goes – (sings) – moon shadow – (laugher). Some of my best dates were to you. (Laughter.) But we had a good time and we just talked. I find this one area where you’re always up for a vote and you’re always raising money really prevents people from admitting, that was a good point.
WARREN: I didn’t offer you do that; I said I don’t want to do that. (Laughter.)
MCMANUS: But gay marriage is an inherently divisive issue, especially when it’s on a ballot in a yes-or-no form. So my question is, are there any lessons from that experience that you would apply to the next time that question comes up in a political context? And as you try and heal divisions here and take a divisive issue like that, can you conceive of a way to approach that issue that heals divisions rather than creates them?
WARREN: That’s a good point. Yes, I did learn some good things, and some of it was just my own fault. There was a misstatement that I made in the Steve Waldman interview where I was saying, I make no apology for this. As a pastor, I am opposed to the redefinition of marriage. You don’t have to agree with me. I can still love you. You can love me. But I don’t think the word “marriage” should be used for anything else.
I gave Steve several examples, and I said, this wouldn’t be a marriage, this wouldn’t be a marriage, this wouldn’t be a marriage. Then he said, so are all of those equivalent? And I said, well, yeah. I didn’t listen to the question, and it made it sound like I equivocated – that’s not the word –
WARREN: – equated, thank you; thank you – equated adult gay consensual sex with incest or pedophilia. I don’t believe that at all – never have, never will – but it sounded like I said it. Now, here’s the thing. Because I had made a commitment not to respond for 45 days until after the election, it got repeated over and over and over. And I’m sitting there keeping my mouth shut going, I know that’s not right. But I did not want to get into it.
I don’t believe that at all. Never have. I have many, many who are gay leaders across the nation who have worked with me on AIDS. Kay and I have personally given millions of dollars – millions of dollars personally – to help people with HIV and AIDS. We’ve worked with all kinds of gay groups on these issues. I wrote those guys apologies and said, you guys know I didn’t mean this. Oh, we knew. We knew it, Rick.
But all of the criticism came from people who didn’t know me – 100 percent. Not a single gay leader who knew me personally criticized me. Not one. All of it came from people who didn’t know me personally because I didn’t have the relationship. That goes back to this thing about if you don’t have the relationship, where do you know where that guy’s head is anyway? He said that. He didn’t correct it. Well, that’s not their fault; that’s my fault.
CROMARTIE: That’s why we wanted you to meet all these people today, Rick, so they could have newer perceptions.
ANA MARIE COX, AIR AMERICA: Hi. I have a few questions. One was in your response to Sally about Christianity having an appeal in Africa and you argued, obviously as a pastor you certainly believe it makes a difference that it’s Christianity, and it is – I’m trying to find the quote – it’s the only, or the best way. You don’t know anything else that revolutionizes the interior of a person’s life like the message of Christ. And I realize that you obviously believe that as an article of faith – ha, ha, ha –
WARREN: Hey, that’s a good point.
COX: – but I wonder if you have any – I mean, one of the appeals I think that you have to journalists is all of the data that you present people. I just wonder if you have any data that would validate that, that Christianity makes more of a difference or a better difference in people’s lives than other religions that have similar tenets, like the ones Sally mentioned.
WARREN: Well, I’ll give you an example of that. Some of you guys know who Jim Collins is – Good to Great and Built to Last. Jim and I were speaking at Claremont grad school last week to a group of business leaders, and he sat down – and he’s not a Christian believer – and he sat down: Rick, how do you explain this, that 12 guys and one of them flakes out in a Middle East – how does that multiply to 2.3 billion people today? I don’t have an explanation for that except it’s a God thing. I don’t have any other explanation for that.
COX: So it is a faith, basically.
WARREN: I accept it by faith. As I said, it changes lives. I’m in the life-changing business. That’s what I’m all about.
COX: But there is no other – you point out the CEOs and the wife-beaters, that Christianity can change those people but other religions can’t.
WARREN: I didn’t say that.
COX: Well, I just – I asked.
WARREN: Yeah. Yeah. And –
COX: You don’t know of other religions that can?
WARREN: You’re putting words in my mouth.
COX: Well, you said, I don’t know of anything else that revolutionizes the interior of a person’s life like faith in Christ.
WARREN: You know what, I’ll say this: If I knew something that did a better job of changing lives, I’d switch.
COX: Okay, point taken. Another thing, I was really fascinated to learn about your faith-based recovery program, that it’s the official recovery program in 17 states. Is that right?
COX: How does that work out for non-Christians who are in prison who might need help?
WARREN: Well, first place, you don’t have to – it’s not a required program.
COX: Right, but –
WARREN: It’s a totally available program –
COX: – if it’s the official program.
WARREN: – and I’m sure they most likely have probably a secular version of AA for those who want that. So it would certainly be a choice – you can’t mandate any program, obviously.
COX: I’m just wondering how it worked out for the people who are there.
WARREN: Yeah. I do know that in California, for a while – I don’t even know if they’re doing this now, but I do know that if you went through that program and then connected to a halfway house when you got out, they would commute six months off your sentence because there was such a change.
Let me give you an example. I spoke at a prison – I frequently speak at prisons – in Northern California that, prior to us being involved in that prison, was locked down every other day. It was a very violent, high crime – it was repeat offenders and many people on death row. It was one of the maximum security prisons.
There was a young guy who was 18 years old. Danny Dushane had been involved in a murder of two or three people in a robbery. He was put in prison and given life in prison. Six months after he went to prison, he gave his life to Christ, and he has now spent the last 22 years of his Christian life in prison. He doesn’t have any chance of getting out.
He wrote me a letter that said, I heard about this 40 Days of Purpose thing that you guys are doing with the book The Purpose Driven Life. Could we do that here? I said, sure. I said, I’ll send you the videos, the books. You don’t have to – we’ll just get it all to you for free. There is a prison version of it because you can’t put hardbacks in prison.
And this guy went door to door in the prison saying, would you like to study the purpose of life? A hundred-and-fifty-six people signed up. So then he got them together and he goes, now Rick says you’ve got to do this in small groups, so we’re going to have these things called cell groups, get it? Cell groups. And so they divided it all up.
To make a long story short, now over 500 people in that prison have gone through that issue, through that 40 Days of Purpose. They went two-and-a-half years without a lockdown since they did 40 Days of Purpose. That was a front-page story in The New York Times about two years ago.
CROMARTIE: It was?
WARREN: It was, on the front page.
COX: One last question. This is going back to Prop 8 just a little bit. D.C. is looking at legalizing same-sex marriage, and the Catholic Charities are planning on pulling out their social services to the city, which are obviously something we need here. What do you think about that?
WARREN: I have no comment. I mean, that’s their opinion.
COX: Is that something that you would –
WARREN: I keep getting asked – maybe it’s because the religious right has pretty much folded. Jerry Falwell has passed away, others are no longer in leadership, and when people start looking to religious leadership, particularly among evangelicals, my name comes up. And then they start asking me questions like, well – if you want to ask about gay marriage, 30 states where it’s been put to a vote, they voted it down. Go ask those people. Why did they vote – why ask me?
COX: I’m asking you – your church does so much, right? And your message to people, to individuals, is to help their communities and –
WARREN: My message is to the individual, and that is, every individual matters. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, what you claim to be or – you matter to God and you are loved unconditionally. You can’t make God stop loving you. You can try but you’ll fail because God’s love is not based on who you are; it’s based on who he is. It’s not based on what you do; it’s based on what God has already done for you. It’s called grace. So I can’t make God stop loving me and I can’t make God stop loving you, but God gives me a choice to either love him or reject him.
Here’s my philosophy of life: If God gives me a choice to reject him or love him – because it’s not love if I’m forced to love him – if God gives me a choice to reject him or love him, then I’ve got to give everybody else that choice too. And that’s why I believe in America. I’ve got to give everybody the choice.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: I had a long, involved question about your work in Rwanda and whether it applies to the Middle East, but instead I’m just going to – as a deeply disaffected Cat Stevens fan – (laughter) – can you give us as much detail as possible about your encounter with Yusuf Islam? (Laughter.) No, I’m serious – make some news here.
WARREN: I’ll tell you what, Yusuf Islam has gotten into – this is the honest truth. I’ll give you the answer to this. He is into curriculum for children to promote Muslim morals in the United Kingdom. That’s what he’s doing. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the curriculum. He says they’re no longer teaching character or morals in U.K. schools, so he’s developed a children’s curriculum to promote Muslim morals. Of course, many of us would agree with many of those morals – in schools. That’s what he’s doing.
Now let me answer your first question because this is a good one.
GOLDBERG: Did you see him? Where did you see him?
WARREN: I was the keynote speaker for ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, which is the largest convention of Muslims. It was here in D.C. on the Fourth of July. There were 25,000 Muslims here in town, and they invited a non-Muslim to be the keynote speaker. So I spoke to them that day, and when I sat down, sitting down right next to me he said, I wanted to meet you, and it was Cat Stevens – I mean, Yusuf Islam.
On Rwanda, let me give you an example of what I believe health care should be. About three years ago President Bush invited me to be the closing speaker for the Global Summit on Malaria. And all these leaders were there to be a part of it.
I stood up at the end and I said, let me just take five minutes to share with you why – going back to these three legs of the stool – government will never get it done on its own. Business will never get it done on its own. Churches and synagogues and mosques and temples and everything, we have to work together. We have to team tackle this. But, I said, you can’t do it without congregations.
I put up a map – I had three PowerPoint slides. The first slide, I said, this is the Western Province of Rwanda. Now everybody knows we’re working in Rwanda. They don’t know we’re working in almost 150 other countries too, but that’s the one that gets all the attention right now.
I put up the map. I said, this is the Western Province of Rwanda. There are 700,000 people in this area. It’s a rural area and there’s one doctor for 700,000 people. There are three hospitals, but those hospitals don’t have a doctor; they’re pretty much volunteer staff. They’re all paramedical people. There is no registered nurse in the entire state of 700,000 people.
If you get sick and you have to go to the hospital – Rwanda is a very mountainous country – you have to walk up and down, up and down, a two days’ walk to get to the nearest hospital. I said, that’s poor health care. Most of those people will never see a doctor in their entire life.
I said, by the way, of these three hospitals, two of them are church-based. One’s Seventh-Day Adventist; one’s Presbyterian. I said the third is a secular. So you wouldn’t have two-thirds of the health care if it weren’t for the church. In almost every country in the world, the first hospital and the first school were started by missionaries – almost every – because we are a preaching, teaching, healing faith.
Then I said, watch this slide. I put up the second slide; there were 18 dots on the slide. And I said, here are the 18 clinics in this area for 700,000. Now that’s better than three hospitals. But if you’ve ever been to a clinic in a Third World country, you know that a clinic is often a bottle of aspirin on a shelf. That’s it. It’s certainly not like we talk about. I’ve been in clinics where there was a microscope and no medicine. I’ve been in clinics that were the size of about three of these tables and have a woman giving birth in a closet. So it’s better than nothing, but it’s not much.
I said, now that’s a one-day walk to any of these 18 clinics. I said, oh, by the way, of these 18 clinics, 16 of them are Christian clinics. They were started by churches. Two of them are government clinics, so you wouldn’t have most of them if it weren’t for the churches there.
I said, now watch this, and I put up the third slide. In the Western Province, 700,000 people, covered with dots – dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot everywhere. I said, here are the 826 congregations in this thing. Now, where would you like to get your meds distributed? Two days’ walk, one day’s walk, or five minutes away?
Melinda Gates, who was a friend of mine sitting in the front row, came up and said, Rick, I get it. The church could be the distribution center for health care. I said, not only health care, for everything else. I said, they’re more widely spread than any – they’re already at ground network and volunteers all around the world. I said, I could take you to 10 million villages, the only thing in it is a church. They don’t have a clinic, they don’t have a school, they don’t have a post office, but they’ve got a church.
I said, not only for health care, Melinda, but for everything else. You can use it for education, you can use it – all five things that we’re talking about in the P.E.A.C.E. program. I said, let me give you an example.
The president of Rwanda asked me to go and visit the president of Burundi. It’s the little country next door. He said, this guy has asked me to mentor him; would you go down and check him out? I said, sure. So I get on a helicopter – the president’s helicopter. I fly down to Burundi and I meet this guy. And I said, tell me your story.
He said, our country has been in civil war for 15 years. He said, my father was murdered and my two brothers were murdered, and I ran to the jungle, to the bush, to hide to save my life. He said, I hid for nine years – hid for nine years. He said, I got so gaunt I could barely stand up without a stake. And he said, after nine years they found me and they said, oh, you’re still alive? Yeah. We’d like to run you for president.
So they elected him president. Now he’s a great guy but the World Bank would eat him alive. I mean, instead of being in a university learning things, he was in the jungle. But he is a great guy. I said, so what’s your goal for your country? How can I help you? And he said, the first goal is reconciliation. So that’s good. I said, how are you doing it? He said, the two guys who murdered my brothers, I put them on my Cabinet. I said, that’s profound.
I said, what’s your next goal? He said, free education for primary school children. I said, that’s a wonderful goal. I said, how are you going to get the money to build those school buildings? He said, I don’t know. We’re flat broke. We have no money. I said, I’ve got an idea. What? I said, let me go ask the churches. I said, here’s all these churches that sit empty five days a week in these villages. There’s not much to them but at least there’s a building.
So we went and we asked these, would you allow the government to put a public school in your building for free? We started 200 schools in two months. There are things you can do that can’t be done without the church. In that area that had no health care, we started a year and half ago, and I asked 11 pastors and two imams – Muslim imams. There were no synagogues, so I got the Muslims and the Christians and said, would you like us to train you in basic health care? They said, sure.
So we took people in and we began to train – each of these pastors picked two people from their congregation, so there are four Muslims and 22 Christian people. We trained them in basic stuff like wash your hands before you do anything. Boil the water. Put the sheets out in the sun so it sanitizes them.
Then we started teaching them more things like how to dress a wound, all the way up to how to administer ARVs. Today, right now, I have 1,400 trained community health care workers – it will be over 1,500 by the end of December – in an area that had one doctor a year-and-a-half ago. Now that’s the kind of health care I’m interested in, not some omnibus bill that’s arguing over, is abortion going to be in it or not?
I’m sorry, I’m just not interested in that kind of thing. I’m interested in results, and I know now that there will be 1,500 people working in their own community that I don’t have to pay for providing basic health care to people who will never have a doctor. That’s what matters to me.
ADELLE BANKS, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Hello. I wanted to follow up on Kim’s question about transition. I noticed in the book that Jeff Sheler wrote about you that you said something in March about your having 10 more years in the church, then you were going to let the church go and you’ll continue with your other ministries.
So can you talk about what your church is doing for that transition and, if possible, what you think about other Christian leaders, in particular, evangelical Christian leaders, and whether any
others are doing transition well or not?
WARREN: That’s a great question, Adelle. In the first place, I haven’t read the book. Jeff sent me a copy of it right before I left, a few days. I was busy. I haven’t even looked at it, so I don’t even know what’s in it.
CROMARTIE: What’s the name of the book?
BANKS: Page 285. (Laughter.)
WARREN: Page 285. “Prophet of Purpose.” It’s a terrible title. (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: Is that on the record?
WARREN: It was not an authorized biography. He just did it. But there is no success without a successor. When I started Saddleback Church, I was 25 years old, and I made a commitment to give 40 years of my life to that church and then I was going to turn it over to somebody else, not because I wouldn’t have energy – I’m going to have more energy at 85 than a lot of guys at 25 – but because the church needs younger leadership – not for my benefit but for their benefit. So this year, April 4th, when we go to Anaheim Stadium, we will celebrate 30 years. That means the clock’s ticking. I’ve got 10 years left at Saddleback.
When I graduate from the church, I’ll just continue doing all the global stuff I’ve been doing. I actually retired when the book came out. Most of you know that I tithe 90 percent. When you write the best-selling book in English history, second to the Bible – The Purpose Driven Life is the most translated book in the world except for the Bible. It’s in over a hundred languages. Friends, it’s tens of millions of dollars. The income is tens of millions of dollars.
It actually scared me and I thought, wait a minute: I’m a pastor; I’m pretty simple. If I’ve got a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, I don’t need anything else – good T-shirt. And when you write a book and the first sentence of the book is, “It’s not about you,” then you figure the money is not for you. So I knew that all this money coming in was not to be used by me. So Kay and I made five decisions – this was seven years ago – what to do with these tens of millions of dollars. One –
CROMARTIE: Get rid of the Hawaiian shirts.
WARREN: Yeah. One, we said we’re not going to spend it on ourselves. We’re not going to change our lifestyle one bit. I still live in the same house I’ve lived in for 17 years. I drive a 10-year-old Ford truck. I bought my watch at Wal-Mart. I don’t own a boat, I don’t own a plane, I don’t own a vacation home. I didn’t want to be a televangelist. That’s why I’ve never gone on television. Of the largest churches in America, I think I’m the only one not on TV because I don’t like that lifestyle.
The second thing is seven years ago I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church, so I effectively retired.
Third is I added up all that the church had paid me in 25 years and I gave it all back. I knew I was being put under the spotlight, and I never wanted anybody to think that I do what I do for money. I don’t. I do it because I love Jesus Christ. That’s why I do it. And I love people. It’s why I do what I do.
It’s really funny because the very next week I was interviewed – it was either Time or Newsweek sent somebody over for an article, and the first question was, what’s your salary? I thought, this is going to be good. Here is some fat cat megachurch pastor ripping off the flock. I just looked at her and I said, well, actually, I’ve served my church for free for 25 years. Got her. Oh, that felt good. Now I had to repent of my pride later but it felt good for about five minutes. (Laughter.)
Then we set up three foundations, our three charities. One is Acts of Mercy, which works with people infected and affected by AIDS. One is called Equipping Leaders, which – as I travel around the world, like these trips I’m doing, I pay for it all myself. I haven’t taken an honorarium in 10 years. I pay for it all myself, and I take my team with me and I pay for them. And then the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. Then the last thing we did is we became reverse tithers.
CROMARTIE: What’s the third foundation?
WARREN: The P.E.A.C.E. Plan. It’s not a foundation; it’s a 501(c)(3) charity, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. And lots of churches are involved in that.
But the fifth thing I did is I became a reverse tither. When Kay and I got married 35 years ago, we started giving 10 percent of our income away. The Bible calls that tithing, charity. At the end of our first year, we raised our tithe to 11 percent. At the end of our second year, we raised our tithe to 12 percent. At the end of our third year of marriage, we raised our tithe to 13 percent.
Now the Bible doesn’t teach us – in fact, we didn’t tell anybody about it for 30 years because we weren’t doing it to impress anybody. We did it because every time I give, it breaks the grip of materialism in my life. Every time I give, I become more generous. Every time I give, my heart grows bigger. Every time I give, I become more like Jesus Christ, who is my model.
Over the years, every time we would have a tough financial year, we would raise our giving maybe a quarter of a percent. When I’d get a raise, I would raise it 4 or 5 percent. And now, after 35 years of marriage, Kay and I give away 90 percent of our income and live on 10. I take no salary; I just live on the royalties of the best-selling book of all time, but I live on 10 percent – 10 percent of it – and I give away 90.
That has been so much fun, and I’ve played this game with God for 35 years. God says, you give to me and I’ll give to you and we’ll see who wins, and I’ve lost every year. I’m not talking about material gain. I don’t even believe in the, quote, “prosperity” gospel. It’s a heresy. It’s a heresy. Don’t ever put an adjective in front of “gospel.” There is no social gospel. There is no prosperity gospel. There is no political gospel. There is just the Gospel, and so don’t pervert it. But that has been so much fun.
BANKS: You said that there is no success without a successor –
WARREN: Oh, yes, I’ll tell you what I did. I’m sorry –
BANKS: – so could you speak to the issue of a transition for your church and what you think of others? Thank you.
WARREN: You’re right; I did not answer that question. I knew that with me being 10 years out, I wanted a successful transition. So we did at Saddleback Church something that I don’t know any other church has ever done, almost a year-and-a-half ago. We lowered the age of the leadership body in our church by 16 years in one week.
We had a group of pastors who have been with me pretty much since the start that we call our elders. Most of us are in our 50s, mid-50s, and we have led the church all these years. All along we’ve been mentoring the next generation, which is what I’m doing. I’m spending the rest of my life mentoring the next generation.
We had a group of young guys who were in their 30s and a couple reaching 40, and in one week we turned over the leadership. We moved all of the guys out of leadership who were in, including me – I’m just a teaching pastor – and we moved these guys in their 30-somethings into the leadership, which we call the PMT, the Pastor’s Management Team, and we turned over the leadership of a megachurch to – how many guys, David? David is on that – how many guys are on it?
WARREN: Nine guys. David is one of the nine guys. They’re all young guys who are running this enormous megachurch and we’re doing other stuff. So the transition is already being made right now.
CROMARTIE: But you’re not going to tell us the name of the person who’s going to succeed you, though? Probably not.
WARREN: I don’t know. But I will tell you this: Peter Drucker, my mentor, said you should never choose your successor. I believe that because typically what you’ll do is you’ll choose a person like yourself, and what the organization usually needs is the exact opposite of what you were, at that point. Do you know what I’m saying?
CROMARTIE: Yes. Well, that’s his philosophy also.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, THE NEW YORK TIMES: First of all, I see that you don’t want to talk about this, and so please forgive me but you’ve arrived in Washington –
WARREN: Please forgive me for not answering.
KIRKPATRICK: – at a moment when the city is in the grips of a theological debate. A group of prominent American theologians, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, concluded some decades ago that there was a Gospel mandate for the federal government to provide medicine to every sick person who needed it, to ensure that care was there.
Now that’s poised to become the law, and yet the Catholic bishops have a problem because some provisions of that they fear would entangle U.S. taxpayers in cooperation in evil because it would use federal money to help people one way or the other get insurance coverage for abortions.
And the Democratic Party is all hung up over this. They don’t see a way out. What do you think? Do you think the church is making the right call? And does a solution exist? What is your reaction to this? It’s a theological question, as I say.
WARREN: I don’t know what the answer is going to be on these issues that are seemingly intractable – on the definition of marriage, the definition of when life begins. To me, Peggy Noonan had the best line on that one. She said, when does life begin? You remember I asked the president, when do babies get their human rights? Any 16-year-old boy who has bought a condom knows when life begins.
KIRKPATRICK: But what about cooperation in evil?
WARREN: On your issue, I would say the only ray of hope I see is if they can come up with – and I’m not talking about this in particular – come up with some kind of religious, conscientious objector kind of thing, clause, where people who have – whether they’re Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Christian, whatever, do not have to violate their conscience on a particular issue.
I don’t even know if that’s – it’s not my thing, but maybe there could be some kind of religious, conscientious objection clause that allows people to opt out or opt in on something that is objectionable to them. Maybe we can come up with something like that in a democracy.
CROMARTIE: Let me ask a question from the remote listeners. From Politics Daily is David Gibson. And this moves us out of Washington politics. How do you see the legacy of Billy Graham in American evangelicalism? Will there be another Billy Graham, and are you the next Billy Graham? Can you fill that role or has evangelicalism changed too much?
WARREN: Is this laughable? I mean, how many times do I get asked this question? No, I am not the next Billy Graham. If anybody was the next Billy Graham, it would be Franklin. It’s his son. Franklin is doing crusade evangelism. I have never been an evangelist.
CROMARTIE: How do you see the legacy –
WARREN: An evangelist is somebody who travels around from place to place doing crusades. I’m a pastor. That means I move more toward caring for an individual flock. I’ve been with these people for 30 years. I love them. So I’m in one place.
Billy Graham’s legacy is multifold. Billy Graham is a mentor of mine, and he taught me a number of different things. One of them is he taught me how to handle criticism because Billy Graham –
CROMARTIE: Was it in a personal conversation that he told you –
WARREN: Oh, yes, and many times I’ve talked to him about – and I’d call him and things like that. I actually sent an e-mail this week. Billy doesn’t like to talk on the phone so much anymore, so I sent an e-mail. His hearing is impaired. But I just sent him a question this week about an issue that he’s kind of mentored me from a distance on. His integrity, his bridge-building, his willingness to deal – like his willingness to go to Russia when everybody criticized him for going to Russia, and things like that – I admire that. I admire bridge-building ability.
He never wavered on what he believed. He believes the evangelical Gospel. I believe that too. But it didn’t keep him from having friendships with people who didn’t believe that. It didn’t keep him from respecting people who didn’t believe that. And it didn’t keep him from working for the greater good in situations. So he’s irreplaceable. He’s irreplaceable.
CROMARTIE: I think we’re out of time and so I apologize. We have followed one of your tenets, I think, of civility. And this is what the Pew Forum exists for is to have people from different viewpoints – different political persuasions, different religious persuasions, different persuasions altogether – come together and dialogue. We know how busy you are, Rick. Thank you for being busy enough to join us for this time because it’s been terrific. Join me in thanking Pastor Rick Warren.
LUGO: Thank you very much.
WARREN: Thank you, guys. (Applause.) Thank you. If you ever come out to Orange County, give me a ring. I know every place to eat under five bucks. I’ll treat you to a real gourmet meal.
LUGO: And, Rick, I’m bound and determined that my successor will not be Cuban.
WARREN: That’s good. That’s good, Luis. Great. Thank you, everybody.
This written transcript has been edited by Amy Stern for clarity, grammar and accuracy.