Rick Warren: "You don't overcome evil by protesting, marching or demonstrating"
Richard Bartholomew printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 10:13:11 AM EST
In 2005, Pastor Rick Warren announced that Rwanda would become the world's first "Purpose Driven Nation", following the principles of his book The Purpose Driven Life and his "P.E.A.C.E." plan for Africa. Originally, "P.E.A.C.E." stood for "Plant churches, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation", although the "P" has now become "Promote reconciliation".

His latest tour of East Africa - during which he spoke against gay rights in Uganda - has concluded with high-profile meetings in Kenya, and a message of opposition to political protest. A news release from A. Larry Ross Communications reports:

"We must never let politics or anything else divide us," Dr. Warren challenged. "Our message is, 'Overcome evil with good.' You don't overcome evil by protesting, marching or demonstrating."

Of course the context here is the recent violence in Kenya, and doubtless Warren believes that God's will and prayer are ultimately what bring about change, but this appears to be a blanket dismissal of political protest.
Warren continues:
"God is softening the hearts of people across this country; don't miss this opportunity by focusing on politics," Dr. Warren explained. "There is only one thing that will unite this nation, and it is not politics - it is the Church, your church."
Kenya's political leaders agree:
During a subsequent meeting at the Statehouse with Mr. Kenneth Marende, speaker of the house of parliament, Dr. Warren outlined biblical principles of leadership and how they apply to Kenya's current crisis. Mr. Marende asked Dr. Warren to return for a day of training on that curriculum for all Parliamentarians on his next visit to Nairobi.

Kenyan church leaders are reportedly committed to making Kenya the third "Purpose Driven Nation", following Rwanda and Uganda.

An earlier report gives the view from Rwanda:

"This week we are launching a biblical way of living in Rwanda - we call it, 'The Purpose Driven Life,'" Dr. Warren said to nearly 20,000 gathered in the hot African sun. "What matters in life is your relationship to God and His purpose for you. The first 500 churches will start this weekend. When they finish, they will train others - your church - and then your church will help even more churches."

There was a graduation ceremony for 200 Rwandan pastors who had been through the "three-year Purpose Driven and P.E.A.C.E. training program".

"What is unique about this initiative is that the P.E.A.C.E. plan combines the talent and energy from three sectors of society - public, private and faith," President Kagame continued, affirming Saddleback Church's Western Rwanda HIV/AIDS Healthcare Initiative Project that is reinventing healthcare management and distribution by using churches as clinics. "This model can be replicated in other parts of our country. More importantly, more Rwandans of faith need to adopt this mindset."

It seems to me it would be wrong to dismiss Warren's efforts; clearly he and his church are providing much-needed services, and his approach to Africa is rather more sophisticated than that of some other foreign evangelists, who jet in to preside over "miracle crusade" mass rallies, perform a few dubious "healings", and then fly out again. His emphasis on good management - borrowed largely from Peter Drucker - is also an appropriate response to some of the underlying problems in Africa. However, there is also cause for concern: Warren's anti-gay comments in Uganda will exacerbate bigoted attitudes there, and there does not seem to be any critical distance from the political leaders he deals with - particularly troublesome given the increasing authoritarian ruling-style of President Museveni of Uganda.

His actual analysis of the situations in the countries he visits is sometimes also cringingly platitudinous; here he is in Kenya:

"God's purpose for this nation is greater than the pain you are going through now," Dr. Warren told Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka. "From the outside it looks like pain, but from God's perspective, it looks like labor before new birth. Don't look at what you've lost; look at what is left. Kenya is still a vibrant nation, and out of this will come new life for the country and its people."

If the situation in Kenya deteriorates, this is going to look fatuous in the extreme. A report from Rwanda concerning Warren's wife, meanwhile, has the smug headline: "Kay Warren Challenges Rwandan Women about Reconciliation and Forgiveness":

"These are days of mourning and reflection, but also days of hope and healing," Mrs. Warren said. "Rwanda is becoming known - not just for genocide, but for what you are teaching the world about reconciliation. But true reconciliation is not possible without forgiveness."

Mrs. Warren used the New Testament passage found in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant, emphasizing that we are forgiven, so that we can forgive. "I believe in this story that Jesus is calling us to forgiveness, saying, 'It is time to let it go,'" she said.

This contrasts with South Africa, where "truth" was seen as just as important as "forgiveness" to reconciliation, rather than just "letting it go". However, it's a message that's likely to appeal to President Paul Kagame, who is facing scrutiny over his possible role in the 1994 shooting-down of President Juvenal Habyarimana's areoplane, which ignited the massacres.

The Orange County Register, which has followed Warren closely, addressed some of these concerns in January last year; it noted that human-rights workers believe that "Warren and his teams of PEACE missionaries may be unwittingly playing politics."

... led to the advances of the '60's (although I can easily argue that we've been going backward in the last couple of decades).  If African Americans, Jews, and others didn't protest the demonic race laws and repression that was making life hell on earth for minorities, we'd never had the civil rights movement.

And to "Mrs. Warren"- I would tell her that I heard "Let Go" like she preached for most of my life- let go so the church can beat me down again.  Let go of my pay to the pastor so he can have a lavish lifestyle while I did without.  Let go of hope.  Let go of justice.

Let go of thinking, so they can even dictate our thoughts to us.

If the civil rights protesters "let go", we'd still have the poll taxes and everything else connected with Jim Crow.

Her statement rankles almost as much as someone being told to "let go" by the robber who took all of their goods, leaving them to suffer.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 11:24:59 AM EST

I've always been skeptical of overseas evangelism, and Warren is no exception. The fact that his P.E.A.C.E. plan started with "Plant churches" should tell you how self-serving this whole exercise was from the get-go. (I know, they later changed the "P" to "Promote reconciliation"--kind of how our Iraq attack was originally called "Operation Iraqi Liberation" or "OIL", but it was changed because that first name was too much of a giveaway.)

Here are a few other red flags, which reflect the double standards we Americans are willing to tolerate when is comes to conservative Christian missionaries like Warren:

* Warren's quote, "There is only one thing that will unite this nation, and it is not politics - it is the Church, your church." Everyone knows that when religious leaders say something like that HERE, especially with the support of domestic political leaders, it's looked at as a possible attack on the First Amendment. But Warren does it overseas in a country torn by violence, and it's deemed as OK? Don't the citizens of Kenya deserve freedom of religion too, instead of their politicians sucking up to an conservative evangelist with lots of money?

* From the case in Rwanda: "President Kagame continued, affirming Saddleback Church's Western Rwanda HIV/AIDS Healthcare Initiative Project that is reinventing healthcare management and distribution by using churches as clinics. 'This model can be replicated in other parts of our country. More importantly, more Rwandans of faith need to adopt this mindset.'" Using evangelical churches as hubs for health and human services with little to no federal oversight--isn't that the point of controversy here in the United States with Bush's Faith-Based Initiative? Does this mean that separation of religion and state are only important in First World countries like the United States, but not so much in the Third World countries in Africa?

Yes, Warren's anti-gay beliefs (particularly in the context of his focus on AIDS), his close ties to oppressive leaders and his blanket dismissal of political protests are all very troublesome, but it appears that our contradictory approach to the Christian Right goes a long way towards letting jerks like Warren get away with what they do. We all know that if Warren tried that "Purpose Driven Nation" crap here, including cozying up to political leaders, planting hundreds upon hundreds of churches, and using his new churches as centers for health care and human services, he'd face a lot more resistance.

If we pro-religion/state separation folks are going to make any significant gains for our cause, we need to be a lot more consistent in how we approach the issue of freedom of religion. It matters just as much overseas as it does here.

by Mitchell on Thu Apr 10, 2008 at 08:39:27 AM EST
I think that Warren sees an opportunity to get in on the ground floor in some of these countries, the way some colonial churches got a head start just by being the established church of the colony. The leaders of these churches now play roles as Big Men in political affairs (eg, Nigeria, where there is a great variety of Christians, and a gulf between Christian and Muslim rule)

It is naive for them or us to believe that mission churches and their mission-affiliated offshoots can be entirely non-political in the eyes of the host country's citizens and government. Even the best secular NGO efforts at neutrality can still run into trouble if it highlights problems (eg, HIV/AIDS) that the government wants to deny.

by NancyP on Thu Apr 10, 2008 at 02:27:46 PM EST

because all other major denominations and organizations have had clergy who actively participated in massacres.

by NancyP on Thu Apr 10, 2008 at 02:31:17 PM EST

You're probably right about religious participation in the massacres. And to think that some people are skeptical about the effectiveness of organized religion . . . ;-)

Speaking of missionaries, CBS is airing "The Lord's Boot Camp," a special edition of 48 Hours this Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT. It's a one-hour special that focuses on Christian teen missionaries-in-training. The "Boot Camp" in question is Teen Missions International. What's particularly creepy about Teen Missions (and Rick Warren, for that matter) is that for as long as the evangelical Christian community viewed AIDS as "God's punishment" of gay people and have openly campaigned against contraceptives, Teen Missions has given a special priority to "AIDS Orphans & Street Children (AOSC)". The description of the AOSC project is this: "The vision and goal of AOSC is to provide for children whose parents have died of the HIV/AIDS virus, and children who do not have a sustaining family. AOSC provides, in a loving Christian home atmosphere, food, clothing, shelter, discipline, music and Bible training, practical training for the future." Is it just me, or does this sound an awful lot like Christian evangelism programs (such as those in Canada, the U.S. and Australia) that took children away from their parents to convert them to Christianity? However, in this case, the Christians do little to prevent the spead of a lethal virus--in fact, they openly encourage the spread by limiting the funding of the most effective means of stopping the virus--and then claim the remaining orphans for themselves. The more and more I think about it, the more I think that Christian evangelists should replace the cross with a vulture, buzzard, or some other carrion-eating bird as their holy symbol . . .

by Mitchell on Fri Apr 11, 2008 at 08:25:55 AM EST

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