CBS probes if the Christian right is turning left
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Friday November 30, 2007
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Evangelical pastor: The Church has to 'repent' on the AIDS issue
Evangelical Christians have for years been strongly associated with the Republican Party. According to CBS, white evangelicals make up about 25% of the electorate, and 78% of them voted Republican in 2004. However, now certain evangelicals are showing a willingness to listen to the Democratic Party's message of compassion for the poor and sick.
Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, was recently criticized by some on the religious right when he invited Hillary Clinton to speak at his church about the AIDS epidemic. "The greatest criticism that Jesus got, he got not from political people or from secular people," Warren told CBS. "He got it from religious people. And it's amazing to me that sometimes the people who understand grace are the least gracious people on the planet."
Warren's most striking and heartfelt comments came when he told CBS about his own awakening to the necessity of an evangelical response to the AIDS epidemic. "I have to admit, the church was late to the table on this AIDS issue," Warren stated. "And we had to repent on it. I just personally had to repent. I didn't get it for years."
"I was raised in a tradition where we cared about the soul and undervalued the importance of the body," Warren went on. "Jesus cared about the spiritual and the physical. He healed them physically and he healed them spiritually. ... The Bible says that he went into every village preaching, teaching, and healing. ... Christianity is a teaching and healing faith."
Rick Warren has emerged over the last few years as a leading figure in pulling evangelical Christianity away from the grip of the extreme religious right. The Boston Globe wrote of him two years ago that "what Warren has started is a seismic shakeup of the American evangelical movement. ... Warren, 51, has managed to marry a simple message -- 'It's not about you' -- with an integrated mesh of mass media that is growing his audience exponentially. As American political life has shifted toward the right, Warren has assumed a place in the center of the movement, one of a new generation of leaders who have eclipsed and distanced themselves from controversy-dogged televangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell."
When Warren sponsored a Global Summit on AIDS and the Church in 2006, he explained that he and his wife see the church as an important part of the solution to the global AIDS epidemic. "Beginning in 2002, a series of circumstances convinced us that God intended for us to use whatever influence we might have to help those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. At first, our hope was simply to add another voice in speaking up for those who are being ignored. But as we studied the pandemic and the related problems such as the lack of a grassroots global distribution network for medicine and nutrition and the need to mobilize millions of volunteers, we realized that the missing part of the solution was right in front of our eyes! The answer is local congregations."
Warren welcomed both Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and the extremely conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) to that conference, saying, "We’ve got to work together where we can work together. ... Right wing, left wing. I’m for the whole bird. ... You have to have two wings to fly."
However, Phyllis Schlafly and other religious conservatives issued a press release denouncing Warren's decision to invite the pro-choice Obama and asserting, "If Senator Obama cannot defend the most helpless citizens in our country, he has nothing to say to the AIDS crisis. You cannot fight one evil while justifying another. ... Accordingly, we call on Pastor Rick Warren to rescind his invitation to Senator Obama immediately. ... The name of the seminar at which Senator Obama will be appearing is entitled, 'We Must Work Together.' No, Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama, we will never work with those can support the murder of babies in the womb."
This video is from CBS's Early Show, broadcast on November 30, 2007.