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'Seriously?' An Open Letter to the 'Purpose Driven' Pastor

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On Easter Sunday, ABC's "This Week" featured Jake Tapper's interview with "purpose driven" [sic] pastor Rick Warren -- covering issues of faith, politics and economics. From the transcript posted on the ABC website:

OBAMA: And I believe in God's command to love thy neighbor as thyself. And when I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income or young people with student loans or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills, to shoulder the burden alone."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, is he -- is he right?

R. WARREN: Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There's over 2,000 verses in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there's a fundamental question on the meaning of "fairness." Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.

In response, here's my Open Letter to Rick Warren:

Dear Rick,

Seriously? Do the Bibles at Saddleback Church not have the 20th chapter of Matthew in them? And if so, then what do you do with the parable of the workers -- the one where those who worked for only an hour were paid the same as those who worked all day... and when the all-day-workers grumbled that it "wasn't fair" (stay with me now) ... Jesus' response " are you envious because I am generous?" ... and then (famously said) "for the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

It seems that the WWJD answer to your "Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money?" would be "Yes." (See also: Isaiah 55:8 "My ways are not your ways, saith the Lord.")

And what about Matthew 25 -- the chapter with what my seminary professor called "The Final Final Exam?" You must know that one -- when Jesus comes to judge on the last day and the answer that gets you into the sheep fold rather than the goat line is not "inasmuch as you were fundamentally fair" -- it was "inasmuch as you fed the hungry, clothed the naked and gave water to the thirsty." And it was most certainly not "inasmuch as you "created wealth" -- it was "inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these."

Finally, Rick -- while I've got you -- can we talk contraception... just for a minute? When you told Jake Tapper "the issue here is not about women's health" you were well -- in a word -- wrong.

It is about women's health. It is totally about women's health and a woman's access to healthcare not being held hostage by the theology of her employer. There is a greater principle at stake here - but it is not the one you named: "the right to decide what your faith practices." That one is already protected by the First Amendment. Rather the principle at stake is the freedom of women to make health choices independent of their employer's faith practice that is on the line here.

And that brings me back to a couple of purpose-driven things. First there's the purpose of God's preferential option for the poor made manifest in the work and witness of Jesus of Nazareth. And then there's the purpose of liberty and justice for all meant to protect not just freedom of religion for those who choose to practice it but freedom from religion for those who just want equal access to health care. The former would be in the Bible and the latter in the Bill of Rights.

If you need to brush up on either we've got them both here at All Saints Church in Pasadena. Drop on by -- the door is always open!

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena CA

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