Warren Returns

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With a new magazine to hawk, Rick Warren has broken media silence and given interviews to Larry King and Christianity Today‘s Sarah Pulliam.Students of the great one’s purpose-driven public life have taken note, and noted certain inconsistencies between past and present pronouncements. Both Gilgoff and BaptistPlanet make clear that Warren is now representing himself as softer on gay marriage than he appeared heretofore. To be fair, he was something of a reluctant warrior during the run-up to the Proposition Vote. What’s interesting is that he seems to be letting the zeitgeist blow him along as it listeth–toward the recognition that gay marriage is where America is headed.

Let me just call attention to a couple of Warrenisms. First, when Pulliam asked for his views on the Obama interation of the faith-based initiative, he said:

Those are great goals. My fear is that if all of a sudden you have to
compromise your convictions to be part of the faith base, that will
kill it. People will simply ignore it. Saddleback has never accepted
government money for any PEACE Plan
project because we don’t want the strings attached to it. While the
faith-based initiatives have great promise, if it becomes an issue
where you can’t just hire Christians in a Christian school, that will
effectively kill them.

On the one hand, he is exactly right to make the point that those who see their service missions as religious should steer clear of government funding. On the other, no one has proposed to do away with longstanding rules exempting bona-fide Christian schools from anti-discrimination laws against hiring based on faith. The question is whether you should get the hiring exemption when you’re using government funds to advance a public purpose.

Then there’s this, in response to Larry King’s question about John Meacham’s ARIS-based Newsweek cover story, “The Decline of Christian America.”

KING: OK. Do you think Christianity is slipping in America? That’s the
front cover of “Newsweek,” out today. Quite a loss occurring in the
Christian community. There you see the headline.

Well, I would say it’s the best of times and the worst of times. First
place, I don’t think that all of the questions that are asked in
surveys are always as objective as they could be. For instance, if you
ask people, are you a Protestant — and the number of Protestants has
gone down dramatically in the last 30 years. I don’t even call myself a

So terminologies are changing. I don’t think faith is changing that much.

On the one hand, the ARIS surveys don’t ask people if they’re Protestant. They ask, “What is your religion, if any?” And the fact that the number of “just Protestants” has declined from 17 million to 5 million in two decades is simply a report on what people say. On the other hand, terminologies are changing. And what the ARIS shows is a huge increase in those who call themselves non-denominational Christians and “just Christians”–the Rick Warren people. Not enough, however, to prevent a 10 percentage-point decline in the proportion of Christians in America, with 90 percent of that coming in the non-Catholic portion of the Christian population.