Rick Warren, best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, California, drew lots of fire from fellow Evangelicals last week.
He invited Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) to speak during an AIDS summit he hosted at Saddleback for pastors and other faith leaders. The summit's title: "We Must Work Together."
A group of prominent conservative church leaders sent an open letter to Warren demanding that he rescind the invitation to the Senator because of Obama's position on abortion rights. Their strongly worded letter went on to say that despite the summit's invitation, they could never work with the likes of the Senator.
Warren's church responded with a statement that acknowledged the opposition but also made the case for reaching out to "new allies" in the war on AIDS.
The church's letter read in part, "We do not expect all participants in the summit discussion to agree with all our evangelical beliefs. The HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by evangelicals alone. It will take the cooperation of all."
Warren, who has strongly opposed abortion rights, noted that the goal of the summit was "to put people together who normally won't even speak to each other."
Warren sounds like a guy who knows something about how to actually set in motion steps to change the world.
What has a person's "position" on abortion got to do with attacking the AIDS pandemic in Africa? How does inviting a powerful Senator into the mix of this conference increase the number of abortions performed each year in this country? How does shutting him out reduce the number of abortions or help slow the spread of HIV infection or come to the aid of African children who have been orphaned by parents who died of AIDS?
Is everything always a matter of "either/or"?
Can honest people of goodwill disagree and still decide to work together on the common ground they might find they do share, if they worked together?
We experienced this same phenomenon last spring when we invited former North Carolina Senator and Vice-presidential candidate John Edwards to speak at our Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Event.
Because the Senator was a Democrat and because of his position on abortion and other matters, we set off an uproar among some of our supporters, or more accurately today, former supporters! [Edwards actually believes in taking steps to curtail the number of abortions performed in the nation.]
Never mind that the Senator was coming to our event to talk about poverty in America or that he now directs the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina's School of Law, an enterprise focused on the same critical issues we try to address here in Dallas.
Never mind that a few years earlier we invited then Texas Governor George W. Bush to speak at the same event, which he did.
Attitudes that exclude, block and discourage honest conversation and discourse cannot be good for any of us.
I know for a fact that any time discussion is cut off or limited in the city, people suffer and things do not improve. In fact, things get worse.
So, I say, "Way to go Pastor Warren! Thanks for being courageous and committed. May leaders like you multiply and may we learn something from you!"