Rick Warren is a well-known conservative minister who has a broad following among mainstream evangelical Christians. His Saddleback Church, founded in 1980 in Southern California and now attracting up to 20,000 congregants each week, is a model of a successful megachurch ministry. His bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, is a blend of Christian spirituality and self-help. A seasoned right-wing evangelical, he falsely bills himself as a moderate all while advancing a dangerous agenda that threatens the safety and human rights of LGBTQ people and women.
Warren received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. His dissertation adviser at Fuller was C. Peter Wagner, the leading strategist behind the theocratic, globally ambitious “apostolic and prophetic movement,” or New Apostolic Reformation.
Warren has been criticized for lending his influence to conservative causes such as the destabilizing of The Episcopal Church. Warren has gained notoriety as an advocate of encouraging Christian religious leaders and believers to adhere to his Purpose Driven theology. “Purpose driven” refers to the attempt to balance the five “purposes” of worship– fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism– in followers’ churches and personal lives. The purposes are derived from two verses in chapters 22 and 28 of the New Testament book of Matthew.
Warren and his wife Elizabeth are directors of the non-profit organizations Acts of Mercy, RKW Legacy Partners, and Equipping the Church. Warren has called the late Southern Baptist pastor Wallie Amos Criswell a major source of influence on him. Criswell is held to have played a crucial role in the resurgence of conservatism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Criswell was an ardent subscriber to dispensational Premillennialism, which, in contrast to Postmillenialism, holds to a course of action requiring followers to be more concerned with future events such as the rapture and the return of Jesus then with the performance of earthly works conducted through the auspices of the Church for the gradual transformation of society.
In December 2008, Warren appeared on the Fox News program Hannity & Colmes where he agreed with Sean Hannity’s assertion that the president of Iran needed to be “taken out” and proceeded to offer justification for such a move based on biblical passages. In the same month, in a CNN interview, Warren also compared his opposition to gay marriage as the equivalent to his opposition to a marriage based around incest, pedophilia or polygamy.
Warren on abortion: “Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust, ‘Well, maybe we could save 20 percent of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that,’” Warren said. “I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.”
Sometimes Warren is referred to as “America’s pastor,” Warren is also arguably aspiring to be “Africa’s pastor.” During a 2008 trip to Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, Warren met with African leaders amid protests and ongoing tension over the U.S. Episcopal Church’s consecration of Gene Robinson, a gay man, as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Though not an Anglican himself, Warren promoted schism within the Episcopal Church by siding with anti-LGBTI African bishops and their breakaway congregations and allies in the United States. His trip to Africa was facilitated by Henry Luke Orombi, who was then the archbishop of the Church of Uganda and a leader of the anti-LGBTI faction within the Anglican Church. “Someday, we will have a purpose-driven continent,” Orombi said during Warren’s visit.
Advancing Orombi’s prophecy, in 2005, Warren (who serves on President Paul Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council) declared Rwanda the first “Purpose Driven” country, affixing his famous branding to one of the world’s most well-known resurrection stories (though it’s still ranked among the most impoverished nations).
Rwanda has served as a testing ground for Warren’s “PEACE Plan,” a multi-pronged development model which brings together business, government, and churches, as a “three-legged stool.” Max Blumenthal has noted that the details of Warren’s activities in this area have not been explored and Warren himself has not opted to shed much light on the matter. However, it does appear that Warren has formed alliances with African religious leaders such as Henry Orombi and Martin Ssempa of Uganda and Peter Akinola of Nigeria, some of whom have forfeited scientifically viable solutions to the AIDS epidemic in favor of abstinence only education. In particular is pastor Martin Ssempa, who is also a close friend of Uganda’s First Lady and member of Parliament, Janet Museveni. Ssempa has put on such displays as public condom burnings and the publishing of the names of alleged homosexuals in local newspapers. He is also a key advocate for stricter punishments for gays and their supporters such as imprisonment.
Warren emphasizes that he isn’t a politician or a businessman, but in Rwanda he has extensive connections across both sectors, as well as with religious leaders. Through these relationships, Warren is increasingly able to integrate his conservative theological, cultural, and political agenda into all realms of society, further blurring of lines between churches, corporations, and the state—a slippery slope with dangerous implications for sexual minorities and women.
When Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in 2009 (with its death penalty provision), Warren issued a statement separating himself from Ssempa, but initially refused to oppose the bill. Under intense pressure, he eventually reversed his position, calling the bill “unjust, extreme, and un-Christian toward homosexuals.” When the bill was revived in 2012, he issued a 102-character tweet opposing it.
This legitimization of anti-LGBTI sentiment represents a real threat to the efforts of African human rights advocates, and his influence is increasingly expanding across the continent. Warren has already launched PEACE Plan campaigns in 17 additional countries, and in May 2014, he announced plans to host an “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” in Kigali, Rwanda. The conference is currently anticipated to be held in the fall of 2018.
For more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.