“Rick Warren on the Year we Had” Relevant Magazine
Dear God, it’s been almost two years since I started this prayer to you (January 2021). It’s been sitting here looking at me every time I see the “drafts” for my blog. When I first read this interview with Rick Warren I was struck by how much of you and your Holy Spirit there seemed to be in the article. Now, this morning as I sit and get ready to start this Saturday I felt compelled to revisit this interview and see what you might have to say to me through it two years later.
First, I guess it’s important to flash back to December 2020 (when the interview was published–so it was probably conducted in November) and try to remember where we were as a society. Some of the topics addressed in the interview were:
- COVID restrictions and their impact on the church and society
- George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement
- High unemployment and a faltering stock market
- For some there was isolation, educating children at home, etc.
- We had been through shortages at the grocery store, but that was kind of over
- The phrases “supply chain struggles,” “PPE,” “abundance of caution,” and others entered our vernacular
- We were in the midst of determining who would be the next President of the United States after the November election
The first question they asked Pastor Warren was, “Why do you think COVID has been such a contentious issue for the Church in the U.S.?” The first part of his response kind of says it all: “COVID revealed a fundamental weakness in the Church. Most churches only have one purpose: worship. And if you take worship away, you’ve got nothing. They’re in a hurry to get back to worship because that’s all they’ve got.” He then went on to describe how his church responded.
I like his overall analysis. If you consider that the vast majority of Christians ONLY experience you on Sunday mornings then it makes sense that they didn’t want to give that up. For those who don’t spend regular time in contemplative prayer and scripture, missing their one touch point with you during the week was a big deal. In fact, now that I think about it, I might modify Pastor Warren’s answer to say, “COVID revealed a fundamental weakness in Christians. Most Christians only touch God on Sunday morning in worship. And if you take that away, they’ve got nothing. They’re in a hurry to get back to worship because that’s all they’ve got.” It reminds me of the parable of the sower and the four types of soil. Most Christians are supposed to be battling the thorns of the pursuit of wealth and cares of this world. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do right now by sitting down and praying to you.
The thing presented to Pastor Warren was, “But a lot of churches are nervous about the religious freedom aspect. They don’t want to wear masks. They don’t want to meet outdoors. They’re worried about religious discrimination.” Pastor Warren’s answer was pretty simple, and I agree: “They might have a discrimination case if theaters weren’t closed, football games weren’t closed, concerts weren’t [canceled]. But they are. We’re not being discriminated against. This is a safety issue. Regal Cinemas closed down 650 theaters. Disney laid off 28,000 people. We’re not being discriminated against.”
I think American Christians has no idea what discrimination looks like. I happen to be a tall, white male. I am so “majority” I am practically a minority. But I have a lot of friends and coworkers who are minorities and they tell me about how they are treated differently at the grocery store, at school, etc. I think about Christians being offended at some of the racial injustice issues and wonder if for a day we had to walk around with a “C” on our shirts identifying us as Christians and if we experienced the different treatment how much more would we be protesting. There were many Christians angry at the protests of police over racial injustice, but when the justice department and FBI treated one person in a way they deemed unfair they were ready to “defund” it. We simply have no idea what it looks like to be persecuted. In fact, we probably accidentally persecute others a lot more than we realize, and that includes me. I am not innocent, I’m sure.
Speaking of political unrest, the next question was, “We’re in an unprecedented era of political division; what’s that been like for you? Obviously many Christians are and have always been concerned about pro-life issues.” After commenting on people only caring about Black people if they are in the womb and not after they are born, he dove more to the point: “Christians today lack biblical discernment. They’re making decisions based on political values rather than biblical values. This is a real problem. The whole election, regardless who you voted for, revealed that most Christians don’t have a biblical worldview. They don’t vote from a biblical worldview. They vote from a political worldview. Their identity comes primarily from politics. It’s partisan.”
This reminds me of something I heard a couple of months ago when someone said that the church has made negotiable things (healthcare, environment, COVID response, etc.) non-negotiable, and we have made the non-negotiable (the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, etc.) negotiable. We’ve told our politicians to not negotiate on things that should be negotiable, and we have loosed them to do it through whatever means necessary (things that should be non-negotiable).
They asked him about hosting McCain and Obama for a Civil Forum at the church in 2008. “Do you think we’ll ever be able to get back to that level of civil, political discourse?” He replied, “It’s only going to happen when there’s a revival in our hearts…People don’t come back to God in good times. Go read Judges. Go read the whole history of when things are bad, then we come back to God. Every other time in history that America has had a disaster, we have banded together. If it’s a fire, if it’s a flood, if it’s a terrorist attack.”
Yeah, I had hoped COVID might draw us together, but I don’t think social media will allow that to happen anymore. I can’t help but wonder what 9/11 would have been like if Twitter, Facebook, etc. had been a large part of the equation. I honestly don’t know what it would take to draw us together now outside of a really, really huge disaster. But honestly, that’s not where my hope is. He mentions that the historical time when the church grew fastest was in its first 300 years–when it experienced the most persecution. Maybe all of us, including me, need to be broken all the way down to really know you. But I will add this quote from Pastor Warren, which is really good: “Christians, our job is to run into the pain. [speaking of first- and third-century plagues and people fleeing the cities] Christians moved into the city, moved into the urban areas to care for the sick and dying. In those pandemics, and in showing our hospitality, we invented this thing called the hospital. The Church invented the hospital during a pandemic. Government didn’t invent the hospital. Business didn’t invent the hospital. The Church invented the hospital, showing hospitality to people who were dying and caring for the sick.” Amen. I hope I could live up to that legacy.
The final question was about racial injustice: “The Church has struggled intensely with this year’s reckoning of racial injustice in America. Looking at our response, it hasn’t been pretty. How can Christians improve our response?” His response was long but really good and enlightening to me:
Of our 20 Saddleback campuses, most of those pastors aren’t white guys. They’re Hispanic, Asian, Black. They are Middle Eastern. But when I saw this happening, and the brutalization and racism coming back to the forefront, I thought, “OK, it’s not enough to simply be a multicultural church. We’ve been a multicultural church for 20 years. We have to be an anti-racist church.”
We have to be a pro-reconciliation, pro-justice church. I invited my Black staff to spend time with me. We did a Zoom call and I said, “Guys, I need you to just level with me. I don’t want to hear about when you experienced prejudice and rejection as a kid. I want to hear about how you’ve heard and felt it at Saddleback.”
It was a two-and-a-half hour meeting. It was brutal. It was painful. It was beautiful. It was healing. We all cried together. We did seven staff meetings, over two hours each. They shared their stories, and then I let the staff respond. There was weeping, and there was repentance.
I had a call with all the Black members of Saddleback. People said, “Rick, I love my church, I love you. But many times, I just feel like my church doesn’t understand. I’m the only Black woman in a small group of white women. Not one person has asked me: ‘How do you feel about these shootings?’ I have a son who’s about Ahmaud Aubrey’s age and it scares me.”
I’ve been pulled over like everybody else has. It always raises your fear level. But I’ve never been afraid somebody was going to throw me on the ground. I’ve never been afraid that somebody’s going to pull a gun on me me driving while white.
Our daughter used to date a man who was not White. We liked him and were supportive of the relationship, but we warned her that she needed to be prepared to experience racism in a way she never had before, both for herself and if they had children one day. I have a relative who has White children from his first marriage, but now his second marriage is to a lovely Black woman and they have two children together. I am sure he has experienced this issue in a whole new way. We as a majority can be so blind. I would have told you that there were no racial tensions in my high school which was probably about 60% White and 40% Hispanic with almost no “Other.” From my perspective, everyone got along great. But it’s interesting now to go to the reunions 35 years later and see that almost all of the attendees are White. Was there something I missed in the experience my Hispanic classmates had in school? Is there a reason they don’t want to come?
Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, use all of this to remind me that 1.) the most important thing is to keep the soil of my heart tilled and my branch attached to your vine, and 2.) I still have so much to learn. Give me eyes to see. Give me ears to hear. Give me an open heart and no defensiveness.
I pray all of this by the name of the Triune God,