I think I’ve established my credibility, or at least indefatigability, as a critic of Rev. Rick Warren here in the past couple of weeks. I also wrote quite a few pieces about him at JunkYardBlog, none of them favorable as they dealt with doctrinal problems within his various church programs and minor but telling issues with his own personal conduct. So know that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from someone who is a fan or follower of Warren.

Warren has adopted AIDS as one of his causes. Which is a fine, if politically correct, choice. It may well signal a move to the left socially, but so far the evidence for that is thin (though he’s already further left than he acknowledges publicly on doctrine, if you take into account the pastors and authors with whom Warren has chosen to associate himself). He’s set to hold an AIDS conference this weekend at his Saddleback megachurch in Southern California, and has invited several speakers to speak to his congregation from his pulpit about AIDS issues. Among the invitees, Sen. Barack Obama. A cynic would say that this is another politically correct choice, and I’m pretty cynical so I’ll say it. It’s a politically correct choice. Many of Warren’s fans and followers are upset at this (I’ve been getting email about it for a week now), and now he’s being pressured to disinvite Obama from the conference over Obama’s very leftwing views on abortion.

In a statement, 18 antiabortion leaders called on Warren to rescind the invitation because Obama supports keeping abortion legal.

“You cannot fight one evil while justifying another,” says the appeal, whose signers include Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum, Judie Brown of the American Life League and Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association.

Warren, author of the bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life,” responded yesterday by asserting that he and his wife, Kay, are “staunchly pro-life” and “completely disagree” with Obama’s position in favor of abortion rights.

Obama was one of 60 speakers invited to “share his views on AIDS, not abortion or any other issue,” the Warrens said in a statement issued by their Saddleback Valley Community Church. They added that Obama and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) will “present two different political perspectives” at the weekend “Summit on AIDS and the Church.”

“Our goal has been to put people together who normally won’t even speak to each other,” the Warrens’ statement said. “We do not expect all participants in the Summit discussion to agree with all of our Evangelical beliefs. However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by Evangelicals alone. It will take the cooperation of all — government, business, NGOs and the church.”

A spokesman for Obama said he has no intention of withdrawing from the conference, where he is expected to take a public HIV test.

Warren’s AIDS conference is a pretty showy affair, complete with that public AIDS test for Obama. It’s very unlikely that this conference will address one of the main root causes of the spread of AIDS in the developed world, which is promiscuous sexual activity among homosexual males. That’s too politically charged a topic, and would be used by the press to paint the conference as a gay-bashing session. Andrew Sullivan might finally have his “Christianist” head on a pike, which would be an ironic outcome.

But now, of course, the press would paint a disinvitation to Obama as a racial affair when it would be anything but. You know that’s how it would play out. So Warren’s in a bind, and Obama will speak from Saddleback’s pulpit. I actually think, though, that this is far less of a deal than many of my fellow social cons seem to think it is. The problem isn’t Obama, it’s Warren and his judgement.

So here’s where I come down on this. I think the whole AIDS conference is, like Warren’s ministry itself, well-intentioned but ultimately misguided because it’s not founded on or guided by bedrock biblical principles. Obama’s invitation is a symptom of the problems with Warren, not one of the major problems in and of itself. For one thing, it would have been silly to host an AIDS conference and not include a sprinkling of Democrats, if for no other reason than to avoid the conference looking like a one-sided political convention.

Like Warren’s ministry, the conference will be an act of serious window-dressing, phrase-making and bullet points but won’t really do much to deal with the actual crisis it’s intended to address. Having once again injected himself into what has become a political cause, Warren will find his fingers singed again and may finally learn that, like the uncle says in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Thanks to the success of his Purpose-Driven ministries, Warren is a very powerful man. A few years ago he could get away with shooting off his mouth in Syria or with having far left senators speak from his pulpit, and then spinning it all away to his church afterward. But as the de facto leader of thousands of churches in the US and worldwide, the closest thing we have to a Protestant pope in fact if not in name, he is accountable to an awful lot of people now. The old spin jobs won’t work anymore, as he has hopefully learned from the Syria kerfluffle.

This Obama invitation doesn’t really push my outrage meter much, personally. It’s one speech, and if Obama wanders into abortion it would be both a personal affront to his host and would display a serious lack of character and judgement on his part. Obama is a very smart man so he won’t do that. Warren is giving Obama a chance to connect with socially conservative voters, but they’re smart enough not to be fooled by one speech (er, hopefully). It would have been better if Obama hadn’t been invited given his stance on abortion, but honestly I think the whole conference is a problem in and of itself. I think it’s evidence of a larger problem with Warren’s tactics and ministry, which are gravitating toward politically correct themes and causes, toward the questionable “emerging church” movement, and away from core principles. Rather than focus on who is and isn’t speaking at Warren’s conferences, I’d rather see a focus on what Warren himself says and does.

Update: Clearly, I need to explain what I wrote above, when I said:

But as the de facto leader of thousands of churches in the US and worldwide, the closest thing we have to a Protestant pope in fact if not in name, he is accountable to an awful lot of people now.

Rev. Warren is trying to do something with his PD ministries and its sequels that no other pastor in living memory has tried to do. He is, by his own words, trying to spark a Second Reformation. That’s an ambitious goal, and it’s step farther than Rev. Billy Graham was trying to go when he launched his ministry several decades ago.

To reach that goal, Warren organized and launched the PD ministries. Literally thousands of churches worldwide, across all denominations, have joined up and had their pastors and lay leadership trained to operate as Purpose-Driven churches. Most of these churches re-organized themselves to align with the PD themes, so whether they were Baptist or Methodist before, they’re organized as PD now even though most have stayed with their denominations. Warren sells sermons and PowerPoint presentations, studies and study guides and even games for youth and children at Pastors.com. There’s a forum there where pastors share ideas, and often discuss tactics for getting rid of church members who disagree with PD programs, and Warren sends out a period newsletter advising pastors on best PD practices.

So Warren isn’t a Billy Graham. He’s more influential, albeit more quietly, than Graham ever was. It’s not a stretch to call the man who wants to re-organize entire countries along the PD paradigm “the closest thing we have to a Protestant pope.” Not a stretch at all.

More: Just so you know where I’m coming from on all this, I’m a Southern Baptist in the reformed or Calivinst mode. I’m a deacon in my church, though I’ve been one for less than a year, and I’m also the drummer in our praise band. I’m certainly not against church innovation as long as it’s done in accordance with scripture. When our church started going through the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, I was initially happy about it and looked forward to the campaign and to reading the book. But reading the book and then checking up on some authoritative reviews of it made me skeptical, so I dug further with the help of my JYB co-author Chris and kept finding basic and serious things wrong with PD, PDL and Warren’s various ministries. I’d love to be 100% on board with him and PD, but I can’t be because of what he teaches, the way he twists scripture and some of his tactics.

UPDATE on the Syria kerfluffle: WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah received a personal apology from Rick Warren regarding Warren’s controversial Syria comments. But shortly after that, Warren wrote to his own congregation that he’s taking flak for doing God’s work from people who, Warren says, are doing Satan’s work in criticizing him.

This is not a good development.

Warren obviously should not have showered the Assad regime with praise when he visited Syria. He should not have denied making those remarks (while blaming it all on bloggers and Franklin Graham) when the Syrian press reported them, and should not have used scripture to deceptively defend himself. And he should not apologize for his actions on one hand while defending them on the other. That’s double-mindedness and dishonesty, and apparently that’s not lost on at least one of his church members since one of them leaked the email to WND.

His remarks in Syria were bad enough. Everything he has done since then has made this problem much larger than it would have been otherwise.

(thanks to Chris)