On Being with Krista Tippett

Rick and Kay Warren

At Saddleback

Last Updated

August 21, 2008

Original Air Date

August 21, 2008

In this program we revisit a 2007 conversation with evangelical leaders Rick and Kay Warren — exploring where they came from and what motivates them. Rick Warren hosted the first post-primary joint appearance of Barack Obama and John McCain at his Saddleback Church in southern California, one of the largest churches in the U.S. This two hour event, broadcast live on CNN, is just one sign of the cross-cultural authority he and Kay have achieved in a handful of years.


Image of Rick Warren

Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California and the best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

Image of Kay Warren

Kay Warren is the executive director of the Saddleback HIV/AIDS Initiative and author of Dangerous Surrender.


August 21, 2008

KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett. Today, revisiting my 2007 conversation with Evangelical leaders Rick and Kay Warren, exploring who they are and what motivates them. Last weekend, Rick Warren hosted both Barack Obama and John McCain at his megachurch in Southern California, one of the largest churches in the U.S. This two-hour event, broadcast live on CNN, is just one sign of the cross-cultural authority the Warrens have achieved in a handful of years.

MR. RICK WARREN: The voice of reason gets attacked from the extremes on every side. The fact is when you try to stake out a middle road, which we believe is what Jesus did — Jesus had values, had rules, had commandments that He says, ‘This is the way to do it.’ But He also said, ‘I want to see mercy.’ And He also protected the dignity of people.

MS. TIPPETT: This is Speaking of Faith. Stay with us.


MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett. This hour, we revisit my 2007 conversation with Rick and Kay Warren, who made headlines last week for bringing both Barack Obama and John McCain to their megachurch in Southern California. This Civil Forum on the Presidency, as it was called, is one of the Warrens many new ventures. A discussion with Holocaust survivors was held there last spring. The next Civil Forum will feature former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Rick Warren’s global profile has been rising since the publication of his 2002 book, The Purpose Driven Life. We explore who the Warrens are and what motivates them.

From American Public Media, this is Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. Today, “Rick and Kay Warren at Saddleback.”

MR. WARREN: Now, we believe in the separation of Church and State, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics. Because faith is just a world view and everybody has some kind of world view and it’s important to know what they are. I have to tell you upfront both of these guys are my friends. I don’t happen to agree with everything either of them teach or believe, but they both care deeply about America. They’re both patriots, and they have very different views on how America can be strengthened. Now, in America we’ve got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other, and we need to restore civility.

MS. TIPPETT: Rick Warren’s hourlong live audience with both of this year’s presumptive presidential candidates is just one sign of the cross-cultural appeal and authority he and his wife, Kay, have achieved in a handful of years. They broke the mold of Evangelical leaders associated with conservative Republican politics when they invited Barack Obama to speak at their 2006 Global Aid Summit. In 2007, at the height of the presidential primary season, Hilary Clinton attended the Warrens’ Global Aid Summit, and the five other leading contenders from both parties sent video messages.

I interviewed Rick and Kay Warren in the fall of 2007 at their Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. This is not merely a church, but a 120-acre campus with multiple worship sites, a resource center, and ministry centers for children and students. Some have criticized Rick Warren for watering down the gospel here with easy, New Age worship and themes. By contrast, the late management guru Peter Drucker once called Saddleback “the R and D department” of Christianity. Understanding what the Warrens have created here is key to understanding who they are and what kind of influence they’ve begun to exert beyond this place.

Today, Lake Forest is a busy, sprawling suburb of Los Angeles. But when Rick and Kay Warren arrived as a young married couple with a toddler in the mid-1970s, it was mostly open fields. There was an old, red barn next to the high school in town. Yet following demographic trends, they knew this area was certain to fill up with houses and shopping centers and young families. And they planned to be there as it did.

MR. WARREN: I had studied the 100 largest churches in America. I wrote to every one of them. And it was just on my own. It wasn’t a class assignment. And I thought, ‘What is it that makes a church healthy? That one really impacts the community?’ And one of the characteristics is the pastor stays put. He’s been there, like, 10, 20, 30 years. So I really told the Lord, I said, ‘I’ll go anywhere in the world if you’ll let me spend my entire life in one location.’


MR. WARREN: I really didn’t care where it was.

MS. TIPPETT: Really? So you came here …

MR. WARREN: We made a 40-year commitment.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. OK.

MR. WARREN: We made a 40-year commitment. I was 25 years old. We had gotten engaged. And right after we got engaged, I moved to Nagasaki, Japan, to teach English. And she moved to inner-city Birmingham, Alabama, to work in an inner-city church there. So when we got ready — we were about finishing seminary — I got out a map of the world, and we put it on the wall. And we start praying and said, ‘OK, we’ll go anywhere.’

MS. TIPPETT: Now, you then became one of, you know, some of the innovators in what is now known as the megachurch phenomenon …


MS. TIPPETT: … along with people like Bill Hybels. At the time, did you know that you were setting out to create a megachurch? Did you really have a vision of what it would become?

MR. WARREN: I had never heard the word megachurch.

MS. TIPPETT: Well, I don’t think it probably had been coined yet, had it?

MS. KAY WARREN: That hadn’t been invented, yeah.


MR. WARREN: No. All we knew was we were going to one place for life.


MR. WARREN: And most churches, most organizations set their goals too low and try to achieve them too quickly. We need to set larger goals and then give the rest of your life for them. And so we overestimate what we can do in five years, but we underestimate what we can do in 20 or 30.

MS. WARREN: We had some big dreams. I mean, we won’t …

MR. WARREN: We did, yeah.

MS. WARREN: … deny that. We — Rick had visited, Cho’s church …

MR. WARREN: The largest church in the world.

MS WARREN: Yeah, in Korea.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. I mean, you were studying …

MS. WARREN: Exactly.

MS. TIPPETT: … what made for a vibrant church.

MS. WARREN: And so we had big dreams. We just — we thought it would take those 40 years, you know?

MR. WARREN: Right.


MS. WARREN: If it happened at all, it would take 40 years.


MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.

MS. WARREN: Had no idea that it would grow as quickly as it did. But we fully intended — we didn’t tell people that because we were 25 years old. It was the first church Rick had pastored. You know, people would have looked askance if we had said, ‘And we think, you know, we’ll have 20,000 members someday.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, who are you kidding, guys?’

MR. WARREN: Who do you think you are?

MS. WARREN: Yeah. Pimply faced, little guy and, you know …


MS. WARREN: … scrawny, little girl. But so we believed that that’s what God was going to do. We just didn’t know it would happen so fast.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. There is kind of a contrast or maybe a paradox that wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people in the outside, who don’t know how your church works. Which is to say at one and the same time, it’s a big size, right? It’s — what do you have, 20,000 people on a Sunday?

MR. WARREN: A typical weekend, 20,000. There are over 100,000 names on the church roll.

MS. TIPPETT: On the roll.


MS. TIPPETT: So you’re talking big numbers.

MR. WARREN: It’s a city.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. And this is a …

MR. WARREN: It’s the size of a city. I could be a mayor.

MS. TIPPETT: This is not just a church. This is a campus.

MR. WARREN: I’m Mayor Rick.

MS. TIPPETT: . And then at the same time, the community is really generated and sustained through small groups that you call cells, right?

MR. WARREN: Absolutely.

MS. TIPPETT: So there’s this …

MR. WARREN: In fact, you’re probably one of the only interviewers or journalists who have ever understood what I’m talking, what this is.

MS. TIPPETT: And you know what?

MR. WARREN: Because that really is the key. Most people miss what Saddleback Church or even other churches are about. They see the big service on Sunday. That is the tip of the iceberg, which is less than 2 or 3 percent of the church. What the church is, is what happens during the week, the over 3,300 small groups that meet in homes in 95 cities across Southern California from Santa Monica to Carlsbad.


MR. WARREN: And the over 400 ministries reach out into the community. The Sunday-morning service is simply a funnel. It’s the most visible, but it is, honestly, the least significant part of the church.

MS. TIPPETT: And I think that gets at another, you know, nuance of what makes your church work and grow, which, I think, is not easily understandable. And that is that entry is easy, right? I mean, you create a worship experience that feels very comfortable and inviting to people and perhaps quite different from churches they grew up in.


MS. TIPPETT: And yet, once they’re part of the community, it’s a big commitment. You’re actually asking a lot of people.

MR. WARREN: We’re constantly turning up the commitment. Kay can talk about this. She’s just written a book on commitment about this. But we got this idea from Jesus. When Jesus is walking down the street, the very first thing He ever says, a couple of guys say, ‘Hey, Lord, where are you going?’ And He says, ‘Come and see.’ It’s the very first thing Jesus said, ‘Come and see.’ It’s just like, ‘Check me out.’ There’s no commitment. It’s just, ‘Check me out.’

MS. TIPPETT: So some people criticize you for simplifying the gospel, watering down the gospel.

MR. WARREN: Yeah. Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And I mean, are you saying, in a sense, you do that as a very first impression or …

MR. WARREN: Well, the first place, simplifying and making it shallow are two very different things.


MR. WARREN: Simple is not shallow. Simple is not simplistic. Simple is not superficial. Simple means understandable. You know, I’ve got an earned doctorate in theology and I could use, throw the words around in Greek and Hebrew, and confuse them. And they’d go, ‘Wow, that guy is deep,’ when actually, I was just muddying it. The more important thing is, is it understandable? So I’m a translator. When we first got here 27 years ago, Kay and I spent 12 weeks just talking to people. Before we ever said a word, we just listened. We talked to literally thousands of people.

MS. TIPPETT: Just going door to door?

MR. WARREN: Going door to door and just talking. And what I discovered is most people weren’t anti-God. They just didn’t like church.


MR. WARREN: OK? It’s not like, ‘Jesus — I got no problem with Jesus.’


MR. WARREN: ‘I just don’t like religion. I don’t like the rules, the regulations, the rituals. And it doesn’t make sense to me. And if I went to a church where I got something on Sunday that actually helped me on Monday morning, I’d probably go.’

MS. TIPPETT: But when you think about the commitment that’s involved in being a member of Saddleback Church, you know, what is asked of people …


MS. TIPPETT: … what’s that then beyond that welcome?

MR. WARREN: Well, most Christian believers could not join our church because they wouldn’t be willing to make the commitments. We actually are a church that’s built on four different covenants. And we’re constantly turning up the heat. You can always tell how a church is growing numerically. Just count the people. And you can tell if a church is growing financially. Count the offering.

How do you know if people’s lives are actually being changed? That they’re making a difference in the world and that they’re growing spiritually? Well, one of them is you turn up the level of commitment. And so we have a series of classes — it’s very systematic — that is now called the Purpose-Driven Paradigm. And we’ve now trained over a half a million pastors in 163 countries in this paradigm.

MS. TIPPETT: Rick and Kay Warren. I’m Krista Tippett and this is Speaking of Faithfrom American Public Media. Today, my 2007 conversation with the Warrens, who made headlines last week for hosting both Barack Obama and John McCain at their Saddleback Church in California. I spoke with them there last fall.

What Rick Warren calls the Purpose-Driven Paradigm is based on a course of study that accompanies his 2002 book, The Purpose Driven Life. Warren originally conceived this book as a discussion series to mobilize his congregation toward deeper levels of personal faith and mission in the world — Christian purpose.

Though The Purpose Driven Life did not immediately show up on major best-seller lists, it’s sold in bulk at phenomenal levels in Christian bookstores and through Warren’s global online network of pastors. Sales are now approaching 35 million. A table in Rick Warren’s office is lined with copies of the book in some of the 60 languages into which it has now been translated. This has generated tremendous wealth. In response, the Warrens have paid 25 years of Rick’s salary back to Saddleback Church. They now give 90 percent of their income away, keeping 10 percent for themselves, a practice they call reverse tithing.

And even as fame and wealth rolled in, Kay Warren was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer is now in remission. But almost simultaneously, she had what she describes as an even more life-changing experience than that, a conversion of sorts that Rick Warren now credits with transforming the whole direction of their ministry.

MS. WARREN: The book came out and within about six to eight months after that, I picked up a magazine article that had a story on AIDS in Africa. And I didn’t care about AIDS in Africa. And I don’t — I kind of like just look back and say God intended that particular day that that article would catch my attention because there’s no other reason I would have read it. I didn’t care. But that particular day, when I’d read it, it stirred my heart and it broke my heart. And I realized that I didn’t know anybody with AIDS and I didn’t know any orphans. And that was just a stunning, new thought to me.

MS. TIPPETT: Do you think that there had been an opening for you because of this — of your own illness?

MS. WARREN: I wasn’t sick yet. About a year later, after I’d begun to just take these baby steps in becoming an advocate for people with HIV — I’d been to Africa twice — right after that is when I discovered I had breast cancer. So it was about a year into my own journey of being an advocate.

MR. WARREN: It was the year that Purpose Driven — Purpose Driven Life came out on 9/11, 2002.

MS. TIPPETT: OK. All right.

MR. WARREN: One year exactly after 9/11. It took off in the churches immediately. But it was about a year later that all of a sudden, the media or the public caught attention of it. And that year, when it just exploded, was the year Kay got cancer.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. WARREN: So that was a bit of a confusing time because …

MS. TIPPETT: Well, I would think so.

MS. WARREN: It was, because here was this tremendous success that had come our way. God had changed my thinking radically. I was embarking on a completely different journey, then what I saw happening in the second half of my life. And then right in the middle of that, I got breast cancer. And I was really sick. I mean, the chemo made me really, really sick. I didn’t do treatment well. And so the confusing part was just not the why. Some nice people say, ‘Well, did you ask God why?’ And I really never did say, ‘Why me?’ but I did ask, ‘Why now?’ The timing of it just seemed so — I couldn’t figure it out. So the lessons in that, I mean, changed our life. As you say, it did increase my empathy for people who are sick. It changed me completely to have had cancer.

MR. WARREN: But it’s your interest that got my attention.

MS. WARREN: It was.

MS. TIPPETT: Did you get it at first? Were you with her?

MR. WARREN: Not at all.

MS. WARREN: No. Well, I would bring him, I’d bring him, you know, CDs or tapes. And I’d say, ‘There’s a — you got to read this. You got to …’

MS. TIPPETT: About AIDS in Africa especially?

MS. WARREN: About AIDS. Mm-hmm, about AIDS. And he just kind of was, not patronizing, but just kind of like, ‘Well, that’s good, honey. I’m really glad this is something you care about.’


MS. WARREN: ‘And I support you. And you go for it. That’s great.’

MS. TIPPETT: Tell me what was it that you felt you hadn’t seen, you hadn’t known?

MS. WARREN: I just — I lived such a comfortable life, you know? I have a comfortable life. I have a great marriage, good family. I live in a beautiful part of the country. I mean, I just had so much. And to — it was that day when I read that article, it felt like that a blindfold was yanked off of my eyes.

MS. TIPPETT: That there was this magnitude of suffering.

MS. WARREN: There was a magnitude of suffering, the enormity of children, suddenly the reality, the fact that I didn’t know a single orphan. I can’t even say to you how profound that was to realize that I didn’t know a single one and to suddenly get it.

MR. WARREN: Twelve million just from that one disease.

MS. WARREN: To know at that time that there were in one place.


MS. WARREN: And I just couldn’t fathom that. And that just began a thought process of it opened my eyes to look at the rest of the world. And then I didn’t just see HIV, but I saw, you know, prostitution, child prostitution, child slavery …

MR. WARREN: Trafficking.

MS. WARREN: … trafficking, bonded labor. It just was the doorway to suddenly seeing the way that the rest of the world lives.

MR. WARREN: Because poverty and education and disease and corruption …


MR. WARREN: … all these things go together.

MS. TIPPETT: Entangled, yes. Mm-hmm.

MR. WARREN: You can’t just — once you start dealing with AIDS, which was the catalyst …


MS. WARREN: It was the key, opened the door.

MR. WARREN: … to realize that, you know, by 2020, there could be 100 million people who’ve had AIDS. Well, that makes the Black Plague miniscule in comparison.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MS. WARREN: Well, and when I stopped just reading about it, I had to go. I went to Africa twice in six weeks’ period of time and that shattered me. I said I was a seriously disturbed woman before that, and then I became a ruined woman. Because I saw it with my own eyes, and it became personal.


MS. WARREN: It wasn’t just statistics, because after a while, statistics are numbing. But suddenly, when you see that and it wears a name and a face, it’s just not so easy to ignore. So I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It was things I could have ignored through the other years and thought, ‘Oh, somebody is doing something about that.’

MS. TIPPETT: Right. And you also, in that year, had resources. I mean, as …

MS. WARREN: Suddenly, yes, that’s was an additional thing. But it wasn’t even so much about the resources financially that we had. Because if it were just up to the people who have financial resources, only a few people would be responsible. But the fact is when you look at the Bible, you look at scripture, you just see a page after page after page of God’s love for the poor, for the sick, for the orphan, the widow. And that puts the responsibility back on every one of us, not just those who have financial resources.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. WARREN: When Kay first started talking about the AIDS, I did, I said, ‘Babe, that’s great. You supported me in the vision of Saddleback, and I’m going to support you in your vision. It’s not my calling. My calling is to train pastors and train leaders — and I’ve been doing that for 27 years — and to grow a model church.’ But the more she talked about it, the more it started to grab my heart. And I’m going, ‘This is …’

MS. TIPPETT: And you must have also just been moved by, as she says, how distressed she was.

MR. WARREN: This is a big deal and I could not ignore it. And we say the most powerful language is pillow talk …


MR. WARREN: … you know, when you’re laying in bed and you’re talking about stuff. And so I began to care about it. And so then I decided to go with Kay on one of her trips. She started going to Africa to learn how the African church was dealing with AIDS.


MR. WARREN: Because they know far more about it than we do. So I — she was going to Malawi and Mozambique and South Africa. And so I went to South Africa with her and I did what I do. I trained leaders. And we did a seminar and broadcasted to 400 sites across Africa, had about 80,000 leaders in that. And I thought that that was what I was there for. But sometimes God is sneaky — Kay has taught me this — that He gets you with a curve ball. And I went with her. She was going to go study AIDS, and I was going to go train leaders.

After I finished that training, I said, ‘Take me out to see a typical church.’ So we got in a jeep, and we went out into the middle of the bush. We found this tent church. All they had was a tent. And it was 75 people: 50 adults and 25 kids orphaned by AIDS. So they’re caring for their own kids plus these other kids who’ve lost their moms and dads. And they’ve grown a garden, they’re feeding the kids, and they’ve got a few books. They’re schooling the kids, and the kids are sleeping in the tent at night. And I thought, ‘This church is doing more to help the poor than my megachurch. With so little, they are doing so — we’re not helping one orphan and they’re helping 25, with — all they’ve got is a tent.’


MR. WARREN: And that was like a knife in my heart and I said, ‘That is going to change.’ And it was out of that event that that night that I came up with the idea of what we call the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, and it started a whole new direction.

MS. TIPPETT: Rick and Kay Warren. What Rick Warren calls his P.E.A.C.E. Plan is a new attempt, which is yet to be genuinely realized, to apply the Purpose-Driven vision to global crises such as poverty, illness, and illiteracy. It’s based on a simple idea that local churches are everywhere, and that networks of “purpose-driven” Christians are in position to knowledgeably and practically address global crises one neighborhood at a time, where governments or NGOs might not reach. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, for example, has invited the Warrens to test this vision in his country, which is battling poverty and AIDS as it recovers from a recent history of genocide and corruption.

MR. WARREN: There are a lot problems in the world that affect millions of people, but there are five that affect billions. And as I was traveling around the world in all these countries, I kept seeing the same five problems over and over and over: spiritual emptiness — people lack meaning and purpose to their lives. They’re not connected to God. Corrupt leadership — egocentric, corrupt leadership, self-serving. A lot of people start off with service and pretty soon, it turns to “serve us.” How do I stay elected? How do I consolidate my power? How do I use other people to feather my nest? They start off right, but somehow, there’s a switch in values.

MS. TIPPETT: It’s a human condition, isn’t it? I mean …

MR. WARREN: Yeah. And then, extreme poverty — half the world lives on less than $2 a day. A billion people live on less than $1 a day. We’re working in places like Rwanda where it’s 68 cents a day. They grow coffee and couldn’t afford a cup of Starbucks. Pandemic diseases — this year, 500 million people will get malaria, a problem we solved 100 years ago. It’s unacceptable. It’s like we don’t have the leaders who’ll say, ‘Enough is enough. We’re going to stop this.’ And then …

MS. TIPPETT: But you think that it can be stopped with churches in a way that other approaches have failed?

MR. WARREN: I do, even the literacy, which is half the world can’t, functionally can’t read or write. I was speaking at Davos’ World Economic Forum a year ago, and I kept hearing about people talking about the need for public and private partnerships. And what they meant was business and government has to get together to solve these issues of poverty, disease, illiteracy, trafficking, AIDS, all these different things. And I said, ‘Well, you’re right, but you’re not completely there. You’ve missed the answer.’ Because a two-legged stool will fall over and a one-legged stool will fall over. You need three legs.

There is a government role, there is a business role, and there is a faith role. There’s a church role. There is the public sector, there is the profit sector, and there is the church sector. Each has something that the other can’t offer. There are things only government can do. They build roads. They provide safety. There are things only business can do. They bring capital. They have expertise, management skills. But the church has four or five things that government and business will never, ever have. And those things — we cannot deal with these global issues until we engage what the church has.

MS. TIPPETT: And you’re talking church ecumenically.

MR. WARREN: I’m talking about local churches …


MR. WARREN: … of all denominations. Now, what the church has, when I talk about churches, first thing, universal distribution. I could take you to 10 million villages around the world the only thing in it is church. They don’t have a school. They don’t have a clinic. They don’t have anything else. It is the only social structure in much of the world. You get out of the capital, there isn’t a government in most of the world.

The church is universally there. The boots are already on the ground. The church is bigger than the United Nations. It speaks more languages than the United Nations. It’s with more people groups than the United Nations. There are 2.3 billion people in the world who claim to be followers of Christ. Now, that’s all different varieties, factions, and levels of commitment. But there are 2.3 billion people who are church members. That means the church is bigger than China.


MR. WARREN: It’s bigger than India.


MR. WARREN: In fact, it’s bigger than China and India put together.

MS. TIPPETT: So I want to ask you how you would respond to many people, I think, who would hear that and find it potentially frightening because the church, as you say, means many things. And I think, Kay, even as you got into the AIDS crisis, you felt that the church had made life harder. It had created stigmas. You’ve both talked about repentance in terms of the church …

MS. WARREN: Right.

MR. WARREN: Right.

MS. TIPPETT: … on the issue of AIDS. So how do you, you know, how do you interact with people who say, ‘I get your vision as a management strategy of — you know, it’s really a very powerful idea. But we can’t always count on the church to do the right thing.’ You know, how do, you know, how would you — how do you engage in that conversation?

MS. TIPPETT: Well, I think that we talk about what the church can bring. Yeah, the church has flaws. Church has warts, absolutely. We’ve already mentioned that. But that church brings something to the table that government and business cannot bring, and Rick’s mentioned some of those. But one of the things that the church can bring is love. We do what we do because of love.

We are motivated by the highest motivation there could possibly be, which is we want to serve God. We want to serve people who are suffering. And that gives you a staying power over the long run. And working with people is messy and it’s hard. And so to have that motivation is something that, I think, that the church brings. I think the church also brings the moral authority to talk about getting rid of stigma. It’s one thing for government to say, ‘Everyone must stop hating each other’ or, ‘You must accept people with HIV.’

MR. WARREN: Or, ‘Men must treat women with respect.’


MR. WARREN: And you can say those words, but it’s really only the church that has the moral authority to actually create and help people with behavior change.

MR. WARREN: And change hearts.

MS. TIPPETT: And change hearts and change — yeah, from the inside out.

MR. WARREN: You know, what Kay is saying is really important about motivation. My motivation is I have a savior, Jesus Christ, who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So I’m commanded to do that. Now, that doesn’t have be your motivation for us to work together. What I would say is the people who — I spoke a couple of years ago at the Aspen Ideas Institute, and somebody said, ‘Well, we don’t want people of faith doing it with their faith motivation, because they might want to …’

MS. TIPPETT: They’ll proselytize.

MR. WARREN: ‘… proselytize or whatever.’ And I said this, ‘Well, if you take all the people of faith out of the equation and say only secularists could do humanitarian work, you’ve just ruled out most of the world.’

MS. TIPPETT: Well, let’s talk about one of the reasons I’m sitting here with you, which is the way, I think, Evangelical voices have echoed in this society in the last 20, 30 years.

MR. WARREN: They got off base.

MS. TIPPETT: Say some more.

MR. WARREN: Because, historically, what we’re doing here is nothing new. For 2,000 years, the churches of all kinds — Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, whatever, Orthodox — have always cared for the sick, assisted the poor …


MR. WARREN: … defended defenseless. We were in England a couple of years ago. I was speaking in Nottingham. And I went over to the sheriff of Nottingham’s Castle, you know? There actually was a sheriff of Nottingham. And there’s a statue of Robin Hood out front. And I went down into the dungeon, into the basement, and there was a diorama of what life was like in the Middle Ages. And I took a picture of a poster that said, ‘In the Middle Ages, life centered around the church. They educated the children. They cared for the sick. They taught job skills and mentoring for training. They taught leadership. They were the center of scholasticism and preserved the documents.’ What happened is about 75 years ago, certain groups of believers start thinking you could answer these problems with politics.


MR. WARREN: I totally disagree. And even Evangelical, that term, got co-opted as a political term.

MS. TIPPETT: Especially in the last — just in the last few decades, I think.

MR. WARREN: Yes. In the last 20 years. And it is not a political term. Our kingdom is not of this world. And I, in my church, have Democrats and Republicans and Independents and Libertarians, and I pastor all of them.

MS. TIPPETT: Rick Warren engaged senators McCain and Obama in their first joint public appearance since becoming the presumptive Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. This high-profile event was broadcast live on CNN. My conversation Rick and Kay Warren took place in their private office at Saddleback Church. Watch the video of our complete conversation Web site, speakingoffaith.org. And be sure to download an MP3 of this program for free through our e-mail newsletter, podcast, and Web site. Find links to all these items on our home page speakingoffaith.org.

After a short break, why Rick and Kay Warren want to refashion the agenda of Evangelical Christianity in public life. Also, how Kay Warren talks about both abstinence and condoms in her work on AIDS. I’m Krista Tippett. Stay with us. Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media.

MS. TIPPETT: Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “Rick and Kay Warren at Saddleback.” In the wake of new curiosity about Rick Warren’s rising influence in politics, we’re revisiting my conversation with him and his wife and partner in ministry at their megachurch in Southern California, last fall. Just last weekend, the Warrens hosted both Barack Obama and John McCain for what they called a Civil Forum on the Presidency.

Some see Rick Warren as a Billy Graham figure for this era. He describes himself as far less interested in politics per se than other high-profile Evangelical leaders of recent years. But he has increasingly been a friend and spiritual advisor to powerful people, including Rupert Murdoch and George W. Bush. Rick Warren says he is out to repair an artificial and counterproductive split that took place in early-20th-century Protestantism, defining personal morality and public engagement as competing priorities.

Kay Warren has defied this split as she has become a leading Christian activist on AIDS. She has publicly urged her congregation and others to repent for a past indifference to the AIDS crisis and for contributing to the stigmatization of people with AIDS.

MR. WARREN: The Catholics never separated outreach and spiritual depth from social action. They never went through that split. But Protestants did. And the typically more liberal churches, theologically, said we’re going to care about social issues, social justice, racial justice, poverty, disease, economic issues. In fact, there were a number of theologians at the beginning of the 20th century who basically said, ‘We don’t need the atonement of Jesus Christ anymore. We don’t need personal salvation. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society, and the world will be a better place.’ Well, in reaction to that, of course, Evangelicals said, ‘We’re just going to care about personal morality …’

MS. TIPPETT: Right, right.

MR. WARREN: ‘… and family morality,’ which is right. They’re both right. They are both right.


MR. WARREN: And so there are people like Kay and myself and a whole host of other younger Evangelical leaders who would say this is not an either or. It’s not a black or white. It’s a both and. Jesus cares about economic issues and racial equality and justice issues and things like that, and He cares about personal morality and family. And so what we’re doing is expanding the agenda. And as I’ve said publicly many times, for a long — for a few years now, we’ve been known for what we’re against more than what we’re for.

MS. TIPPETT: You mean, we Evangelical Christians?

MR. WARREN: Yeah. And I intend to change that.


MR. WARREN: I’m tired of that. I’m for the poor. I’m for the sick. I’m for the things Jesus cared about.

MS. TIPPETT: I wonder when you started this, when you landed in Saddleback Valley, if you thought that you would actually have this role in the larger Evangelical movement as this kind of leadership this is …

MS. TIPPETT: Never. Never.

MR. WARREN: We don’t know what our role will be tomorrow.


MR. WARREN: We stopped trying to predict the future a long time ago.

MS. WARREN: No. I mean, I always knew Rick was — that God had big plans for Rick. I met him when he was 17. And I said he was — I had never met anybody like him then and I’ve never met anybody like him to this day. So I had a sense that God was going to do something through Rick, not because Rick was anything different, it’s just — for whatever reason, it was God’s choice that he was going to use Rick. And I always saw myself as a very, very ordinary, average person who didn’t have very much to offer. I always thought it was interesting that Rick decided to marry me, because I thought he was this incredible superstar and I was, really, just didn’t have much at all. And …

MR. WARREN: You didn’t see what I saw.

MS. WARREN: No. He’s always seen potential and …

MS. TIPPETT: But you’re such an important part of how this vision has expanded.

MR. WARREN: Absolutely.

MS. WARREN: That’s the part I didn’t see.

MS. TIPPETT: What you describe you’re doing, you’re bringing together some different traditions. You’re bringing together some values that have, perhaps, artificially seemed to be at different poles. You know, one of the criticisms of Christian activists on AIDS has been, not just proselytizing, but, for example, not talking about condoms at all. So just tell me something about your thought processes and your discernment as you thought about this issue with personal morality, which is important to you …

MS. WARREN: Absolutely.

MS. TIPPETT: … the sanctity of family, the sanctity of marriage values. You believe in abstinence.

MS. WARREN: I do, I do.

MS. TIPPETT: But how did you kind of wrestle with, also, this practical issue of condom use?

MS. WARREN: Well, I spent a lot of time thinking, talking to a lot of people, researching. It wasn’t just my own ideas. But it was just — it finally came down to the place that I could say with conviction and ask people, because that’s one of the first questions people will ask. So which side of the debate are you on in the prevention debate?

MS. TIPPETT: Right. And you have to take a side.

MS. WARREN: And I had to take a side.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, yeah.

MS. WARREN: And what I’ve said — what I believe with my whole heart is, who could ever argue that saving sex for marriage is not a wonderful protection against HIV and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases as well as pregnancy?


MS. WARREN: Who could ever argue that being faithful in a marriage — if a husband and wife are faithful to each other — how could anybody say that’s not a protection? And how could anybody say that using a condom correctly every time consistently isn’t a protection against HIV? So to me, it really wasn’t an either or, it was, they all three are effective. And for me, it’s why not use the ones — I really, particularly, concentrate on A and B because I really believe …

MS. TIPPETT: Abstinence and …


MS. TIPPETT: … faithfulness.

MS. WARREN: Yeah, because of my beliefs in the Bible of sexual purity and believing that that’s the absolute best protection for people. So why not go for the goal? Why not go for the best? And at the same time, I’m also cognizant of the fact that not everybody’s going to do that and not everybody even has that as an opportunity. Gender violence, women are the recipients of violence every day, where they have very few choices.


MS. WARREN: And so sometimes in an ideal world, we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where sometimes things are broken. So I’m not about to say, well, there isn’t this other method that also can be protection …

MR. WARREN: We’re interested in saving lives in any way, that’ll do it.

MS. WARREN: If it’s used …


MS. WARREN: … if it’s used correctly, consistently.

MS. TIPPETT: And that’s a Christian value.

MS. WARREN: Right.


MS. WARREN: And so that, to me, there’s no — I don’t have any — there’s no contradiction between those.

MR. WARREN: What we found, though, is that the voice of reason gets attacked from the extremes on every side. And so we don’t — you know, if we were simply very conservative, we would only have one set of critics: liberals.


MR. WARREN: If, on the other hand, we were liberal in our moral views, we would only have one set of critics, you know: very fundamental or conservative people. But the fact is when you try to stake out a middle road, which we believe is what Jesus did — Jesus had values, had rules, had commandments that He said, ‘This is the way to do it.’ But he also said, ‘I want to see mercy.’ And He also protected the dignity of people, and always defended their dignity …

MS. WARREN: Of all people.

MR. WARREN: … and actually, He was called the friend of sinners. I consider that to be a good reputation. So there …

MS. WARREN: I’d love to have that on my tombstone.

MR. WARREN: I would too.

MS. WARREN: Kay Warren, friend of sinners.

MS. TIPPETT: Kay and Rick Warren. I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, my 2007 conversation with the Warrens, who made headlines last week for hosting both Barack Obama and John McCain at their Saddleback Church in Southern California. This is the Saddleback Gospel choir.

[Sound bite of choir singing “I am a friend of God”]

MS. TIPPETT: You know, Rick, you are known as a friend to a lot of very powerful people now. Rupert Murdoch, who also is your publisher. You said that you’re his pastor. George W. Bush …

MR. WARREN: Well, a lot of people have said that who don’t even go to church.

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, your — and Time magazine has said you’re America’s pastor.


MS. TIPPETT: I want to ask you what spiritual temptations or compromises come with that new role that you have of being influential now?

MR. WARREN: Well, whenever people ask me, ‘What can I pray for you?’ I always tell them, pray three things. Pray for integrity, pray for humility and pray for generosity, because they are the opposite of the three temptations that affect not just every person, but particularly affect every leader. These are the three temptations that were in the Garden of Eden. They are the three temptations that Jesus handled. They are the three temptations Moses handled. The Bible calls them the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh is the temptation to feel. I deserve to feel good. And it’s more than sex. It could be food, it could be drugs. It’s anything I deserve to feel good. I’m going to use my power to make me feel good. Like, when they said, ‘Jesus, why don’t You turn these stones to bread?’ Use your ability, your talent to serve yourself. That’s the temptation to feel.

Then the lust of the eyes is the temptation to have. I see it and I want it. And that, that’s — it’s greed. And then the pride of life is the temptation to be. I want people to worship me. I want people to envy me. And this is passion, possession, and position. Well, the antidote to those three are humility, generosity, and integrity. And if you build your life on those three, then you’re not going to fall for the common things that cause people to stumble. I actually have a file that I’ve kept now for over 30 years of ministry, and every time a Christian leader stumbles in the area of money or sex or pride and there’s an article on them, I cut it out and I throw it in that file. And about every few months, I will go back and I read through that file just to put the fear of God in me.

MS. TIPPETT: But, you know, let’s talk about something more subtle, you know? Not that you would, that you would have a great fall, you know? You do — you have a great marriage …


MS. TIPPETT: … you are a healthy person. I think you’ve worked hard at that. I think balanced inside.


MS. TIPPETT: But you don’t accomplish great things, you don’t write the best-selling — one of the best-selling books in history without an ego, without ambition. You know, you have a personal power as well. I don’t know. What’s the kind of nuance struggle …

MR. WARREN: Well, the — when the book became such a big success and I start getting calls to speak at United Nations …

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, yeah.

MR. WARREN: … Congress, whatever …

MS. TIPPETT: I see a Pentagon over there.

MR. WARREN: Yeah. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and things like that. Well, all of a sudden, I began to say, ‘What am I supposed to do with the money, and what am I supposed to do with the fame?’ And based on two passages of scripture. First Corinthians 9. We made some decisions on what to do with the money. Basically, it was to give it all away. I don’t take the salary from Saddleback. In fact, I added up all the church that paid me in 25 years and we gave it all back. That was actually the easy part. The hard part was what do I do with this notoriety? What do I do with these phone calls when, literally, world leaders are calling and …


MR. WARREN: … on a regular basis? And I found a passage of scripture called Psalm 72. And Psalm 72 is Solomon’s prayer for more influence. Now, when he wrote this Psalm, he was the wisest man in the world, the wealthiest man in the world and the leader of Israel at its apex of power. And yet in this Psalm, he says, ‘God, I want you to make me famous.’ It sounds completely self-centered. ‘I want you to bless me. I want you to spread the fame of my name to many countries. I want you to give me power, and bless me.’ Until you read the motivation behind it, and he says, ‘So that the king may support the widow and orphan, care for the defenseless, speak up for the oppressed, defend the immigrant, the foreigner, those in prison, assist the poor, and care for the sick.’ And basically, he mentions all the marginalized of society today. Today he’d talk about the elderly, the mentally handicapped …


MR. WARREN: … those on the fringe. And to me, out of that passage it said, ‘The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence.’ Most people don’t have the spiritual maturity to handle power. They think it’s for their benefit. It is not. The purpose is to benefit others.

MS. TIPPETT: But when you are being a friend or spiritual advisor to a Rupert Murdoch, to a George W. Bush, to several of the candidates who are running for president now, are you able to be an uncomfortable presence to them, to challenge them the way you challenge your congregation?

MR. WARREN: I don’t have any problem speaking the truth to power. I’ve actually sat with presidents in Africa. And when we’re getting ready to come in and start the P.E.A.C.E. Plan and my first question is, ‘Are you going to rip me off?’ And they say, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, if you’re corrupt, you need to tell me, because you really don’t want me in your country, because I bring a lot of exposure. And if you are corrupt, I will expose it. And so it would be better for you if you’re going to just take the money and put in a Swiss bank account, you don’t want me in your country.’


MR. WARREN: So I don’t have a problem. I can’t give you details. But I want to tell you, I have said some things that Kay said, ‘You said what …


MR. WARREN: ‘… to that world leader?’


MR. WARREN: And I said, ‘Well, since I have you on the phone, I’d like to just tell you this.’ But my — I never ever talk about policy. That is not my role.


MR. WARREN: I am not a politician, and I am not a policy advisor. I’m a pastor. And so I’m going to deal with your character, your integrity, your family, your stress level, your honesty. I do not pretend that I am a consultant to power.


MR. WARREN: I am a pastor to these people, only at their invitation.

MS. TIPPETT: I want to ask both of you about how your theology continues to deepen and expand and change, because you have had so many experiences in the last years that you never predicted that have taken you to new places, to global crises. So, you know, Kay, I would just ask you first, you know, working with people with HIV, which is not just an issue of homosexuality, but you have, then, encountered many people who have encountered this by way of sexuality — heterosexual and homosexual — how has your religious understanding of that changed either in terms of how you think about homosexuality or the proper Christian response to that? How has this changed you?

MS. WARREN: I think that I — I’ve growing up in a very conservative — gosh, I’m having …

MR. WARREN: Family?

MS. WARREN: No. Denomination …


MS. WARREN: … was the word I was looking for. Growing up …

MS. TIPPETT: We’re you Southern Baptist?

MS. WARREN: Yeah, I was. And so I think I grew up pretty typical of a lot of people, being afraid of people who are gay, judgmental, didn’t want to be near them, just incredibly uncomfortable. And in the last five years, I think what I’ve — where I’ve come to is, is understanding God’s deep love for every person He has made. That has been something that has been a long journey for me to understand. And to put myself in the same category of needing Jesus, I think that I grew up putting people in categories as though I was OK and other people were not.

And to understand the depth of my own brokenness, the depth of my own longing to really be close to God, to know that I have a home, that I have a place where my soul can rest where there’s somebody who accepts me, who loves me passionately, who will never stop thinking about me from the day I was conceived, ’til the day I meet Him face to face, and wanting others to have that same relationship.

And so wanting others to have that has caused me to move across boundaries that my tradition, my culture, my faith might have said, ‘No, you can’t go there,’ and to really try to look at people in the same way that Jesus did. And when we’re talking about Jesus was a friend to sinners, I know the ugliness in my own heart. And so by His grace and His mercy, He has accepted me. How could I not offer that to somebody else?

MS. TIPPETT: And, Rick, I want to ask you, a line like this in The Purpose Driven life, “Because God made you for a reason, He also decided when you would be born an in advance, choosing the exact time of your birth and death.” In the last few years, you’ve met people in Rwanda who have lived their entire lives in poverty and genocide, you know, who’ve had to struggle just to survive with body and spirit intact. How is that? What has that done to this theology of yours? How has that expanded or changed your understanding of God or …

MR. WARREN: The reason there are hungry people in the world, there are suffering people in the world is because of our own selfishness. What do I say to a woman in Sudan holding a baby who’s dying of lack of water? The only thing I can say is I’m sorry. I am sorry. Why did I not get here sooner? It is our own selfishness. There’s plenty of food in the world. There’s plenty of water in the world. When I say, ‘God, why don’t you do something about this?’ God is a saying to you, ‘Well, I’m asking you the same question. Why don’t you do something about it?’ God is saying, ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’

And I lay awake at night thinking about that. But on the other hand, I know that, one day, that suffering’s going to be ended. And there is a hope. The bottom line is I believe the hope of the world is Jesus Christ working through His church. And I’m more convinced of that than ever before. And we will work with governments and businesses and nonbelievers and atheists and gays and anybody who wants to work who says, ‘Let’s make this a better place.’

MS. TIPPETT: Rick Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church. Kay Warren has recently published her first book, Dangerous Surrender.

I traveled to the OC, yes, Orange County, California, to interview the Warrens in their offices at Saddleback Church. For a glimpse into the process of producing this program, stream or download video of my entire conversation with them or simply listen to an audio MP3 of that unedited interview. We include you in the production process through our staff blog, SOF Observed, our e-mail newsletter, and our podcast. Get involved and tell us more at speakingoffaith.org.

The senior producer of Speaking of Faith is Mitch Hanley, with producers Colleen Scheck, Shiraz Janjua, and Rob McGinley Myers, with help from Alda Balthrop-Lewis. Our online editor is Trent Gilliss, with Web producer Andrew Dayton. Kate Moos is the managing producer of Speaking of Faith, and I’m Krista Tippett.

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