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November 27, 2006

RE: Warren and Obama

One of my comments seems to have gotten lost along the way, so I'm going to try again with a regular post and see what happens

I agree that there is room for all citizens -- whether Christian or not -- to work together for certain political and social causes that affect us all. We will find common ground with people of other faiths (even no faith) who would like to see abortion or cloning banned, or marriage remain an institution between one man and one woman, etc. These associations operate in the "kingdom of this world": they're part of our "duty to Caesar."  That's NOT what I was objecting to. But since I've obviously not done a very good job making my qualms about what Warren is doing clear, let me try again.

As Christians, we are called to minister to those who are sick, but our concern for those individuals doesn't stop with their physical well-being. Only WE have a message that speaks to their soul and to their need to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Thus, Christians should be approaching the issue of AIDS in Africa as a Christian mission that speaks to the needs of both their bodies and their souls. After all, to paraphrase Jesus, what good does it do those suffering from AIDS to gain their mortal life and lose their immortal soul? We show up as Christians -- filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and in loving obedience to the Word -- to minister to those who suffer from AIDS with a clear message: "We're here because we love Jesus Christ, and because He loves you. We're here to offer you practical help, but also to offer you something far more valuable: we're here to tell you about the One who died for your sins and who makes it possible for you to become part of an eternal family simply by trusting in Him as your Savior." This keeps the reasons for what we do completely clear, in our minds and in the minds of those we minister to. It also means that the work, and its fruit, is 100% HIS. God gets all the glory.

I know this approach works. Years ago, I was part of a group that raised money to buy food for some people starving in southern Russia (they were predominately Buddhists). When the missionaries took food out to the villages, the villagers themselves said, "The Russian government doesn't help us, the Buddhists don't help us ... only Christians from America have cared enough to help us." This gave the missionaries an open door to talk about WHY there was such a difference, and many came to know Jesus as a result.

Not only do we need to keep our motives clear for those we minister to, we also need to keep them clear for those we minister WITH. This is the point behind that command that tells us we are to be careful who we enter into long-term associations with: what fellowship does light have with the darkness? None, since our motives for what we do (no matter how noble the cause) is compromised when we join with those who know nothing of Christ, with those who claim to be Christians but live in disobedience to His Word, and with those who know nothing of the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit. It's no longer a unique, Spirit-led expression of our love for Jesus Christ; it's just another good-works project that any human organization made up of spiritually dead people can emulate.

This is why I have a problem with Warren linking his church with secular individuals and organizations to fight AIDS in Africa. First, he has lost sight of the unique calling that belongs to the Church: to join with non-Christians means to go to the lowest common denominator (physical help, but no uniquely spiritual help). Second, all those compassionate and caring unbelievers show up and see no difference between themselves and the Christians in the group. "After all," they'll think, "we're all good people. We don't need to be Christians, we don't need to be born again. God likes us all."

Someone (sorry, I forget who) asked what message we would send about the Church if we don't work with everyone? My question is this: what message do we send about the Church if we do? When we start thinking and acting as if the Church is just another do-good organization among many, we have lost something essential about who we are in Jesus Christ. I don't care how great the cause, I'm not willing to sell the Church's spiritual heritage for a mess of pottage because the cost, borne by those who never see their need to trust in Jesus Christ, is eternal damnation.

So, I go back to my original proposition. If Warren wants Obama (a compromised Christian given his stand on other life issues) and unbelievers of every stripe to help fight AIDS in Africa, fine. Just rent a civic center and hold a conference there. Don't slap a spiritual veneer over those activities that will only add to the spiritual blindness of the apostate and lost. But if he really wants to do something to address both the physical and spiritual needs of the Africans, he should host a "Global Christian Conference on AIDS" instead. I still believe the Church can do this ... and do it right because God really is "on our side" and His Spirit really can make the impossible possible.

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Comments

Katharine Eastvold

Thanks for your more detailed explanation! I agree with you on most points. You are absolutely right that the real hope we hold out to the suffering is not the hope of physical healing, but the hope of eternal life. And in that way we are better equipped to help the suffering than any secular group could ever be.

At the same time, Jesus clearly did call us to give tangible, worldly aid to "the least of these," and in that arena, the Church may not have as much expertise as some secular groups or individuals. At a conference such as the one Rick Warren's church is hosting, the tenets of our faith should be held out for all to see; we absolutely should not be ashamed of our faith or tip-toe around our intention to share the Good News as we seek to heal the sick and help the poor. But as long as non-Christian participants in the conference understand these underlying assumptions and do not have an agenda of undermining the Church's mission, then I don't see why a non-Christian speaker couldn't be invited to speak at such a conference - on such topics as he or she does possess expertise, whether that's how best to distribute drugs to AIDS patients, how to deal with corrupt African governments, or whatever.

You have a point that it might be better to have such a conference at a "neutral site" such as a convention center, rather than on church property. But renting out a convention center is an extremely expensive proposition, and when a church (like Warren's) has the facilities to host something like that, it might be poor stewardship to spend so much money on another facility.

To me, the questions of where to host the conference, which speakers to invite, etc., are questions of prudence. They are important and should be discussed, but there is no absolutely right or wrong answer, as long as the unique mission of the Church is kept at the forefront and is not hidden away in order to appease secular speakers. Secular people must speak at such conferences on the church's terms.

But aside from those cautions, I don't believe there is a moral problem with the kind of thing Warren is doing.

(As I said before, the question of whether Obama himself is a good choice to speak at this conference is another question entirely; I was (and am) addressing only the question of whether it is permissible and/or wise for a church to invite a non-Christian speaker to such a conference.)

Kamilla

Diane,

Thank you for the clarification. I agree with your concerns. Low-church Evangelicals sometimes don't see this distinction with regard to sacred spaces - whereas liturgical Christians generallly do (I am the latter).

How true, if this conference were in a neutral space, most of the criticism would be moot. However, I still have the concern about the contradiction between Warren's authoship of the "5 Non-negotiables" essay before the 2004 election and then inviting to speak a politician who is, as a matter of record, in violation of at least 4 of those non-negotiables. Has Warren changed his mind on what is negotiable?

Kamilla

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