Dear Pastor Warren,
I am writing to you to express concern about something that may get lost when you host the candidate forum with John McCain and Barack Obama at Saddleback Valley Community Church which is likely to receive national attention. The decision to address you on this question in an open letter comes with some trepidation, but I have attempted to reach you through your media agency, the church email, and your personal email with no effect. I hope this message in a public forum will come to your attention instead of sitting unread in a pile of fan mail and requests for favors.
You see, I understand and appreciate who you are and what you’ve done. You are one of the most widely known pastors in the nation and have written one of the best-selling non-fiction books of the past several decades. I have many times walked into friends’ homes and have seen The Purpose-Driven Life sitting on coffee tables or bookshelves. When Time named you one of the most influential evangelicals in America, I agreed and applauded the selection.
During this period of well-deserved fame, you have been a good steward of the blessings God has provided. You gave away 90% of your massive royalties and repaid your church for years of salary. Instead of following the sometimes frivolous paths of other celebrity pastors, you focused in on the suffering of AIDS victims in Africa. You and your wife Kay have been outstanding role models. You have avoided making intemperate statements. Neither have you become some kind of caricature of the pastor in politics, ready to drop anything for a talking-heads appearance anywhere, anytime.
In your news release about the candidate forum, you suggest that you will avoid “gotcha” questions. The topics highlighted in the release are poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate and human rights with a special emphasis on character and leadership rather than programmatic details.
There is much to be said for rising above partisan politics. After all, the church is on a mission from God to all the earth. It is emphatically not intended to be a tool for either one of the political parties. We are after bigger game than a balanced budget, the right kind of welfare state, or term limits. We seek redemption for a world we believe has lost its way.
However, there are certain issues that demand the church’s involvement, issues of basic justice, issues of life and death. Perhaps the least ambiguous of those issues is the protection of babies throughout pregnancy and immediately after birth. We live in a culture that, strangely, acts as though unborn children are like genies that can be stuffed back into the bottle. We know that isn’t true. We know that abortions end with little piles of bloody flesh and bone. Fetuses don’t merely cease to exist. They experience violent physical death.
There are many doctrinal issues that divide Christians, but the protection of young life should not be one of them. Pastor Warren, as Protestants, we are part of a tradition that loves to point to the early church — the young church so pure in our estimation — still uncorrupted by the power of empire. That church, that persecuted church, was a tireless defender of life. Early Christians counseled against abortion and actively rescued infants exposed to the predators and the wild by Roman parents who vested few rights in human beings shortly after birth. A child of the wrong sex or one who looked weak could be abandoned. How strange it is that today a candidate claiming to be a Christian could oppose the Born Alive Infants Protection Act or a ban on partial birth abortion! To do so is to disclaim not only a major part of Christian teaching, but also a cultural advance in favor of protecting the weak and innocent.
Pastor, you know both John McCain and Barack Obama. You know where they stand on the protection of innocent human life. While it is a fine thing to allow both men to expound upon their experience, their leadership ability, and their attitudes toward challenges of the future like AIDS or climate change, I submit that you would do a disservice to your congregation and to the church at large if you host both candidates and ignore the issue that divides them more clearly than almost any other. Barack Obama has indicated a willingness to change his position on a number of issues, including drilling for oil, the way the Iraq war is conducted, and the proper understanding of gun ownership rights. But his position with regard to abortion rights is positively adamantine. Abortion on demand is non-negotiable. McCain, on the other hand, has consistently voted against a broad abortion license.
Some would respond to me, though I doubt you would, that I am emphasizing one issue unfairly. My answer is that this issue is basic. If the year were 1958, instead of 2008, do you think it would be right to host such a forum and ignore segregation, knowing one candidate was ardently in favor of the separation of the races? You and I both know that it would be wrong to gloss over a glaring breach of that kind. We both know many in the church were wrong in just that way. (It is a terrible irony of history that Mr. Obama now stands with those who favor the persistent removal of an entire class of human beings from legal protection through legal fiat. How I wish it were not so.)
My hope is that you will make no promise to leave the foundational issue of the sanctity of life untouched in this forum. If the lack of that promise means the forum may not take place, then I suggest it would be better to cancel it.