Rick Warren’s new agenda:what we can learn from it?

Someone in the comments mentioned that my post was similar to a NYT op-ed and said it must be a meme going around. It is not a meme but that we all subscribe to the same list serves of religion information such as the Pew foundation that study and conduct surveys of religion in America. Orthodoxy, except for the truly sectarian, follows these trends as much as any other group does. So if you want to know the range of positions available at a given time they provide the guidelines. Orthodoxy will follow other similar conservative groups. Chief Rabbi Sacks is closer to Pope Benedict. NY Centrist Orthodoxy is closer to certain aspect of the Evangelicals and the Kiruv organizations are closest to other aspects of the Evangelicals.
At the end of last month, Pew held an interview with Rick Warren to let journalists know where things are going. Rick’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best-selling nonfiction book in American history – over 30 million copies. That was the first quarter century of his career and corresponds to the religious turn in America. He has now turned to broader concerns. These are some of the directions and causes people will want from their Orthodoxy. Whoever gets there first will claim them

We do training of what we call the three legs of the stool: business leadership, church leadership and public leadership in government.
We have over 4,500 small groups. They meet in every city in Southern California.
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.
The third signature issue we began in 2002, and that is our AIDS initiative for people infected and affected with AIDS.
The fourth signature issue we began in 2003. It’s called the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. 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.

Notice his working together with lay leadership and government agencies. He divides his Church into many focus groups “parents with a Downs child” “parents of an ADD child” “parents of twins.”
His work with AA was done in Judaism by Rabbi Abraham Twerski and several elements of the Engaged Yeshivish world, not YU. Centrist Orthodoxy does not relish the thought of working with addictions as part of the rabbinate. Aids treatment is not part of the community at all. Finally, the community does not make as its mission to fight poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption, and conflict. This last one is where the future of American conservative religion lies.

WARREN: 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.
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.

This affirmation of religious pluralism from an exclusivist Evangelical Christian is where things are going. And unlike the 1980’s and 1990’s where Evangelicals said “woe is me- the secularists are after us;” Rick Warren is now boldly going out into the world and trying to put relgion in the public sphere (Don’t confuse his position with that of First Things and David Novak.) Many college students participate in interfaith events as part of the post 9//11 world, even Orthodox. We have had orthodox Jews and Muslims discussing difficulties in dietary laws and hair covering, Catholics and Orthodox Jews holding joint Friday night dinners, and groups of several faiths meeting to each talk about their experiences- not theology or doctrine but personal narratives.

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.

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. 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.

This is his philosophy on GLBT issues as an evangelical. He does not support Gay marriage but would not support the anti-legislation either. The press and the blogs love to tear him apart from both sides. The web is filled with statements hinging on his every word to see what he accepts or rejects. In contrast, Rev. Richard Cizik who was Vice President for the National Association of Evangelicals and was leading evangelicals toward ecology and global stewardship (another role model for orthodoxy) expressed his support for same sex unions and that he was closer to supporting same sex marriage and was forced to resign from his leadership position.

Melinda Gates, who was a friend of mine said, Rick, I get it. The church could be the distribution center for health care. I said, not only health care, 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.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.

Notice he is friends with confirmed agnostic Melinda and Bill Gates. And when he asks for money it is not to build churches or parochial institutions but to offer health care in Africa. Young Jews like AJWS and Hazon.

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. And I love people.
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. The second thing is seven years ago I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church, so I effectively retired.

See any Orthodox leaders going this route?

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.

This is important for the change in leadership style– see this quiz that I posted a while ago.Take the Quiz

6 responses to “Rick Warren’s new agenda:what we can learn from it?

  1. Is an open orthodox organization like uri l’tzedek part of this movement towards religious conservatives embracing broader concerns? Also this is the second post in which you’ve indicated that engaged yeshivish does post-modern religion better the centrist or open orthodoxy do you have any thoughts on why that is the case.

    • Shmuel- On your first question you will have to tell me. I do not know their constituency or their long term vision. On the second, the engaged yeshivish world did very well the last 20 years in embracing AA, new age, 40 ways to happiness, personal narratives everyday miracles, and the creating of an entire section of Jewish bookstores of Jewish self help. The outreach branches embraced many aspects of the Pentecostal message, despite the descend of some of them to become Elmer Gantry. Whether they will reach the new era of gen -y, I do not know, time will tell. On the question of why, if I understand your question, was Centrism’s greater dedication to creating enclaves with clear grid and group lines of demarcation. They were not interested in personal narratives, which are important in American religion. As one senior YU person once told me, they once went to city to do outreach with representatives of other yeshivot. The YU person was proud of the fact that the YU participants all gave a good shiurim while nebach the other participants did pop psych. I am not advocating it and I dont go for this pop-psych everyday miracles stuff but it played well in the 1990’s.

  2. Bekhavod – I must point out that when I was in smikha YU ran a full day Yom Iyyun for Rabbis and smikha students on the very topic of substance abuse in the Orthodox community. This must have been done in either 1999 or 2000.

    From what I recall R. Tendler discussed the issue from a religious perspective and there was also an assistant D.A. from Brooklyn who covered treatment options.

    I’m sure there were others who spoke on various issues as well.

  3. But you were not taught to make 12-step language as part of your Judiasm There are Jewish self-help books out there that explain Jewish prayer, halakhah, and the meaning of Judiasm as 12 step. The point was not the treatment or substance abuse but the creation of a new language, a new spirituality, and a new goal.
    There are various books that present Judiasm as some form of “we are all turkeys under the table” based on a breslov story. The 12 step language becomes a real shift when someone starts using it. Look at the 12 step list. We have to pray to God to remove our defects and leave all decisions with God.

    • I’ve heard variants of the 12 step as an approach to teshuva. Given that I’ve heard few rabbis with any sort of consistent coherent approach, variants may be the best to expect.

      Regarding the idea of “powerlessness” I think Torah focuses on the inner strength of people. For example, compare Romans 7:20 “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” vs. R. Yohanan in name of R. Bana’ah B A.Z. 5b, “: Blessed is Israel; when they occupy themselves with Torah and acts of kindness their inclination is mastered by them, not they by their inclination.”

  4. Wow. I find the original interview very culturally informative. But how does the shift of Evangelical forms of religiosity towards public fields of service relate to the Habermas-Benedict conversation and the more recent forum at NYU (with Habermas, Taylor, Butler, and West) on religion and the public sphere?

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