For the Rev. Mark E. Whitlock, watching Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren do the work of God – even if he observed from a distance – has been “refreshing.”
Whitlock, senior minister at Christ Our Redeemer Church in Irvine, said in his view the moment that defined Warren came in 2009; Warren gave the invocation at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., and then headed to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he addressed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s congregation. By doing that, Whitlock said, Warren showed a divided nation what it means to mend relationships between races and political ideologies.
“Pastor Warren stepped out of his comfort zone of Saddleback into a black church, and stood in the word of God,” he said.
“Ministers like me look up to Warren’s leadership.”
In the past 35 years, there have been a number of highs and a few lows for Warren’s ministry, which is among the largest churches in the nation.
In 2004, Saddleback Church formed the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church. In 2005, the church conducted its first Global Summit on AIDS and The Church. The event drew thousands of participants and featured global keynote speakers.
In 2006, Warren met Syria’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Badr al-Din Hassoun in Damascus. Warren went there to urge Christian leaders to have a dialogue with Muslim leaders as a way to promote religious freedom. He met with leaders from the Greek Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the Coalition of the Evangelical Church in Syria.
On Aug. 18, 2008, Warren was featured on the cover of Time magazine with the headline: “The Purpose Driven Pastor: American’s most powerful religious leader takes on the world.”
On Dec. 1, 2008, Warren, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair participated in Saddleback’s Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.. The globally televised event brought thousands to Saddleback Church to hear presidential nominees Obama and John McCain talk about faith, abortion and plans for change. After the forum, Warren was featured on “Larry King Live” and other national talk shows.
In January 2009, Obama chose Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration amid controversy. Opposition to Warren came from gay rights activists who opposed the pastor’s support of California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.
In January 2010, Warren raised more than $2.5 million in a few days by posting a message on the church’s website appealing for donations to overcome a $900,000 shortage in collections.
In July 2013, Warren returned to the pulpit after a three-month break following the death of his 27-year-old son Matthew, on April 5, 2013, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police said the younger Warren had obtained the unregistered gun off the Internet.
In September 2013, Warren drew criticism after he posted on Facebook a Chinese Red Guard image with the comment “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” After receiving complaints from offended Asian American Christians, the posting was taken down and a fuller apology was issued a couple of days later.
Despite personal tragedies, Warren has remained strong and committed to God’s work, Whitlock said.
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SOURCE: Orange County Register