This bothers me for a number of reasons (you can watch video of the event here). And no, it's not because I'm a Hillary-hating fundie who froths at the mouth everytime I hear or see her. And no, I'm not against a church hosting such a conference. Indeed, I applaud Warren's efforts on this issue.
Here are the questions bothering me:
(1) I'm sure Pastor Warren has a heart of gold so I've got no questions whatsoever about his motives. But is Warren savvy enough not to be used as a political pawn? While I may not question Warren's motives, I extend no such courtesy to Clinton and for good reason. Is Hillary really interested in partnering with evangelical churches across America to address our social ills? If so, this would be evident in her actions prior to this conference. If such action is almost entirely absent from her past public record, is it more reasonable to think that an appearance at Warren's conference is nothing more than an attempt to woo evangelical voters? Now, I'm not opposed in principle to candidates making an appeal to constituents. I just think we need to wisely assess such appeals. And of course I'm not opposed to Christians being active, aggresively active, in the public square. Christians belong in politics. But such involvement also requires prudence so that one's efforts aren't merely used by politicians or a political party.
(2) Has the congregation at Saddleback been equipped to think biblically about the role of government? Do they understand the Church's role corporately, if there is one, and the role of each individual believer in politics? If not, aren't there serious liabilities for a pastor and his flock, to bring in a major presidential candidate to such a conference, especially given the timing? Church members who spoke to the media after Clinton's appearance seem to indicate so. One church member who, according to this article, is "a Republican considering voting for Clinton," said this: “She understands the magnitude of the problem and what it will take to address it. I was very impressed by her.” Another member was so impressed she had this to say of Clinton: "She is my new hero." Should Hillary be elevated to hero status merely because of her stance on this single issue of AIDS? Does the AIDS issue carry such magnitude that is trumps all other issues? Unfortunately, such comments seem to reveal an inability to take into accout all of the views an individual holds on various issues.
(3) Is AIDS a weighty enough issue that the church should focus on it to the exclusion of other important issues, such as abortion? And no, no, no -- I'm not saying that's what Warren or Saddleback do. What I'm pointing out is the recent trend amongst Evangelicals in general to focus on social issues like poverty and AIDS, while turning their backs on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. Indeed, in some Evangelical circles they've moved beyond such divisive issues altogether. Now, I hope Saddleback has an active and thriving abortion ministry but I just don't know. I would love to see Warren put just as much effort into a national conference on abortion as well. With his public profile and influence, he could have a tremendous impact. And abortion seems to be the weightier issue by far. Consider the amount of lives lost to AIDS and to abortion. According to the Center for Disease Control about 17,000 AIDS-related deaths in the United States in 2005. Certainly 17,000 dead is very tragic. And I know Warren's plans extend beyond the U.S. to Africa. But take the U.S. abortion numbers and compare: by conservative estimates you've got more than one million abortions each year in the U.S. And you have almost 50 million abortions since 1973.
17,000 lives lost versus more than 1 million lives lost annually. You tell me which issue seems to be more weighty.
To be fair to Pastor Warren, he talks about the issue a bit more HERE and offers a quick response to his critics, albeit a very inadequate response. And again, I think that Warren's effort to address AIDS is noble. Indeed, I'm saddened to see things like this from the article: "According to a 2005 poll by the Christian research group Barna only 17 percent of evangelical Christians surveyed said they would be willing to help AIDS orphans." I want to see Christians out front on a host of social issues, including AIDS. However, I'm afraid there's a subtle movement away from some of the most important social issues the church needs to be addressing and an embrace of more popular and less divisive issues. I truly hope this kind of conference is not a part of that movement.