Excerpted from "Rick Warren’s Shadow SOTU," National Review Online, February 18, 2013--‘I’m not interested in politics,” Rick Warren announced to a small press gathering. Warren, the Evangelical author of The Purpose-Driven Life, which has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages, leads southern California’s Saddleback Church, where he once hosted a presidential forum between John McCain and Barack Obama, back in the day. But on this particular day Warren was focusing on an issue here at home, an issue he has been speaking out about this past year. He was challenging the leaders in our nation’s capital to do a little soul-searching about the nation’s stewardship of the gift of religious liberty.
“Freedom is fragile. It never, ever, ever lasts unless we protect it, preserve it, defend it,” Warren said, sitting in Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. The "first freedom," Warren says, “is the freedom to practice my faith and values and not just to believe it.” He adds that “it’s also the freedom to convert,” though “it isn’t faith if it’s forced.”
“Religious liberty is not given by the state,” he observes. “It is given by God. Some people are so afraid of coercion, they oppose persuasion.” Clearly not this preacher man.
Warren was asked why he was digressing from his mission abroad, where he is fighting poverty, disease and human trafficking and working to make sure kids have clean water. Why is he setting all that aside to quibble with the Obama administration about an issue widely perceived to be about access to contraception? Warren was firm, contending that there are enough of us to fight all the various forms of injustice. He stands “100 percent” with his Catholic brothers and sisters. Under the current rule, he said, “You have to change your beliefs or pay a fine.”
He continued: “We’re not going to agree on values in America. Because we don’t. We have different values. But can we all agree on freedom? Can freedom be a unifying factor? History proves that freedom is incredibly fragile and it never, ever, ever lasts unless it is nourished and protected and it is defended.” He says we can lose it out of neglect, surrender it out of fear or “license it away.” “It is the duty . . . of every generation to re-preserve the freedom.”
I met privately with Pastor Warren just before this news conference. As we discussed challenges to protecting religious liberty in the U.S., I handed him a replica of an anti-slavery coin minted in the 18th century by Britain's William Wilberforce and the Clapham Group abolitionists. We discussed the importance of imitating the ingenuity of those abolitionists by taking our religious freedom message to our culture in creative ways--notably through the entertainment industry and the arts.
Pastor Warren agreed and said he would contact several Hollywood producers. He also noted, 'People remember slogans, not sermons: 'We shall overcome,' 'Ask not what you can do… .'' He observed that the model for advancing religious liberty in our culture is the civil rights movement, adding, 'The power of non-violent protest is enormous and Christ-like. The willingness to suffer will win even more people than advertising.'"
For this reason, Warren has told the owners of Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned company facing millions of dollars in fines by the administration for declining to participate in the HHS abortifacients mandate, "If you guys go to prison, let me know and I'll go with you." As Warren explains, "If I don't have the right to believe what I want, [all other] freedoms are irrelevant."
Protecting our religious liberties is protecting the right to share our faith, to live according to conscience guided by God and to help others in the name of Christ. May God prepare us, as he did Queen Esther in biblical days, for 'such a time as this' and give all of us such courage to stand up for what is right.