Left and Right Insist Rick Warren's No Billy Graham

Some are comparing Warren to Graham who was "Pastor to the Presidents."


By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country.

Since accepting Barack Obama's invitation to give his inauguration invocation, there's been lots of discussion about whether Rick Warren is becoming the 21st century's Billy Graham, who was "Pastor to the Presidents," among many other things.

Yesterday, conservative columnist Star Parker attacked Warren for allegedly carrying the left's water and dismissed the Warren-Graham comparison:

. . . it challenges even the most creative imagination to picture the Rev. Graham's ever hosting a forum for political candidates.

In an interview, Obama recalled a previous invitation to Saddleback Church. " . . . I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion." I doubt that Billy Graham would see this in the spirit of his own calling to bring the gospel to all who would listen.

Nor would I see the Rev. Graham signing onto the Evangelical Climate Initiative, as has Warren. This gives Christians cover to the left to raise our energy costs to address still-unsubstantiated environmental claims.

Today, Warren gets the "You're no Billy Graham rap" from the left. Religion scholar/blogger Mark Silk writes that Graham would have never been so eager to please the religious right as Warren was:

By comparison with Graham, Warren is a softie—too eager to be loved, too willing to let his opponents spook him. And he's paying a price for it. On Proposition 8, he was so much a non-presence among the pro-initiative forces that AP reporters planned a "Where's Rick?" story. But then, at the 11th hour (on a Friday, to his flock), he allowed himself to publicly support the thing. For his pains, he's been pilloried on the left as just another Dobson. Graham, it's safe to say, would never have succumbed. Just as he never presumed to speculate on the final fate of the earnest non-Christian. Always, he kept his eye on the main chance. By contrast, Warren wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Both of these arguments hinge on how Warren operates vis-à-vis the Christian right. Parker doesn't like how Warren is flouting the Christian right custom of giving their enemies—the Democrats—the cold shoulder. Silk doesn't like the way Warren gave into the Christian right on Prop 8.

But I wonder if it's fair to compare Warren with Graham on responding to the Christian right, given that so much of Graham's time in politics—though by no means all of it—happened before the rise of the Christian right in the 1980s. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was founded in 1950.