'Overhyped." That's how the Rev. Rick Warren describes the notion that the evangelical vote is "up for grabs" in this election. But what about the significance of the evangelical left, I asked the pastor of Saddleback Church after his forum with the presidential candidates last weekend. "This big," he says, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.
Sitting on a small stone patio outside the church's "green room," I question him further -- has he heard that the Democratic Party is changing its abortion platform? "Window dressing," he replies. "Too little, too late." But Rev. Jim Wallis, the self-described progressive evangelical, has been saying that the change is a big victory. "Jim Wallis is a spokesman for the Democratic Party," Mr. Warren responds dismissively. "His book reads like the party platform."
So why is most of the press under the impression that Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist, is so different from, say, Focus on the Family president James Dobson? "It's a matter of tone," says an amused Mr. Warren, who seems unable to name any particular theological issues on which he and Mr. Dobson disagree.
Speaking at the Aspen Institute a few years ago, Mr. Warren was asked by a member of the audience whether he believed that she, a Jew, would be going to hell after she died, since she had not accepted Jesus as her savior. "Yes," he answered, honestly.
But Mr. Warren, a large man whose paunch is emphasized by his penchant for untucked Hawaiian shirts, generally leaves fire and brimstone out of his public statements. He is on a mission to bring civility back to America, he says in the sermon the morning after the presidential forum. He believes that people can disagree about the issues without demonizing each other. "We are all created in the image of God."
In our interview, he recalls that tolerance used to be the idea that you "treat others with respect." Now, he laments, it has come to mean that "all ideas are equally valid." And so you can begin to understand why some people today are not happy with the idea of tolerance. But Mr. Warren aims to return Americans to that old view. Despite his calm demeanor, his easy laugh and his casual dress, there doesn't seem to be a relativist bone in Mr. Warren's body.
Read the whole thing- It's well worth it.
Hat Tip: Between Two Worlds