Bashing Rick Warren, Star Parker Reveals Christian Right's Fears

Rick Warren's Christian critics have remained mostly under the radar.


By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

There's been a lot of under-the-radar grumbling in the Christian right about Rick Warren's acceptance of Barack Obama's invitation to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration. But few of Warren's Christian critics have been willing to take their complaints public, given his megapastor stature; his The P urpose-Driven Life has sold more hardbacks than any other book in American history except for the Bible.

That helps explain why a recent AP story about Rick Warren's critics on the right neglected to name a single right-wing critic.

In her syndicated Scripps Howard column today, conservative activist Star Parker breaks the silence, blaming Warren's forum last summer with Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain for delivering a chunk of evangelical votes to the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights president-elect:

Last August I wrote a column critical of Rick Warren's decision to host a presidential candidate forum at his Saddleback Church.

My reasoning then was that America's crisis is moral ambiguity. I argued that Pastor Warren would only contribute to this ambiguity by hosting candidates with opposing views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality and presenting himself as a neutral moderator.

Only Barack Obama would gain, I felt, being showcased as an acceptable candidate by one of the nation's best-known evangelical pastors. If John McCain had wanted to clarify his social conservative credentials, he didn't need to go to Warren's church with Barack Obama to do it.

Evangelicals and other Christians listened as Warren called Obama and McCain "friends" and "patriots" and watched as Warren winced no more than would have Larry King when Sen. Obama said it was above his "pay grade" to consider if and when an unborn child has human rights.

Evangelicals had already been hearing from Warren, and left-leaning pastors like Jim Wallis, that they should broaden their primary concerns beyond sex and abortion.

In retrospect, I cannot prove that I was right. But I think the evidence powerfully supports my claim.

Obama picked up five percentage points of the evangelical vote over what John Kerry received in 2004. Those five percentage points amounted to about a third of Obama's winning vote margin over John McCain.

Sure, the Saddleback Forum alone does not explain this shift. But the legitimacy Obama gained that night certainly didn't hurt.

The largest shift was among 18-29-year-old evangelicals. Obama got 32 percent of their vote—double what John Kerry had gotten.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after the forum, Warren was oblivious to the vulnerability of this group. The Journal reported, " for the notion that younger evangelicals are ready for rebellion against their parents' ideals, Mr. Warren cites polls showing that the younger evangelical generation is even more concerned about abortion than the older one." True. But this was only one part of the picture.

In 2007 the Pew Research Center reported that Republican identification among 18-29-year-old white evangelicals had dropped from 55 percent in 2005 to 40 percent.

A survey done by Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 26 percent of 18-29-year-old evangelicals, compared to 9 percent of those over 30, support same-sex marriage.

The Christian right rarely goes public with its fears about Democrats making inroads among evangelicals, but here Parker has mapped out those fears in stark detail. I consider it a public service.