It took several days for me to decide whether to post the email below. It arrived Sunday night in my mailbox. I read it and became immediately suspicious. "You kidding, right?" It's obvious that Warren hasn't read what I've written here and elsewhere about him. Either that, or the letter is a fake. I shut down the computer and thought nothing more about it.
Well, maybe one more thought came to my mind: Perhaps Warren knows that I've been critical of him and is writing because he genuinely and really wants to reach out and find common ground.
But that was before I got here to Florida where I'm vacationing with friends and discovered that I'm not the only one to receive a letter from the pastor of Saddlebrook Church. Jessica, Floyd, Jeremiah, Frank, Jim, John, Eboni and many others did too. It seems that Warren (or his emissaries) decided to go through some old issues of The African American Pulpit and write letters to folks with sermons there claiming to want to reach out to us and solicit our advice on a sermon he's doing Monday in celebration of King's birthday there at Ebenezer. Everyone got the same form letter. Change the recipient's name, the sermon title and hit "send" is all it took.
Is this Warren's way of getting to know African American preachers? Is this his way of making friends with us? Is this how he bones up on Black History? Evidently, Warren doesn't know that black preachers talk, that many of us are friends, and that a letter from Rick Warren would generate buzz enough for us to share and compare notes.
Admittedly, nothing annoys me like white Americans -- especially those my age -- wanting me to teach them about race and racism. Where have you been?
Warren, if you (or your people) read this, you're asking yourself, "What did I do wrong? What harm is there in sending an email out to respected black leaders around the country and soliciting their advice on a King speech you're slated to give on Monday?"
If you have to ask, then you don't get it. You don't get the whole point of King's ministry and that of others who suffered and sacrificed working for racial equality in this country. You don't get that a mass email to black leaders can not substitute for real flesh-and-blood relationships with peers in the African American community. Can not substitute for doing your own reading and research on the history of the American slave trade and race relations in America. Can not substitute for asking God to open your eyes so you can see, really see, the race dynamics in your church and in your city. Can not substitute for asking how a man like yourself born in 1954 doesn't know better. And doesn't know more about race in America. Where have you been?
What was the King Committee thinking? What got into them to invite Rick Warren who has no street creds in justice work to be the speaker for 2009 annual Martin Luther King service there at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta? But that's another conversation. In the meantime, follow the money. You can bet there's a Purpose Driven donation that's recently been deposited in the King Center account.
Read, my friends and weigh in.
Dear Pastor Weems,
Recently I was reading an older issue of African American Pulpit (I'm a long-term subscriber) and I came upon your article, "How Will Our Preaching Be Remembered". I thought it was so good I wanted to write and tell you what a great job you did. Well done!
After reading your work, I decided to ask you for your help. On Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19, I have the humble privilege of being invited to be the first white pastor to preach the annual memorial message in Dr. King's home church in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist. I consider this opportunity as one of the greatest privileges in my ministry. It is even more important to me personally, than praying the invocation for my friend President Obama's Inauguration the next day.
I'd like to know your thoughts. If you were preaching the annual Martin Luther King sermon at his church on his day -- what would YOU say? I just felt led to write you. Please help me, your brother in Christ. I'm open to any ideas, texts, or suggestions you might have for me, and I'd deeply appreciate it.
For so many of us, Dr. King was a role model, not just for justice, but also a role model for local church pastoring and preaching. I have a personally typed and signed letter by Dr. King framed on my office wall.
I am committed to the ministry of reconciliation, so I'm always trying to build bridges to my African-American brothers and sisters in ministry. We're a part of the same Body, saved by the same Grace, filled with the same Spirit, preaching the same Word, serving the same Lord, and called to fulfill the same Purposes on earth.
Thanks again for how your words touched me. I look forward to hearing from you.