This past couple of weeks and particularly this past weekend, coverage of Christianity was wall to wall in the media. We had After Jesus — The First Christians on CNN which we reviewed in the blog article “Merry Christmas from CNN.” CNN followed up with the Anderson Cooper 360 special, which we reviewed “What is a Christian?” I was looking forward to some down time with the family and decided to set the recorder to capture the various programs that were being done on Christmas and Christianity. There is The Birth of Jesus, Who is Jesus?, One Nation Under God. It seemed that a great deal of the available media was about Rick Warren, especially on FOX. There was the special “Can Rick Warren Change the World?” and “The Three Purposes of Christmas.” Rick was a guest on MSNBC’s Meet the Press with Tim Russert. There was also the December 22 article in Christianity Today “Three Purposes of Christmas” by Timothy C. Morgan. In between family gatherings I read the C.T. article and watched “Meet the Press.”
I was a little disheartened by C.T.’s coverage on this. I have enjoyed a fairly good working relationship with them over the years. It is true and even expected that we don’t always agree with one another’s positions on various issues but there has been a general respect between us. C.T. was willing to take a potentially unpopular stand about Bill Gothard as being a false teacher when other organizations and media have turned a blind eye to the destruction he and other false teachers bring in to the church. After MCOI exposed Gwen Shamblin as a false teacher who had infiltrated the church C.T. was one of the first to expose her. However, I am concerned about the handling of Rick Warren in this recent article (it should be noted that I did email Tim Morgan prior to writing this but have not heard back as yet). As I read it I noted that Rick did three things with regard to Tim Morgan’s first question:
“World Net Daily columnist Joseph Farah has been hugely critical of your trip to Syria and your explanations, suggesting that you exhibit behavior ‘bordering on sociopathic.’ What’s your reaction?”
1) Rick Warren began by demonizing Joe Farah with his accusation that: “This is a fellow who’s hooked his star to criticizing somebody. There’s so many over-the-top things about it.”
2) After making his assertion, without naming anything that was “over- the-top” Warren successfully distracted the conversation to how many churches there are in Syria. Although possibly interesting it was irrelevant to the question.
3) He went on to claim “A lot of the criticisms have come from people who politicize the Christian faith. To them, politics is more important than winning people to Christ.”
As to number 1 and 2 I think this is a serious problem for the following reasons. First, either Warren said the things that Joe Farah (and MCOI in our blog) claims he said or he didn’t say them. If he didn’t say them than both Joe Farah and MCOI would be biblically required to publicly repent of the libel to at least the same degree that we published it to begin with. On the other hand if he did say them and then lied about and is attempting to cover it up we have a credibility issue. Rick Warren was allowed to demonize his critics without being called to account to prove his accusations.
Second, according to the article “Megapastor Rick Warren’s Damascus Road experience,” when Farah asked Warren for copies of the video tape his team shot while in Syria the reply was, “He also told me he did not tape anything while in Syria, ‘because it was a courtesy call, like I do in every country.’” I am sure Farah would be more than happy to provide copies of his and Warren’s emails to verify this exchange. As Farah was reading Warren’s email a link was sent to him to a YouTube video recording of Warren saying what had been ascribed to him. The video tape unfortunately for Warren demonstrated that Farah and MCOI had been correct in our handling of the facts. Shortly after this was pointed out to Warren the video mysteriously disappeared from YouTube. However, not before an audio copy had been made of it by a radio station who subsequently made it available on the Internet. Warren was not truthful about his statements and was at best factually challenged (in secular circles this would be called a lie) about the event not being videotaped. Now that I think about it, this is beginning to sound very Clintonesque. Warren didn’t actually say the event wasn’t video taped but that “…he did not tape anything…”
The message of the Christian faith is about repentance and restoration. If Rick had been honest to begin with rather than attempting what looks like a cover up, the pain would have been over fairly quickly. If he is covering this up what else could he be hiding? Perhaps he needs to go to the “warnings file” he talks about in the C.T. article and reread the clippings there. I will refrain here from suggesting which of Rick Warren’s three categories that I believe this falls in to.
Third, while sending an email apology to Farah, Warren also sent an email to his followers attacking “four bloggers” and claiming they had based on their material questionable sources. Warren wrote:
“Recently, four “bloggers” made accusations about my visit to Syria (between speaking in Germany and Rwanda). They based their accusations on a Syrian state press release!”
This is artfully written as it provides Warren with “plausible deniability.” It is pretty well known who the four bloggers are but if he is called on the carpet by any one of them he has left an escape route of “Oh, I wasn’t referring to you. It was four other bloggers.” It should also be noted that Warren’s statement is designed to imply that the Syrian state press release is questionable or inaccurate although he doesn’t actually claim either one. I have to admit this is shrewd for if someone accuses him of saying the Syrian Press twisted his words he could deny having said that as well. For someone who claims to not be a politician Rick Warren has learned to do the Political Two Step very well. In reality the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Syrian state press release is irrelevant. Our claim was based on his own words and not the press release. Although Joe Farah started with the press release he allowed in his article “The purpose-driven lie” that Warren’s words may have been twisted. In fact, Farah went so far as to say that he hoped that was the case. As it turns out it is Warren who is tinkering with verbiage.
In C.T.’s article Warren is quoted as saying, “A lot of the criticisms have come from people who politicize the Christian faith. To them, politics is more important than winning people to Christ.” These are very serious allegations and I would suggest that he needs to demonstrate his case. Simply making assertions about motives and the priorities of one or more individuals is insufficient. His assertions must be proven. If he in unable to do so he has committed libel and character assassination with the aid of C.T. I can state for the record that his claims are untrue for MCOI. I cannot comment for Joe Farah but the bulk of Farah’s material had to do with Warren’s honesty and trustworthiness. After watching Warren on Meet the Press I find it very interesting that he so glibly demonizes others:
“I would say I’d like to see a culture of civility. Our civilization is becoming less civil. It’s just gotten quite rude and you don’t have a right to demonize somebody just because they’re different. Civility means I’m going to treat you with respect even if I totally disagree with you.”
Is pointing out Rick Warren’s seeming inability to tell the truth and providing evidence for our claims “over the top,” uncivilized and rude? Does he mean that he has the right to demonize others with unfounded accusations but others are “uncivilized and rude” for following the biblical teachings on holding leaders accountable? His accusation that those of us who have raised this issue have placed politics above the gospel is also interesting in light of his view that there is no need to do Jewish Evangelism because there are already enough Christians. (See our article Rick Warren — Story Teller). Simply because the secular media has elected Rick Warren to the office of Evangelical Pope and installed him as “America’s Pastor” does not mean that he actually is infallible or unaccountable.
I am not saying that Rick Warren doesn’t have some good things to say nor that many of the things he says aren’t worthy of consideration. I am not saying that he isn’t a nice guy nor that he doesn’t have good motives. He may. But if we look to Scripture on the issue of leadership one of the first qualifications for an Elder is to “be above reproach.” (1 Tim. 3:2) It does strike me that a high profile leader needs to be accountable particularly when he publicly assassinates the character of another or several others for telling the truth. This is our biblical responsibility according to 1 Timothy 5:19-20.