After the Aloha Shirts
Tossing out his iconic collection of aloha shirts isn't the only big change Saddleback Church's Rick Warren is making these days. His 2005 signature strategy for global missions, the PEACE Plan, is now PEACE 2.0 and includes the PEACE Coalition, a three-legged stool of private, public, and church partnerships, as well as a new focus on reconciliation and civil discourse. Timothy C. Morgan, CT's deputy managing editor, interviewed Warren at length in recent months to survey these changes.
Why don't you wear Hawaiian shirts any more?
I threw them all away. It started becoming a shtick. Every time I'd read a newspaper [it would] say: "Rick Warren, the Hawaiian-shirted preacher." I wasn't making a fashion statement out of this. I dress for comfort. I haven't worn a Hawaiian shirt in two years. I don't even own one.
The mainstream media often use the Billy Graham yardstick to measure your ministry. Doesn't that get annoying after a while?
I'm very tired of it. I have said many times, there is no successor to Billy Graham. Who was Luther's successor? Who was Wesley's successor? God uses individuals in individual ways. If there is any successor to Billy Graham, it's Franklin, who has continued to do evangelism. Most media only have two stories: build you up or tear you down. They are always looking for "the next big thing" to build up.
Did the Saddleback Civil Forum meet your expectations?
Oh, beyond expectation. The superlatives used by the media elite were absolutely astounding. The number-one goal was to out-think and out-love unbelievers. The other thing I wanted [was] to talk about issues that have a longer-lasting effect. A hundred years from today, how much oil costs is not going to be an issue. But the kind of leadership the President exhibits will be.
Before the debate, there were two groups that were highly critical of me. There were those on the secular Left who were afraid that I was going to establish a religious test for the presidency, which I'm absolutely opposed to. On the other side were members of the Religious Right who were afraid that I was going to wimp out on issues like abortion and gay marriage and stem cell [research].
Does the civil forum fit into the PEACE Plan?
It fits into building bridges to the government. I have these three great objectives in my life. One of them is to restore responsibility to individuals. Everything is a gift from God, and what we do with it, we are responsible to God for—stewardship. The second one is to restore credibility to the church. One thing I wanted to do in this forum is say: The church is at the table, the church is intelligent, and the church believes in the common good, not just the Good News. That leads to the third goal, which is to restore civility to civilization. I've been influenced by William Wilberforce on the restoration of manners. You can actually learn more about the candidates through a civil discussion than you can through an antagonistic debate. I have a letter going out to all the pastors in our network saying, "Look, I did it at a national level, but you could do this at a community level."
Where did the PEACE Plan's emphasis on government, business, and church partnerships come from?
When I was at the Davos World Economic Forum for the first time, I kept hearing people talk about public and private partnership. What they meant was that government and business need to get together to work on poverty, disease, and illiteracy. I'm thinking, Wait a minute. You are close, but no cigar. You are missing the third leg of the stool—the church. You are missing the component that has the most distribution, that has the most volunteers, that already has the boots on the ground, that already has the motivation to do it for free.