Rick Warren: An ignorant claim, a dishonest claim, and a tribal claim

1. The ignorant claim.

This isn’t specifically from Rick Warren’s appearance Sunday on ABC’s This Week, but from a tweet following that depressing interview:

The Church has helped the poor far more than any govt, & for 2000 yrs longer! In 2011 our 1 church fed 70,000 unemployed.

OK, first, let’s say yes, good, yay, bravo for feeding 70,000 people. That’s an unqualified Good Thing for this 20,000-member church to be doing. If every median-sized American church did the same thing on the same scale, each would feed 262.5 unemployed people a year and if every American congregation did this, then the unemployed could all be guaranteed 6.28 solid meals a year! So, again, kudos for that.

But it’s doubly ignorant to claim that “The Church has helped the poor far more than any govt, & for 2000 yrs longer!” No one who has ever so much as glanced at the facts of the matter could even begin to believe this. It’s massively wrong on the facts. Even if we include all private-sector charity (not just “The Church”) and even if we arbitrarily restrict “government” to mean only direct assistance and transfers (and not public health, public education, infrastructure, etc.), the public sector still dwarfs the contributions from the private sphere(s).

Perhaps recognizing that folks like Warren would be reluctant to accept this reality, Mark Galli stated the facts rather bluntly in a recent Christianity Today article:

What these latest findings demonstrate is the church’s relative ineffectiveness and impotency at helping the poor. Some Christian activists have been trying to motivate us to care for the poor by pointing out how they are neglected by society. The state is a clumsy and arrogant institution, they argue, and not doing its job. So the church must step in to make a difference. That means that (1) churches should create their own anti-poverty initiatives (like microfinance), and (2) churches should lobby governments to do better.

These recent economic developments suggest that both of these strategies are either insignificant or relatively ineffective. It is not Christian activism that has created history’s greatest poverty reduction initiatives in India and China. And it is not micro but rather macroeconomics that really makes a difference.

This claim is also confusing in light of Warren’s assertion that “the only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S.” As Kevin Drum noted, that’s a solid plank of the Democratic Party platform, and making sure the poor have decent jobs is something liberals have fought for for more than a century. But does Warren really want to argue that the church has provided the poor with more decent jobs than any government, ever? I know Saddleback has a pretty big payroll, but I doubt it compares to, say, the 1.4 million people employed at the moment as active-duty members of the U.S. military.

Warren also seems to imagine that the relatively recent modern separation of church and state has existed for “2000 yrs.” And that the current global scope of Christianity has existed for all of that time as well. (Or did he mean that only “the poor” within Christendom count?)

But it’s not just that Warren’s tweet is massively ignorant on the facts of the matter, it’s also massively ignorant of what centuries of Christian teaching have said about the responsibility to help the poor. This responsibility has never been regarded as exclusive, competitive and zero-sum. It has always been regarded as universal, mutual and complementary. Any given individual’s personal aspect of that universal responsibility will depend on that individual’s particular role, relationship, station, office, proximity and kinship, but there is no person in any role, relationship, station, office, proximity or kinship who is exempt from that responsibility. The obligation is differentiated, but inescapable.

The idea of an either/or responsibility for either the church or the state is sheer nonsense.

Karoli offers a deservedly blistering response to Warren’s doubly ignorant tweet here. Read the whole thing, but here’s just a taste:

In one breath you express sympathy for the poor, and in the next you scapegoat them.

… Your comments were not pastoral nor were they intended to be. They were purely political, fleshed out in substance by a healthy doses of Fox talkers with their “wealth redistribution” talking points. Your brag tweet about how much good Saddleback church did in 2011 for the unemployed is a big red flag exposing your belief that all assistance comes with strings attached. Whether it’s humiliation for being in need, or giving up the notion that our country should offer fair opportunity to those who need it, there’s a price.

2. The dishonest claim.

You hear people talking ...

On television, in public, Rick Warren repeated a silly, nasty lie that we’ve discussed here before when Charles Colson was shamefully repeating it. Here’s Warren:

There is a redefinition from freedom of religion to phrases — now you hear people talking about freedom of worship. That means it’s limiting what the church does to only what happens in the one hour on Sunday morning as worship. … The Constitution says freedom of religion, not just freedom of worship.

As we discussed when Colson and James Dobson were spouting this crap, this is both a stupid lie and a nasty one.

It’s a particularly stupid lie because it can only be told by someone who is: A) Too lazy to use Google; and B) Unaware that not everyone else is too lazy to use Google.

Like Colson and Dobson, Warren says there exists a secret conspiracy to take away the freedom of religion by sneakily replacing it with the phrase “freedom of worship.” Colson and Dobson both look extremely foolish for peddling this garbage because they both specifically stated that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were leading this devious war on religion, making the ridiculous claim that Obama and Clinton both refuse to say “freedom of religion.” Again, this reflects not just that Dobson and Colson are brazen liars, but that they’re also old men who don’t understand the Internet and don’t realize how very simple it is for everyone to just look it up and to easily find dozens and dozens of instances of those two officials using the phrase “freedom of religion,” as well as dozens of instances of people like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan using the not-at-all nefarious phrase “freedom of worship.”

Warren is younger and cagier. He provides a bit of cover for the lie by fuzzing up the details of the conspiracy he claims exists. “You hear people talking,” he says. You know, people. Them.

This lie that Warren is repeating is also a particularly nasty lie in that it can only be repeated by someone who is willing and eager to presume without evidence — indeed, to presume contrary to evidence — that others are secretly demonic. It makes no sense to say this unless one starts with the presumption that Obama, Clinton and those other “people” one hears talking are evil, evil, eeeeevil anti-Christians.

That is where Warren is starting. That is his presumption. Either he has assumed this without thinking he needed  to bother investigating such a claim before repeating it, or else he has investigated the claim, found out it was hogwash, then decided to repeat it anyway. Knowing liar or irresponsible gossip? Either way he is bearing false witness against his neighbors.

This tells us nothing about the current state of the freedom of religion. It tells us a great deal about Rick Warren.

Rebecca Schoenkopf thus treats this claim of Warren’s with all the respect it is due.

3. The tribal claim.

Much of the ensuing press coverage of the Warren/Tapper interview surrounded Warren’s discussion of the theological differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity. Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty notes that Warren’s comments came in response to a very strange non-sequitur of a question from ABC’s Jake Tapper:

On yesterday’s ABCNews This Week, Jake Tapper interviewed Pastor Rick Warren discussing matters of faith and politics. Where discussion of one stopped and another started was sometimes hard to tell. Check out this segue:

TAPPER: Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, and if that happens, as it looks like it will, he’ll the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to be the nominee. A lot of evangelicals have been talking about whether or not Mormons are Christians. Are Mormons Christians?

Wait. What does Mitt Romney’s impending presidential nomination have to do with whether Mormons are considered Christians? What is the glue that holds together the first two sentences above?

Byrd discusses this implicit “glue,” highlighting the church-state concerns that he focuses on at the BJC.

But I see it less as a matter of church and state and more as an example of the tribalism of religious-identity politics.

Tapper’s question, Warren’s ability to follow it and Warren’s ability to answer it without hesitation assume that Warren isn’t there in his capacity as a religious leader or author. The question and the answer both assume, rather, that he is there as the representative of a tribal voting bloc — a special-interest group that understands itself and is understood by others as one faction among others fighting for a large share of the zero-sum pool of societal privileges. Implicit in both the question and the answer is the idea that whether or not a candidate is an evangelical Christian is and ought to be a serious consideration for evangelical Christian voters.

Warren’s discussion of Mormonism clarified the difference between his tribe and Romney’s tribe, but neither he nor Tapper thought it inappropriate to be discussing either politics or religion in such tribal terms.


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  • bytebear

    “one can’t choose” That’s the problem.

  • Matri

    Man, you are strongly determined to stay ignorant.

  • Umm… studies on food insecurities? They eat more because they were insecure about food as a child.

    *headdesks into INFINITY*

    Quoth Wikipedia:

    “Food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it.”

    It is an actual real thing that happens to real people right now. It involves real, actual, FACTUAL statistics about how much food people have access to.

    But then they have to spend more and afford more food. Not because they are starving, but because they are over eating.


    *takes a deep breath*

    (In future, it might be wiser if I limit my replies to critiquing bytebear’s spelling and grammar with as much pickiness as I can muster. Less rage-inducing, and yet still allows me some form of snark.)

  • bytebear

    You can certainly attack me on my spelling and grammar, and your response would be as meaningless, and dishonest. Smug does not suit you.

  • Dan Audy

    Umm… studies on food insecurities? They eat more because they were insecure about food as a child. Ok. But then they have to spend more and afford more food. Not because they are starving, but because they are over eating. Try again

    It is pretty clear that you (a) didn’t read the articles I provided for you, (b) don’t understand the basic vocabulary used in discussing these topics and (c) made no effort to look it up.  If you aren’t going to even make an effort to pretend to be engaged in a good faith conversation, rather than spouting talking points off to keywords like an automated troll, please go away and stop wasting everybody’s time.

  • You can certainly attack me on my spelling and grammar, and your response would be as meaningless, and dishonest.

    Unless I was making up imaginary grammar rules just to spite you, how exactly would it be dishonest?

    It certainly is a last resort.

    A last resort for keeping my sanity intact, yes.

  • It is pretty clear that you (a) didn’t read the articles I provided for
    you*, (b) don’t understand the basic vocabulary used in discussing these
    topics, and (c) made no effort to look it up.

    IKR? Until half an hour ago, I had never heard the term “food insecurity” at all. So, do you know what I did? I googled “food insecurity”. And it told me what it meant! Took all of thirty seconds.

    The fact that bytebear is not willing to do even the barest minimum to keep up with the conversation is just ridiculous.

  • bytebear

    I think you are missing the point. The proposition presented was that Americans are starving. And that obesity is a sign of this starvation. And although the poor are choosing cheaper, fattening food, making them obese, the plain truth is they are eating.

  • bytebear

    I think you went insane a long time ago, but of course that just an observation.

  • What was that about personal attacks being a last resort?

  • bytebear

    You don’t get ironic sarcasm, do you?

  • Makabit

    “By force”. Hmmm.

    Yeah, you’re a bullshit artist. Surprised you didn’t say ‘at gunpoint’, that’s usually the next crap talking point.

  • bytebear

    Are you saying there are no consequences for not paying taxes?

  • Dan Audy

    I think you are missing the point. The proposition presented was that Americans are starving. And that obesity is a sign of this starvation. And although the poor are choosing cheaper, fattening food, making them obese, the plain truth is they are eating.
    But the larger point (and sorry for editing late) is that the government programs are not solving the issue. But liberalism says that government is the only solution, that we must raise taxes, because more money will solve the problem. I disagree. I think we need many programs by as many different groups as we can, to find those that work best, both in feeding the poor, and in lifting them out of poverty. Throwing money at the problem does not work.

    I’m not missing the point but I do see you moving goalposts.  Specifically obesity and hunger are not separate issues in North America (other places in the world are a different story) but rather two aspects of food insecurity.  The poor aren’t choosing cheap, fattening food by any standard definition of choice – their other option is not eating healthy food but not eating food at all.

    Multiple groups running multiple programs addressing the same issue is inherently inefficient because you have the overhead and bureaucracy of each group to manage instead of a single.  The reason we need multiple groups is that (a) no one is actually meeting the needs and (b) those groups are all discriminating on different grounds and we can’t reach universal (or near universal) coverage of those in need without multiple options.  Once you’ve met the need ‘throwing money’ at the problem doesn’t work but until you’ve actually met that need ‘throwing money’ at it is exactly what works (along with reducing barriers to access).

    Invisible Neutrino made a worthwhile comment in another thread which I think covers the issue very well.

    One thing to think about, folks?
    Food banks in Canada didn’t exist before 1982.
    Because before then, the welfare state was actually strong enough to not need these stopgap measures. Even the 1982 recession, which pushed our unemployment rate to somewhere around 15%, was expected to be over and the food bank people expected the need to diminish.
    It did not, as evidenced by what Brian Mulroney and Michael Wilson ended up doing by the late 1980s, along with long-term structural changes in the Canadian economy that caused wage stagnation.
    1973 is often termed a watershed year for the USA in terms of economic slowdown and wage stagnation. 1981 is the analogous year for Canada, and it can be traced to the beginnings of the adoption of permanently higher real interest rates than pre-1981 levels.

  • Your statements regarding food quality for the poor have been discussed as long ago as 1995.

    In short, it’s been well-established for several years now that the way food is prepared in Canada and the USA for those who can’t afford decent food, is a direct contributor to the cruellest irony: The very people who can’t eat well are the ones who end up looking like they do.

    And people like you vilify and hate them for it.

  • bytebear

    And that’s terrible. But government is not the solution. Other solutions are better. Read The Hungry American.


    See which groups help the needy the most. Hint: The US Government was the worst.

    Now, I do not necessarily want to say that this book is the end all-be all answer, but I do think we need real accountability and unfortunately I don’t see that being done.

  • You forgot about the part where the food stamp regulations tend to be ridiculously asinine in some states. So given the limited $$$$ and the problem of food stamp regulations, guess what? You buy the cheap stuff, which is heavily subsidized in the first place (HFCS, as well as some beefs) and – lo and behold – contributes to overweight.

    Hint: The very same Republicans (and, to be fair, some right-wing Democrats) you probably like are the ones who created this situation in the first place, by being parsimonious with the benefits on the one hand and excessively intrusive on the other.

  • Matri

    Now, I do not necessarily want to say that this book is the end all-be all answer,

    That is exactly what you are saying. Others have provided links to dynamically updated studies. You are saying a book published years ago has more accurate, up-do-date, bi-partisan information.

    And accountability? How much more do you want? The government is accountable directly to the public! Who do you think would have more accountability? The church?

    Have you been living under a rock these past few days?

    Where is the accountability?

  • Kiba

    So you can either get your own food, or answer to the rest of us.

    Wow, you are an asshole.

  • Dan Audy

    I haven’t read it but I will see if my library carries it.  From reading the description of the book and a couple reviews on it I’m not sure that it would support your argument.  Visiting shelters and soup kitchens can be frightening and at times dangerous as they are public places being used by homeless people who have disproportionately high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness.  That some small number of them did dangerous and frightening things is not shocking.  What the book doesn’t appear to address is the very Government spending that you say it concludes helps least, I assume both because it would involve committing fraud rather than just lying to people and that it doesn’t fall into the voyeurism of the dejected the book revels in.

    Hopefully I can find it locally or through inter-library loan and get a chance to judge for myself if his premise and conclusions are rushed, poorly investigated and that the writing suffers as he pushes an unsupported conclusion as reviews suggested.

  • friendly reader

    Okay, people “choose” this because they cannot afford anything else. That’s not a real choice.

    It’s rather sad how “choice” is more or less a privilege that not everyone has rather than a right guaranteed to people. But that’s going to involve knocking down privilege, and that’s going to involve – *gasp!* – redistributing some wealth.

    Btw, you ask where the Torah puts down penalties for not giving to charity. I don’t know the law sections of the Hebrew Bible as well as I should, not to mention the Talmud, but in the New Testament, not selling all your property and sharing it equally with the community gets you a divine death sentence.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    But liberalism says that government is the only solution

    No it does not.

    that we must raise taxes


    because more money will solve the problem.

    Money will not solve the problem. The poor will always be with us as someone once said. But it will help actual human beings live a little better.

    I think we need many programs by as many different groups as we can, to find those that work best, both in feeding the poor, and in lifting them out of poverty.

    Welcome aboard!

    Throwing money at the problem does not work.

    Because “many programs by as many different groups as we can” are funded by what, first principles and magic?

  • Lori


    This increasingly hypothetical “she” does have to answer to someone. 

    The she is not hypothetical, increasingly or otherwise. She is an actual person. We know this because we’re not drive-by trolls here to wave the flag or the LDS church and right wing ideology in general. Since you are, and have no clue about any of the people here, you should probably just shut it.


    Then it borrows from other countries. We have trillions in debt already and are borrowing even more. 

    So I assume you were against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the post-9/11 national security state and the way we do military spending in general. Because that’s where most of our debt is from.

  • Lori


    Is it just me, or should the Wall Street Journal go in that list too?

    Not just you. It’s OpEd page has always been a joke, but other parts of the paper used to be useful and interesting. Murdoch owns it now. “Nuff said.

  • bytebear

    The government is accountable directly to the public? Wow, I thought Liberals thought they were in the pockets of big Oil and special interests. The public has been shoved aside long ago.

  • bytebear

    I “wave the flag of the LDS Church” because their program is very good.


  • Lori

     You are still thoroughly failing to grasp the point, which makes it pretty much impossible to have a useful discussion with you.

  •  In D.C., it costs hundreds to register as a 501c3.  (I think it’s about $700.)  We’ve put on entire summer-fulls worth of gardening workshops on $700 by being cheap about supplies and relying on volunteer labor.  What makes it even harder is that people don’t want to give you money for organizational stuff – they rightly want to give you money for putting seeds in the ground or directly helping people.  But there are a lot of grants and other assistance you can’t qualify for unless you are a 501c3.  Plus, it gives you a lot of legitimacy – people don’t like giving to non-official non-profits partly because they can’t take it off of their taxes and partly because it makes you seem a little untrustworthy.

  • bytebear


  • Delurker

    Fuck you
    Fuck your whole family and your relatives
    Fuck you
    Fuck all your friends and everyone you know
    Fuck you
    Fuck your little sister and your little brother
    Fuck you
    Fuck your little kittie and your puppy dog
    Fuck you

  • EllieMurasaki

    That is distressingly close to advocating the rape of children and animals. Knock it off.

  • The government is accountable directly to the public? Wow, I thought
    Liberals thought they were in the pockets of big Oil and special
    interests. The public has been shoved aside long ago.

    — bytebear

    While it is true that there is regulatory capture of government, the fact remains that the right to vote still exists, in the main, and we still, nominally, choose our own leaders. That still counts for something these days.

  • Tricksterson

    So why are you trying to have one.  Robyrt and aunursa are positively flexible by comparison.

  • bytebear

    And they call me unreasonable.

  • bytebear

    it counts for less and less. you are given two choices put forth by the establishment. The House or representative was supposed to have no more than 30,000 people for each representative, but that was changed to be a fixed number: 435. That now means our representation went from 1/30K to about 1/70 – 1/100K, so our voice is now ever shrinking.

    Add to that the fact that states rights are now a secondary concern for the Federal Government, and the 10th Amendment is weaker than ever.

  • hapax


    The government is accountable directly to the public? Wow, I thought
    Liberals thought they were in the pockets of big Oil and special

    Since you like dictionary games, why don’t you try looking up and explaining the difference between “accountable to” and “responsive to”?

    For bonus points, why don’t you tell us what you consider to be “special interests”?  The news sources you seem to favor generally define those as non-whites, non-Christians, non-rich, persons interested in drinkable water and breathable air, women, and people in general.

  • You just blew all your credibility out the window. “States’ rights” has been a code word, since just before the American Civil War, for preserving legal discrimination against blacks. George Wallace used to use the phrase. Ronald Reagan used it a few times, too. And since then any Republican who wants to pander to the base throws in a few lines about “states’ rights”.

    Try making your case without pretending that devolving power to individual state governments is some kind of panacea.

  • Lets compare Romney to Brigham Young.
    Brigham had 57 children to 16 different women who produced nearly 1000 Grand Children.

    Romney is falling behind with only 100 grand children.

    The Mormon God on Kolob will not be impressed.