President-elect Barack Obama chose California megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the January 20 inauguration, igniting fury from same-sex marriage advocates and progressives.
Obama and Warren both defended their decisions to reach across the aisle, even though the future president and megachurch pastor. Evangelist Franklin Graham was in the hot seat once after he prayed in Jesus' name at President Bush's inauguration in 2001. He spoke with Christianity Today about his reaction to Obama's decision and his advice for Warren.
Were you surprised that Obama chose Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration?
No, not at all. Rick Warren had invited President-elect Obama two years ago to his AIDS forum, and, of course, he held the unofficial debate at his church with Obama and Sen. McCain. Rick demonstrated to Obama that he's a friend, but at the same time, he's not going to change his convictions. I think he's a natural and many people will appreciate Rick Warren being there. I think he's a great choice. He's a Southern Baptist. He believes the Bible the way I believe it.
Rick Warren seems to be taking criticism from both sides, from same-sex marriage advocates and from evangelicals who say he should not pray at Obama's inauguration. You filled this role at President Bush's inauguration in 2001, and your father has also played this role. Did you face the same challenges?
President Bush was sued because I prayed in the name of Jesus. Eventually that suit was thrown out. But any time you take a stand for Christ, it's going to be controversial. Rick Warren is a man of God. He is a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The people on the far left hate God, they hate his standards, and hate the name of his son. The people on the left are not going to support any relationship with people on the other side. Barack Obama has shown he's going to reach across these boundaries. He is including evangelicals at his inauguration, but I don't know if he'll include them in his administration. Time will tell. But Rick Warren will have Obama's ear on important issues.
Does Warren's acceptance of the invitation give an implicit nod to Obama's administration?
I don't agree with everything that George Bush has done. I don't agree with everything he believes. When I accepted the invitation, it didn't mean I agreed with President Bush. I was there to talk to God, to lead the nation in a prayer for our president. We're called in Scripture to pray for those in leadership. For anybody to be upset at Rick Warren for offering a prayer to almighty God, asking God to give wisdom and guidance to the Obama administration, is ludicrous.
The criticism directed at Warren has been targeted at his stance against same-sex marriage. Should evangelicals take such a public stance against it?
It is scriptural. Rick Warren or Franklin Graham or any other preacher of the gospel has no choice but to warn people of what God says. Any type of sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman is a sin against God. It's very serious. God is going to judge sin, and Rick Warren is taking a stand against gay marriage. He was absolutely right, because that's God's position.
I just know what Rick Warren believes, that homosexuality is a sin, and it's a sin against God. God forgives sin. For God to forgive sin, the sinner has to repent and turn from their sin, acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and follow him in obedience. A person can't say, "I'm going to follow Jesus and sin"; he can't do that. God will forgive a homosexual and all of us as sinners. Franklin Graham is a sinner, but I've asked God for forgiveness, and I've turned away from it. When I do sin, I have to ask God for forgiveness and that he will cleanse me.
Sinners are going to be separated from God in hell. Hell is a lake of fire for eternity—for ever and ever. The only way that you can escape hell is through forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Whether you're a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Hindu, Jesus Christ died for you and shed his blood on Calvary's cross. He can come into someone's heart and cleanse them, if they are willing to surrender to him.
Should the US constitution limit marriage to one man and one woman?
Marriage is both biblical and secular. Two males cannot produce children and two females cannot produce children. It takes a male and a female. It's obvious that God made sex for the human race to have existence. Not only is it a secular institution, but it's a biblical institution. God instituted marriage. It's a holy commitment when we take an oath between a man and a woman. We cannot change those standards that God gave us.
When you prayed at President Bush's inauguration in 2001, you prayed, "Now, O Lord, we dedicate this presidential inaugural ceremony to you. May this be the beginning of a new dawn for America as we humble ourselves before you and acknowledge you alone as our Lord, our Savior, and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Should Rick Warren pray in the name of Jesus at the inaugural?
I would hope he does because he's a minister of the gospel. There's no other way to pray. A Muslim should not be offended. [Warren] has no other way to pray than in the name of Christ. No one should be offended, because Rick Warren should be who Rick Warren is, and that's a minister of Jesus Christ.
Do you believe Rick Warren has become "pastor to presidents" in a similar fashion to your father?
I don't think you take on that role. It's something that God gives. Time will tell. My father has been friends with every president since President Truman. There's no other American that has had more influence on the White House. Maybe Rick Warren will have a relationship with presidents in the future. It's not something that you seek. My father never sought it; God just gave it to him. If Rick Warren is faithful to God, and he doesn't compromise, God will continue to open doors for him.
I know you said a month ago that your father would not be serving as a spiritual adviser to Barack Obama.
He's 90 years old. He's just happy to get up in the morning.
The news is mostly all about nothing. It's a few people on the far left who feel that Obama should not have any evangelicals or Christians involved in the inauguration. Millions of Christians voted for Obama, and they have every reason to be at the table. This is his inauguration, and Obama has every right to do that. Those that are making noise have forgotten that it's not their inauguration. It's Obama's inauguration.
Do you have any advice for Rick Warren?
My advice to Rick is to stay true to your convictions, and don't back up one step. I don't think he will. When you have the far left and the gay advocates mad at you, you must be doing something right. I'm proud of Rick. He hasn't backed down one bit and he shouldn't.
I just pray for the president-elect, for God to guide him as he makes decisions that affect all of us. The president has a mess in front of him. Unfortunately, I don't think he can solve the problems we're facing. The problems we're having in the Middle East, the problems of natural resources and global warming, are beyond any one person. It's going to take God sending his son back to redeem this world.
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