For a president with little to do but pardon turkeys in honor of Thanksgiving, little to look forward to but packing his bags and evacuating the White House, and less positive accomplishments to look back on than most presidents, this year’s World AIDS Day will clearly be a high point.
On World AIDS Day, Monday, December 1, Rick Warren, pastor of the Lake Forest, California-based Saddleback Valley Community Church and who is well on his way to becoming one of the most recognizable and powerful pastors in America, will be hosting his Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Washington, D.C.-based Newseum. As part of the event, Warren will be giving President Bush the first “International Medal of PEACE” from the Global PEACE Coalition, in recognition of Bush’s “unprecedented contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases,” a Saddleback Church press release announced.
According to the press release, Warren will discuss with both Bush, and the First Lady, their “past accomplishments and priorities moving forward regarding international health issues — including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.”
President-elect Barack Obama, who appeared with Senator John McCain at this past August at the Saddleback Forum on the Presidency, will provide a video-taped message addressing the future of global health.
“No U.S. president or political leader has done more for global health than this Administration, which has raised the bar on America’s role and responsibility for providing critical humanitarian assistance around the world,” Warren said. “Over the past eight years, the President and Mrs. Bush have traveled the globe as they and their staffs have worked tirelessly to bring awareness and solutions to pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, and we are privileged to honor their efforts on World AIDS Day.”
Bush, whose approval ratings with the American public is amongst the lowest recorded since polling firms began asking the question, will no doubt cherish receiving this award. It may be one of the few note-worthy aspects of his presidency.
Warren’s recognition of Bush revolves around the Administration’s “implementation and success of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has provided $18.8 billion since 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS,” the press release pointed out. “Congress has recently authorized an additional $48 billion for ongoing efforts to address this pandemic as well as tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years.”
“As my wife Kay and I have been implementing the PEACE Plan in 68 developing countries, we have seen firsthand many of the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been saved through PEPFAR and the President’s Malaria Initiative,” Warren said. “I hope that this Forum will show the American people that our global health programs represent more than compassionate humanitarian efforts, but are also a strong, prudent pillar of American foreign policy.”
Warren, recently dubbed a “celebripastor” by DMN News, is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, a book that has sold over 50 million copies. He recently announced a partnership with the Reader’s Digest association that will pool their international resources to develop an entity called The Purpose Driven Connection, a multi-media “platform to help people who are seeking their purpose in life and wish to interact with others on their spiritual journeys.” The will be “The Purpose Driven Connection” quarterly magazine; study materials delivered in DVDs, workbooks and downloadable discussion guides; and a state-of-the-art Christian social networking website.
Earlier this month, Warren “released his first book since his best-selling Purpose Driven Life as part of a special three-tool outreach for the Christmas season,” the Christian Post reported. The new book is called The Purpose Driven Christmas. “People are more open to the Gospel at Christmas than any other time,” said Warren.
According to the Christian Post, “All three tools are based off a Christmas message Warren had delivered two years ago at his Southern California megachurch that drew around 4,000 people and saw more than 2,000 accept Christ.”
Warren said that “Fox News then showed it on their television show the next year. The year after that, the Armed Services Network asked to show it to their entire Armed Services network around the world, so I decided, ‘Why don’t I turn this into a little booklet – kind of a handout for evangelism?’”
In August, Warren said: “I have never been considered a part of the religious right, because I don’t believe politics is the most effective way to change the world.” However, a week before the election, Warren told his congregation: “Here’s an interesting thing: there are about 2% of Americans [who] are homosexual, gay, lesbian people. We should not let two percent of the population determine—to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not even just a Christian issue, it is a humanitarian and human issue, that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation. I urge you to support Proposition 8 and to pass that on.”
After the initiative passed, hundreds of anti-Proposition 8 protesters targeted Warren’s church. According to CNSNews.com, a conservative news service, “the same-sex marriage advocates were expressing their anger at Warren, pastor of the Southern California mega-church, for speaking out in support of the California initiative.”
A mid-November piece at The Daily Beast, Max Blumenthal, one of the most intrepid reporters covering the Religious Right, pointed out that “In the past, Warren’s crusading against gay rights was generally ignored. When Warren shepherded his congregants to the polls in 2000 to vote for Prop 22, a California ballot measure banning same-sex marriages … [overturned by the state Supreme Court earlier this year; a decision that led to Proposition 8 being placed on the ballot], he hardly caused a stir outside evangelical circles.”
At the time Warren received a “letter of gratitude” from the Christian right godfather James Dobson, Blumenthal noted.
In 2004, “in the last days of the presidential race … Warren sent an urgent blast email to hundreds of thousands of evangelicals insisting they base their votes on five ‘non-negotiable’ issues: abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, human cloning, and euthanasia.”
At a time when the old timers on the Religious Right are passing on and/or losing their cache, Warren is clearly in line for the role of the Billy Graham of this generation: His August presidential forum; his close relationship with President-elect Obama; his multi-million dollar media deals; his willingness to extend the evangelical agenda to include AIDS, combating poverty and global warming; and his celebrity will contribute to his garnering the mantle of “America’s Pastor.”