NASHVILLE, Tenn. "New breed" evangelicals have been misunderstood by the media, Rick Warren told a Wall Street Journal reporter after the Aug. 22 forum Saddleback Church hosted with presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
"The leader of the fourth-largest church in the U.S. is supposed to be part of a 'new breed' of evangelicals, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and dozens of other publications," wrote Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Journal's Aug. 23 edition. "New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof paid him what Mr. Kristof might consider the ultimate compliment earlier this year, referring to Mr. Warren as an 'evangelical liberals can love.'"
Reporters, however, mistakenly assume that "new breed" Christians who care about the environment and poverty don't care as much about traditional Religious Right issues such as abortion, Warren said.
"I don't just care that the little girl is born," Warren told Riley. "Is she going to be born in poverty? Is she going to be born with AIDS because her mom has AIDS? Is she going to never get an education?"
Warren also told the reporter that many evangelicals are tired of the "combativeness" associated with the religious right. "A lot of people hear [about a broader agenda] and they think, 'Oh, evangelicals are giving up on believing that life begins at conception,'" he said. "They're not giving up on that at all. Not at all."
Warren also said the political significance of the "evangelical left" -- which has been the focus of a lot of reporting in the mainstream secular media is minimal: "'This big,' he says, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart,'" according to the article. He also dismissed activist Jim Wallis, who calls himself a "progressive evangelical," as "a spokesman for the Democratic Party."
Riley's commentary noted that many reporters mistakenly presume that concern about social issues automatically makes a person a political liberal.
"The media assume that when religious people express interest in the problems of poverty and disease, they must have taken a left turn politically," Riley wrote. "But one can be interested in solving such problems without believing that government is the solution."
The "Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency," hosted by Warren's 20,000-member congregation in Orange County, Calif., was the first joint appearance for Obama and McCain since each one effectively clinched their party's nomination. Warren interviewed each candidate for an hour, posing what he called "heartland" questions and giving the candidates an opportunity to respond in depth something he noted that traditional televised debates usually do not afford.
Warren followed the non-partisan forum with a sermon the next morning titled "The Kind of Leader America Needs." He told his congregation that, among the many leadership qualities taught in the Bible, three are "the foundation of successful leadership" integrity, humility and generosity.
"Integrity means you are not a fake," Warren said. "Today, many leaders are more interested in image than integrity." He said, "What we need in America, more than visionaries, more than smart leaders, is we need leaders with character."
The United States also needs leaders who serve with humility because the Bible says God opposes the proud, Warren said. "Humility is not thinking less of yourself," he said. "Humility is thinking less about yourself."
America also needs leaders who generously use their influence to help others, Warren added. "In November, we are going to vote for leaders at every level of government," he said. "Look for leaders who say the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. The purpose of influence is not so you can be powerful. The purpose of influence is so you can use it to do good, to be generous with what God has given us."
Quoting 1 John 2:15-17, Warren noted, "Integrity, humility and generosity are antidotes to the three basic traps every leader falls into: money, sex and power." He called on his congregation to prepare for the next election by praying for the candidates and themselves, by registering and voting and by looking not just at the issues but at the character of people running for public office.