Rick Warren: “You Don’t Overcome Evil by Protesting, Marching or Demonstrating”

In 2005, Pastor Rick Warren announced that Rwanda would become the world’s first “Purpose Driven Nation”, following the principles of his book The Purpose Driven Life and his “P.E.A.C.E.” plan for Africa. Originally, “P.E.A.C.E.” stood for “Plant churches, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation”, although the “P” has now become “Promote reconciliation”.

His latest tour of East Africa – during which he spoke against gay rights in Uganda – has concluded with high-profile meetings in Kenya, and a message of opposition to political protest. A news release from A. Larry Ross Communications reports:

“We must never let politics or anything else divide us,” Dr. Warren challenged. “Our message is, ‘Overcome evil with good.’ You don’t overcome evil by protesting, marching or demonstrating.”

Of course the context here is the recent violence in Kenya, and doubtless Warren believes that God’s will and prayer are ultimately what bring about change, but this appears to be a blanket dismissal of political protest. Warren continues:

“God is softening the hearts of people across this country; don’t miss this opportunity by focusing on politics,” Dr. Warren explained. “There is only one thing that will unite this nation, and it is not politics – it is the Church, your church.”

Kenya’s political leaders agree:

During a subsequent meeting at the Statehouse with Mr. Kenneth Marende, speaker of the house of parliament, Dr. Warren outlined biblical principles of leadership and how they apply to Kenya’s current crisis. Mr. Marende asked Dr. Warren to return for a day of training on that curriculum for all Parliamentarians on his next visit to Nairobi.

Kenyan church leaders are reportedly committed to making Kenya the third “Purpose Driven Nation”, following Rwanda and Uganda.

An earlier report gives the view from Rwanda:

“This week we are launching a biblical way of living in Rwanda – we call it, ‘The Purpose Driven Life,'” Dr. Warren said to nearly 20,000 gathered in the hot African sun. “What matters in life is your relationship to God and His purpose for you. The first 500 churches will start this weekend. When they finish, they will train others – your church – and then your church will help even more churches.”

There was a graduation ceremony for 200 Rwandan pastors who had been through the “three-year Purpose Driven and P.E.A.C.E. training program”:

“What is unique about this initiative is that the P.E.A.C.E. plan combines the talent and energy from three sectors of society – public, private and faith,” President Kagame continued, affirming Saddleback Church’s Western Rwanda HIV/AIDS Healthcare Initiative Project that is reinventing healthcare management and distribution by using churches as clinics. “This model can be replicated in other parts of our country. More importantly, more Rwandans of faith need to adopt this mindset.”

It seems to me it would be wrong to dismiss Warren’s efforts; clearly he and his church are providing much-needed services, and his approach to Africa is rather more sophisticated than that of some other foreign evangelists, who jet in to preside over “miracle crusade” mass rallies, perform a few dubious “healings”, and then fly out again. His emphasis on good management – borrowed largely from Peter Drucker – is also an appropriate response to some of the underlying problems in Africa. However, there is also cause for concern: Warren’s anti-gay comments in Uganda will exacerbate bigoted attitudes there, and there does not seem to be any critical distance from the political leaders he deals with – particularly troublesome given the increasing authoritarian ruling-style of President Museveni of Uganda.

His actual analysis of the situations in the countries he visits is sometimes also cringingly platitudinous; here he is in Kenya:

“God’s purpose for this nation is greater than the pain you are going through now,” Dr. Warren told Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka. “From the outside it looks like pain, but from God’s perspective, it looks like labor before new birth. Don’t look at what you’ve lost; look at what is left. Kenya is still a vibrant nation, and out of this will come new life for the country and its people.”

If the situation in Kenya deteriorates, this is going to look fatuous in the extreme. A report from Rwanda concerning Warren’s wife, meanwhile, has the smug headline: “Kay Warren Challenges Rwandan Women about Reconciliation and Forgiveness”:

“These are days of mourning and reflection, but also days of hope and healing,” Mrs. Warren said. “Rwanda is becoming known – not just for genocide, but for what you are teaching the world about reconciliation. But true reconciliation is not possible without forgiveness.”

Mrs. Warren used the New Testament passage found in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant, emphasizing that we are forgiven, so that we can forgive. “I believe in this story that Jesus is calling us to forgiveness, saying, ‘It is time to let it go,'” she said.

This contrasts with South Africa, where “truth” was seen as just as important as “forgiveness” to reconciliation, rather than just “letting it go”. However, it’s a message that’s likely to appeal to President Paul Kagame, who is facing scrutiny over his possible role in the 1994 shooting-down of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s areoplane, which ignited the massacres.

The Orange County Register, which has followed Warren closely, addressed some of these concerns in January last year; it noted that human-rights workers believe that “Warren and his teams of PEACE missionaries may be unwittingly playing politics.”