Archive for the ‘Rick Warren’ Category

Dear Rick: Form Letters Undermine Reconciliation

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Some of the comments left here on the blog in response to Rick Warren’s form letter to African American ministers have left me shaking my head. (I’ve just been too busy with other matters to come back in and comment on the comments.)

Some folks want to know what’s the big deal. Others think we oughta cut Warren some slack. Some think that instead of putting what they feel is Warren’s naive, but well-intentioned, gesture “on blast” (as the youngun’s would say), I and other black ministers should reach out to fifty-four year old Warren and use this as an opportunity to enlighten him and help him understand race and racism in America. A couple of you seem to think the scripture “Judge not, lest you be judged” means Christians (and non-Christians) should refrain from commenting on what we see going on in the world. Thank God, we don’t all think alike.

With pride I post here on the blog official responses from colleagues around the country to Rick Warren’s form letter.  I post them here as proof that the Black church in America is not as gullible, stupid, and irrelevant as many in blogosphere suppose. I post them also to show that thinking women and men of faith must not mistake patronage for reconciliation, nor tokenism for justice. I post my colleagues responses (at least two of them), finally, as my way of insisting that neither Rick Warren nor the media gets to decide who our leaders are in the Black church. We are called by God “at such a time as this” to be ministers, community activists, prophets, and public thinkers even if we’re never invited by Larry King Live, MSNBC,  The New York Times or the Saddlebrook Churches of the country to be on panels or offer our opinion on today’s current events. As African-American ministers we are many, and we are not a monolith.

Earlier today I posted Iva Carruther’s response as General Secretary of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc., an organization representing a cross section of some of the most dynamic and progressive African American faith leaders and their congregations in the United States.

Tonight I post a letter to Warren sent by Frank Thomas, Senior Pastor of Mississippi Blvd Christian Church of Memphis, TN and Co-Executive Editor of The African American Pulpit (the journal Warren used to find and identify African American ministers for his project).


Dear Pastor Warren:

First, let me thank you for subscribing to the African American Pulpit. We appreciate your interest and support. Without our subscribers, The African American Pulpit would be defunct.  Thank you for the wonderful support you provide.

I must make you aware that I was initially disappointed and later angry to find that many clergy were getting the same “form” letter from you as I received. While you have the right to email letters to anyone that you deem necessary, the fact that we all got the same letter with only the first paragraph changed made your personal request impersonal. I have several friends that cross racial boundaries and based upon our relationship, we ask each for advice on sermons and even situations in our churches. Often more than the advice, it is the fact that someone will listen and talk through the concerns – in other words relationship and listening is more important than the advice.  I know that you are a very busy pastor, with many huge responsibilities, and I did not expect that there would be dialogue or relationship between you and I. I am not looking for that, and I am sure that you have many quality relationships as well, but I did want more than my opinion to be a response to a form letter that was sent to many clergy. It said to me that you were not serious, and I wondered about the real motive.

I think questions such as you ask about preaching the King service are best asked in relationship and intimacy with an African American pastor. Form letters are not the best forum, and in true relationship such questions get responded to easily and quickly.  I appreciate your ministry of reconciliation and the fact that you are always trying to build bridges to African American pastors. I would suggest that it might be better that such bridges are built one pastor at a time in one on one relationships rather than form letters. Form letters undermine reconciliation.

I have found in my community that my relationship with a white, Presbyterian pastor has meant more and effected more change than all of the mass clergy meetings that I have done. It starts one on one with one pastor confiding in and relating to another. I believe that we can change the world one pastor at a time. Form letters do not change the world – they give the illusion of intimacy, when in fact they are de-personal.

I will pray that you preach well at the King service. May it be a blessing to a world that is starving for justice, truth, and peace.

Frank Thomas
Senior Pastor Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, Memphis
Co-Executive Editor of The African American Pulpit


Finally, just in case there are those of you out there who still think we’re being unfair to Warren. Here is the “form letter” response everyone, regardless what they write, gets from Warren’s office:

Thank you  _____ - I am humbled by your words. This is really great and thank you for sending to me! This is so helpful as I am getting ready to speak on Monday. I look forward to working with you in the future! We’re praying for you -


Lend Me Your Anointing

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

On January 11, selected African American clergy from around the nation received a flattering and enticing form email and offer from Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church.  The email offer celebrated a specific sermon of theirs he had read in the African American Pulpit, praised them for their insights, and then requested their input into the sermon he was preparing as the “first white pastor to preach” at the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

This is the same Warren who has yet to respond to a letter from an interfaith group of clergy on racism in America, sent in July 2008.

This is the same Warren who co-opted the Compassion Forum to ensure that his personal agenda would transcend the agenda of a collaboration of faith leaders.

This is the same Warren who is in need of some public legitimacy and affirmation from the African American faith community and others, because of what his record and words said he believed in, before the Obama presidential election.  Now that we are in the Post-Obama presidential election era, the chameleon is in a constant state of change as he calls for support to fulfill his ministry of reconciliation.

And the net has been cast to see how many African American clergy can be caught for the journey.

Forget the part about truth, confession and contrition.  It’s just time to move on to the post-racial era.

Forget about the data on what’s really happening in African American and poor communities across the nation.  If it’s not on CNN, it did not happen.   Well, it’s almost like the post-Emancipation jubilee; after all the inaugural celebration is done, African American spokespersons, especially clergy, will again be at the crossroad of choice.  Will they serve the interests of powers and principalities or will they hear and respond to the cries of the people?

Oh, by the way, Pastor Warren, for the record, you are not the first white pastor to preach the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Ebenezer.  But, perhaps truth does not matter.

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers
General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc.
Founder and Director of Lois House, an urban retreat center,
Trustee for the Chicago Theological Seminary
January 15, 2009