WASHINGTON – American Christians should repent for not supporting the religious freedom of people of other faiths, mega-church pastor Rick Warren said at a recent forum in Washington, D.C.
“Seventy-five percent of our world lives in societies in which there is no religious liberty,” said Warren, who urged Christians to advocate for the freedom of all people to practice their religious beliefs.
Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has written such popular books as The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church and gave the invocation for the 2009 inauguration of President Obama.
He also has spoken out in defense of religious liberty, especially in recent responses to the Obama administration’s health care rule that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptive drugs, including those that can cause abortions. Warren addressed religious freedom at a Feb. 12 forum sponsored by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
“I believe in the original meaning of tolerance…. I believe in historic Christian doctrine and common good,” he said.
Warren said freedom of religion is much more than the freedom to worship; it is being able to practice beliefs and values, and having the ability to convert.
Being free to convert and walk alongside those who do not agree with our beliefs is imperative in today’s pluralistic society for social and economic reasons, he said. Warren stressed the need for the preservation of America’s religious liberties protected by the First Amendment.
“It is the responsibility of every generation to preserve the freedoms,” Warren said, quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech to Congress.
Photo by Matt Miller
Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., seen here at the 2011 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., emphasizes a need for religious freedom around the globe.
Religious freedom is the foundational freedom of America, Warren said.
Using the metaphor of a stool, Warren explained faith is the missing leg of the stool upon which American society sits.
“A one-legged stool will fall over,” said Warren. “A two-legged stool will fall over; it takes a three-legged stool to make a society strong.”
By combining the use of the public, private and faith sectors, there can be a stronger global society. He said the faith sector will bring almost “a dozen” things to the table that the private, or business, sector will never be able to – such as universal distribution.
Using the African country of Rwanda as an example, Warren told how he worked alongside President Paul Kagame with the help of people of mixed faiths to rebuild the nation’s health care infrastructure through the institution of the church.
The church is the biggest institution in the world, and if religious freedoms are infringed upon, then globalization and flourishing of institutions spearheaded by churches of various faiths or denominations will cease to exist, Warren said.
“Rick Warren has put the Body of Christ in its proper place at the center of the conversation. We share his conviction that Christians have a window of opportunity to strengthen the indigenous Body of Christ for ‘acts of charity’ in places like Egypt,” Coptic Orphans said in a written statement in response to Warren’s comments at the forum.
Coptic Orphans is a Christian development organization that aids fatherless children in Egypt.
Although Warren emphasized the need for religious freedom in relation to the flourishing of institutions, he did not describe how those with different moral standards and conflicting views on human value would work together.
Everybody has a worldview, and no matter what that view is, there should be a place for everyone at the table, Warren said.
Timothy Shah, a visiting professor at Georgetown and associate director of the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project, moderated the forum with Warren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tonika Reed, a junior at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press.)