Rick Warren

Survey of clergy spouses shows that privacy, isolation are issues in their glass houses

Survey of clergy spouses shows that privacy, isolation are issues in their glass houses

Study the weekly calendars of most American churches and somewhere there will be a reference to a "prayer group," or words to that effect.

These gatherings may take place at church, in homes or at a coffee shop. The format will usually be informal, but -- after snacks and a devotion of some kind -- people are offered time to share what is happening in their lives so others can pray for them.

What is a pastor's spouse supposed to do?

Consider these numbers from a recent LifeWay Research survey of 720 spouses randomly selected from a multi-denominational list of Protestant pastors. Nearly 50 percent of clergy spouses said their candid prayer requests "would just become gossip," with 11 percent "strongly" agreeing. Half said they no longer confide with church members because they have been "betrayed too many times."

"For these spouses, the walls around them are pretty high," said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. "If you ask them to open up with people in a new church community, they're already going to be pretty cautious about doing that."

While this survey found high levels of satisfaction among clergy spouses, concerns about privacy and isolation are the "kind of thing that seminaries may need to warn people about when their spouses go into the ministry," he said.

There's more. Nearly 70 percent of these clergy spouses said they had few friends with whom they could be candid. Just over half said they had experienced "personal attacks" in their current church.

Are they are living in a "fishbowl"? Half agreed.

Pastor Rick Warren, Michael Phelps and the story of a #PurposeDrivenSwimmer

Pastor Rick Warren has heard his share of inspiring stories about people reading "The Purpose Driven Life."

That comes when the territory when you write a book that sells about 40 million copies and gets translated into 85 languages. But the leader of Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, Calif., was surprised when he watched the ESPN feature "The Evolution of Michael Phelps" and learned that his book played a major role in helping the superstar recover from a personal collapse that left him considering suicide.

"I haven't met Michael Phelps yet," said Warren, reached by telephone. "A mutual friend gave me his cell, but I thought the last thing he needed was for me to bother him during the Olympics. …

"The key is that he was honest and he did a turnaround. … Wherever he is in his journey, I'd love to hear about it. You start where he is."

Phelps was brutally candid, with ESPN, about his frame of mind in September of 2014, after his second DUI. He thought this was his "third strike" in life.

"I was a train wreck. I was just like a time bomb, waiting to go off. I had no self-esteem, no self-worth," said Phelps. "There were times when I didn't want to be here. … I just felt lost. Where do I go from here? What do I do now?"

The crisis came after the most decorated Olympian in modern history ended his hasty 18-month retirement after a weak, by his standards, showing in London in 2012. After the arrest, Phelps hid in his bedroom for five days. "I didn't eat. I didn't really sleep. I just figured that the best thing to do was end my life," he said.

Pope, global conference see threats to family and 'human ecology'

Pope Francis has been preaching on marriage and family for a year, describing in increasingly vivid terms a global threat to what he has called "human ecology."

"We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable," he said last fall, at the Vatican's Humanum Conference on marriage.

"The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection."

In his historic address to the U.S. Congress, the pope concluded with this same point: "I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family."

As a result, he warned, many young people are growing up "disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. … We might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family."

Ironically, while the world's attention was locked on Pope Francis during his U.S. visit, the event that brought him here -- The World Meeting of Families -- unfolded quietly in Philadelphia with 20,000 people in attendance, drawing little media attention.

Religious liberty in crisis -- almost everywhere

Here's a tough question for American pastors: If local school officials voted to limit the freedom of Muslim students to publicly practice their faith, would you urge your flock to protest? Those who believe in religious liberty must answer "yes," according to the Rev. Rick Warren, leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

"If a school district tells me that a Muslim girl can't wear a headscarf to school, I'm going to oppose that rule," he said, during a recent forum held by the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center For Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.

"If they say she can't wear a headscarf to school," he said, then "tomorrow they're going to say that I can't wear a cross and carry a Bible."

This raises another question: If the leader of one of America's most prominent megachurches headed to the barricades to defend the rights of Muslims, would the press coverage say that he is taking a "liberal" or a "conservative" stand?

Then, would Warren receive the same label if he protested in support of a local Christian college's rejection of the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception, sterilizations and even "morning-after pills"?

Both protests would be in support of freedom of religion.

"The worse thing that could happen" in public discourse today, he said, would be for the term "religious liberty" to become a "code word for one side or the other, for liberals or conservatives, or Republicans or Democrats. ... That would be a fatal mistake for the party that didn't support the first freedom of this country."

Recent American debates about religious liberty have centered on whether the White House or any other branch of the government can decree that "freedom of worship" is more worthy of protection than the "free exercise" of religious freedom, a much broader constitutional concept.

While the HHS disputes will almost certainly reach the U.S. Supreme Court, the organizers of the Georgetown forum dedicated just as much attention to limitations on religious freedom worldwide, a trend being documented in annual reports by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The most recent survey noted: "Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters of the world's approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier. ... The rising tide of restrictions ... is attributable to a variety of factors, including increases in crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred or bias, as well as increased government interference with worship or other religious practices."

The bottom line is that religious liberty is important for believers and unbelievers and is linked to the success of any state or government, said Thomas Farr, director of the Berkley Center. Studies indicate that religious liberty promotes economic development, women's rights, political stability and improved care of the poor and the vulnerable.

But severe restrictions on religious freedom, especially for religious minorities, are increasing and not just in the developing world, he said.

"Christians are the most likely victims and Muslims come in a close second. While most of the persecution takes place outside the West, neither Europeans nor Americans can afford to be complacent," said Farr. "Social hostility toward religion is rising faster in Europe than any other region of the world. And here in America, where religious liberty has long been considered the first freedom of our constitution and our history, both social hostility and government restrictions on religion are on the rise."

For Warren, the key is for Americans to be willing to stand up for the rights of others, even those whose religious beliefs they believe are eternally in error. Many American Christians "need to repent" because they have failed to display that kind of true tolerance, he said.

"God gave us the freedom to chose. ... We make moral choices," he noted. "God gives me the freedom to choose what I believe. God doesn't even force me to love him -- he gives me the choice to love him or reject him. He gives me the choice to obey him or to disobey him. If God gives me that choice, then I owe you that choice and you owe me that choice."

Define ‘evangelical’ — 2013 edition

List America’s prominent evangelical Protestant voices and the Rev. Rick Warren remains near the top, up in the mix with the Rev. Brian McLaren, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Jim Wallis, the Rev. Tim Keller and others.

Many evangelicals, of course, like to argue about who belongs on that list. In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that the experts are finding it harder to decide who is and who is not an “evangelical” in the first place.

“I know what the word ‘evangelical’ is supposed to mean,” said Warren, 58, leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with its many branch congregations and ministries. “I mean, I know what the word ‘evangelical’ used to mean.”

The problem, he said, is that many Americans no longer link “evangelical” with a set of traditional doctrines, such as evangelistic efforts to reach the lost, the defense of biblical authority, projects to help the needy and the conviction that salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ, alone.

Somewhere during the George W. Bush years the word “evangelical” — a term used in church history — got “co-opted into being a political term,” said Warren, in a recent telephone interview.

Arguments about this vague word are not new. During a 1987 interview with the Rev. Billy Graham, I asked him point blank, “What does the word ‘evangelical’ mean?”

The world’s best-known evangelist responded, “Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody, too. … You go all the way from the extreme fundamentalists to the extreme liberals and, somewhere in between, there are the evangelicals.” Ultimately, Graham said an “evangelical” is someone who preaches salvation through faith in Jesus and believes all the doctrines in the Nicene Creed — especially in the resurrection.

Warren said he would certainly agree with Graham’s bottom line, which is that “evangelical” must be defined in terms of doctrine. The problem is that this isn’t how the term is being used in the public square — especially in the news media.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, he said, most journalists “seemed to think seemed to think that ‘evangelical’ meant that you backed the Iraq war, for some reason or another. … Right now, I don’t think there is any question that way too many people have decided that evangelicals are people who oppose gay rights — period. That’s all the word means.”

Warren based this judgment on his experiences during 22 interviews with major newspapers, magazines and television networks — a pre-Christmas blitz marking the release of an expanded, 10th anniversary edition of his book “The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?” The book has sold more than 32 million copies around the world, with translations in 50 languages.

By the end of that media storm, Warren said members of his team were starting to cast bets on whether the perfunctory gay-marriage question would be the first, or the second, question in each interview. On CNN, interviewer Piers Morgan noted that the U.S. Constitution and the Bible are “well-intentioned” but “inherently flawed.”

Morgan continued: “My point to you about gay rights for example — it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.”

Warren, of course, disagreed: “I do not believe the Bible is flawed, and I willingly admit … that I base my worldview on the Bible, which I believe is true, and truth. … It was true 1,000 years ago, it’ll be true 1,000 years from today.”

Time after time, said Warren, interviewers assumed that his beliefs on moral and cultural issues — from salvation to sexual ethics — were based on mere political convictions, rather than on the Bible and centuries of doctrine.

“I’ve decided that don’t have faith, so politics is their religion,” he said. “Politics is the only thing that is really real to many people in our world today. … So if politics isn’t at the center of your life, then many people just can’t understand what you’re saying.”

In the end, said Warren, it may be time for various brands of Protestants — charismatics, Baptists, Wesleyans, Lutherans, Calvinists and others — to stop trying to rally under a common “evangelical” umbrella and to start talking more about the specific traditions that shape their beliefs and actions.

“Maybe ‘evangelical’ will be like the word ‘liberal,’ ” he said. “When that word turned into a negative, all of a sudden everybody on the left turned into ‘progressives’ and they moved right on. … Perhaps it’s time to give ‘evangelical’ a rest.”

God, Allah and Rick Warren

At the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, centuries of Islamic doctrine have literally been carved into the shrine's walls. Two quotations on the northwest wall will be of special interest to anyone interested in the latest whirlwind of controversy linked to evangelical superstar Rick Warren and his giant Saddleback Church.

The outer face inscription states, in part: "Praise be to God who has not taken a son and who does not have any partner in dominion. ..." On the inside, after a reference to Jesus, is written: "Peace be upon the day he was born, the day he dies and the day he is raised up alive. That is Jesus, son of Mary. ... It is not for God to take a son."

In other words, Islam proclaims a strict monotheism, while rejecting the Christian belief that God is One, yet has been revealed as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Thus, it matters that fundamentalist critics are circulating excerpts from a recent Orange County Register report claiming that Warren and his megachurch have joined with nearby mosques to promote a "set of theological principles" -- called the King's Way -- proclaiming that "Christians and Muslims worship the same God."

Warren is never quoted affirming these crucial claims and the article also reports that leaders on both sides have agreed to cease evangelistic efforts to convert members of each other's flocks.

The preacher and bestselling author has attempted to distance himself from the online firestorm, which builds on longstanding claims by religious broadcaster Jack Van Impe that Warren has become a proponent of "Chrislam" -- an alleged attempt to blend Islam and Christianity.

Warren's defenders have, however, posted an interview transcript in which he has responded to these "Chrislam" allegations.

"Christians have a view of God that is unique," stressed Warren. "We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not three separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else."

The Saddleback leader also denied that King's Way efforts to build a "bridge" of understanding and tolerance represents a change in his Southern Baptist congregation's commitment to evangelism.

"Building a bridge" to the Muslim community, said Warren, "has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It's all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It's about genuinely loving people. ... Before people trust Jesus they must trust you. You cannot win your enemies to Christ, only your friends. ... Besides, it is Christ like to treat all people with dignity and listen to them with respect."

Meanwhile, the conservative "Apprising Ministries" website has posted what it claims is a piece of a King's Way document obtained by the Register from a source close to the interfaith effort.

In its section on God, this report claims that both sides -- backed with quotations from the Bible and the Koran -- agreed that "God is one," "God is the Creator," "God is different from the world," "God is good," "God loves," "God is just" and that "God's love encompasses God's judgment."

The problem, of course, is that Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews, have for centuries proclaimed that "God is one" -- while disagreeing on whether this oneness can be reconciled with Christianity's doctrine of the Trinity.

Contacted by email, Warren insisted that public discussions of an official King's Way doctrinal statement -- as opposed to a program by that name that promotes interfaith understanding -- caught him by surprise. "Neither I, nor my staff had ever seen such a document UNTIL the article mentioned it. It wasn't created or even seen by us. ... Saddleback church as a church was not involved," he said.

However, the bitter cyber-debates continue, similar to those surrounding Warren's efforts to promote dialogues with atheists, gay-rights leaders and President Barack Obama and his supporters on the Christian left.

Asked directly if he is "promoting Chrislam," Warren released this blunt reply.

"It's the lie that won't die," he said. "Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation. Period. If I didn't believe that, I'd get into much easier line of work! But I do believe that everybody needs Jesus and I am willing to put up with false statements and misunderstandings in order to get the Gospel out."