Recently Rick Warren decided to post this image on Facebook, describing it as “the typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
If you can’t make it out, it’s a picture of a young woman wearing a Red Guard uniform. Her pose is avid, energetic, rarin’ to go. “I’m gonna go out there and starve some peasants!” People got pissed. Surprisingly, few of them were Saddleback Staff, who had just been compared to members of an atheist regime that committed arguably the worst atrocity in human history.
Naturally, Warren’s defense is that it’s just a joke. “People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me!”
Problem is, it’s not clear what the intended joke was. Was he joking about the avidness of his staff by comparing them to the Red Army? Was he joking about the perception of his staff by his detractors? Did he miss that it looks like a Red Guard propaganda poster? One way or another it falls flat. It works about as well as comparing your local Boy Scout troop to the Hitler Youth. No one is going to catch the irony there.
I have to shake my head. We all make missteps, but we’re not all the heads of a megachurch, and they generally don’t involve a playful attitude about the Great Leap Forward. How do you reach his level – almost the next Billy Graham – while being so clueless?