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Rick Warren and Jerry Falwell

Warren, hailed as a someone who rejects Falwell's approach, seems to see a template.

The passing of one of America's most prominent Southern Baptist pastors is prompting many comparisons to another, Rick Warren. A Dallas Morning News editorial is one example:

[By 9/11/01,] Mr. Falwell's brand of political Christianity was beginning to lose its luster within evangelicalism. New leaders were rising, pushing issues like care for the environment and compassion for Africans suffering from AIDS. Younger pastors like Rick Warren ... have become voices of a less partisan movement that engages the wider world but is not as closely tied to the Republican Party. Mr. Falwell's death marks not only the passing of a man, but the passing of an era.

(Warren's response after the jump.)

The Washington Post's Hanna Rosin similarly writes:

The new breed of evangelical leader does not have the temperament of a protester. He is a consummate professional who speaks in modulated terms and knows his way around Washington. ... If they took a political poll on the usual culture war issues, Falwell and Warren would end up in exactly the same place – antiabortion, against gay rights. Both have written books saying that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But Warren's public style is entirely different.

For the most part, Warren keeps a low political profile. When asked which presidential candidate he supports, he praises both Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democrat, and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican and religious conservative. Warren donated the proceeds from his book to help combat AIDS in Africa. He associates himself with "creation care," a movement of evangelical environmentalists. To ensure wide distribution, Warren makes sure he goes down easy: "You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense," reads a quote from him printed on millions of Starbucks cups. ... Warren is an obvious leader but he shuns the political spotlight.

Rosin calls evangelicalism's "Falwell generation" – she names James Dobson as a cohort – as "a little too extreme for mainstream politics." Wake Forest's Bill Leonard made a similar comment to CT's reporter: "With some exceptions, the new generation of megachurch pastors are just not as interested in politicizing their ministries as Falwell did." But when one thinks of his other evangelical leaders born in the 1920s and 1930s, the names that spring to my mind at least are either anything but too extreme for mainstream politics (Jimmy Carter, Mark Hatfield, Chuck Colson, Rep. Frank Wolf, Millard Fuller, Tony Campolo, Al Quie, John Perkins) or those hardly associated with politics (Chuck Swindoll, Bill Bright, R.C. Sproul, Robert Schuller, Lew Smedes, John Wimber, David Wilkerson, Adrian Rogers, Tom Oden, Stan Mooneyham, Stephen V. Monsma, Josh McDowell, Haddon Robinson, Eugene Peterson, Clayton Bell). Want to note that Robertson is of the same "generation"? Sure, but he can do AIDS, environment, and folksy inspiration as well as anyone.

Time's Nancy Gibbs gets it: "It will be tempting to call Falwell's passing the end of an era, but that risks missing the larger point. The movement he helped lead was never monolithic, or as tidy as its critics imagine - or obedient to earthly powers."

Anyway, back to Warren. His press release on Falwell's death is revealing for what it says about both men:

"Jerry Falwell was one of the giant figures who towered over the 20th Century American church. While most people knew him as the founder of the Moral Majority, the face of the Religious Right, and by some of his more controversial statements, many saw only his opponent's caricature of the real man.

The story was never told about his compassionate heart, his gentle spirit, his enormous sense of humor, and the millions he invested in helping the underprivileged. Jerry founded the Elim Home for alcoholics, the Center for tutoring inner city children, the Hope Aglow ministry to prisoners, Liberty Godparent Home for unwed mothers, and literally dozens of other compassion projects to help the poor, the sick, and others in desperate need.

I believe Jerry Falwell's primary legacy will not be his political leadership, but the church he pastored for 50 years; the university he founded that has produced two generations of leaders; the millions who heard him preach the Good News; the innovations in ministry he introduced; and the thousands of young pastors, like myself, whom he constantly encouraged, even when we did it differently."

A focus on his church, encouraging other pastors, and dozens of compassion projects. That's what Warren thinks Falwell's legacy is. The headline on Rosin's article says Falwell was "old news" to evangelical leaders like Warren. Sounds like Warren disagrees. (Update: The Ocala Star-Banner reports that Falwell liked Warren, too.)

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