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Clergy divided over
Warren-Obama flap

Barack Obama

Responding to an open letter defending Pastor Rick Warren by a group called Faithful Democrats, the National Clergy Council said it was “saddened that the signers who name themselves as Christians choose to use political labels to divide the Body of Christ.”

“We reject the attempt to stereotype our members as ‘right-wing,'” declared the National Clergy Council’s president, Rob Schenck. “Among us are Democrats, independents, Republicans, constitutionalists and those who claim no political affiliation at all.

The letter from Faithful Democrats to pastors across the nation came in response to the council’s request that Warren rescind an invitation to abortion supporter Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to speak from his pulpit at an AIDS conference seminar today called, “We Must Work Together.”

The Faithful Democrats letter said it’s “unfortunate” the National Clergy Council and other groups “would exploit the Christian faith to advance their divisive agenda – an agenda that gives almost exclusive attention to a few wedge issues while ignoring the diversity of problems plaguing American communities.”

Faithful Democrats signatories included Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Call to Renewal, Tony Campolo of Eastern University, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Randall Balmer of Columbia University, Paul de Vries of New York Divinity School and C. Welton Gaddy of Northminster Baptist Church in Louisiana.

The group said it rejects “creation of an unbiblical litmus test to exclude believers from the body of Christ. We are called to the ministry of reconciliation and the liberation of all people, spiritually and socially.”

In response, Schenck said his National Clergy Council rejects “the charge that we ‘exploit the Christian faith’ to advance a ‘divisive agenda,'” arguing his members “are fully engaged in a plethora of ministries from prophetically declaring the Truth of God’s Word, to evangelism and missions, to outreaches to the homeless, the hungry, the addicted, the sick, the persecuted and the imprisoned.”

Schenck said it’s “unseemly and regrettable for Christians to point their fingers and beat their chests, competing for the top prize of ‘most compassionate’ or ‘champion of justice.’ Jesus said when it comes to Godly acts of generosity we are not to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. In other words, we are not to brag about the good things we do.”

Schenck then pointed out that he and several other executive officers of his group have spent most of their ministry careers in “ministries of Christian compassion.”

“Rather than get into a spitting war over who better cares for the needy, let us focus on the real issue at the center of this controversy,” he said.

Schenck called the HIV/AIDS epidemic “an enormous human tragedy that demands an immediate and unequivocal Christ-like response.”

He complemented Warren and his wife, Kay, for their new initiative and said his “only criticism for Pastor Warren is related to his invitation to share his pulpit – what many of us call ‘the sacred desk’ – with a politician who has a consistent record of advancing specific policies, legislation and spending that have resulted or will result in the willful killing of babies in the womb and birth canal.”

Schenck said the result of Obama’s appearance behind the pulpit – “the place where the Truth of God’s Word is, presumably, proclaimed without compromise” – will be “discord, division and confusion among Christians.”

“Now that the deed is done,” he said, “we turn our plea in earnest toward an honest and public discussion about this episode among Christian leaders from all traditions and political affiliations. If we believe God can redeem even the worst of our mistakes, then He can certainly use this for the betterment of all His people. We pledge ourselves unreservedly to participate in such a redemptive exercise.”

In its letter Thursday, Faithful Democrats said that in the face of the AIDS crisis, “it boggles our minds and offends our God-given sense of justice that these groups would choose to attack Senator Obama and Reverend Warren – Christians both – for working together to stamp out AIDS.

“It is time for believers to unite under the banner of truth and work to address our society’s most pressing problems. The time for scare tactics and divisiveness is over. As leaders in the Christian community, we will not stand silent in the face of these attacks, but will instead serve as voices for equality, fairness, and justice for all people.”

Saddleback Church, in a statement issued earlier this week, said Warren disagrees with Obama’s strong support for abortion and has told him so in a public meeting. But he still was allowed to address the AIDS conference because getting different parts of society working together on the problem is so important.”

The statement said, “While knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS, the speakers at the Summit do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of Saddleback Church, its pastoral leadership or the congregation. As a result, we’re not making an endorsement of Obama or any of the other speakers. Rather by coming to Saddleback, the Summit speakers are affirming and supporting the vital role of the Church in fighting the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.”

Warren also has been criticized recently for his trip to Syria, where he described the government and its policies as “moderate” even though the U.S. calls Syria “terrorism-sponsoring” and Mideast experts confirm it has punitive policies discriminating against Christians and Jews.

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