november 30, 2006
Rick Warren, Barack Obama, and the Pope in Turkey
It's the clash of the cultures in California as Rick Warren defends his decision to invite Illinois Senator Barack Obama to speak at Saddleback Church.
On Wednesday, the well-known pastor and best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life defended his invitation to potential 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama to speak at his church. But some evangelicals who oppose the Democrat's support for abortion rights voiced objections.
Obama is one of nearly 60 speakers scheduled to address the second annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church this week at Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
According to the Associated Press, Obama plans to take an HIV test during his appearance and will encourage others to do the same. The Illinois Democrat will be joined by a potential 2008 White House rival, Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, and is urging unity to fight AIDS despite differences on other issues.
Conservative evangelical Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, e-mailed reporters Tuesday to protest the visit because of Obama's support of abortion rights. "Senator Obama's policies represent the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality, not to mention supreme American values," Schenck wrote.
Saddleback responded with a statement acknowledging "strong opposition" to Obama's participation. The church said participants were invited because of their knowledge of HIV/AIDS and that Warren opposes Obama's position on abortion and other issues.
"Our goal has been to put people together who normally won't even speak to each other," the Saddleback statement said. "We do not expect all participants in the summit discussion to agree with all of our evangelical beliefs. However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by evangelicals alone. It will take the cooperation of all -- government, business, NGOs and the church."
Obama also issued a written statement saying that while he respects differing views on abortion, he hopes for unity "to honor the entirety of Christ's teachings by working to eradicate the scourge of AIDS, poverty and other challenges we all can agree must be met."
I believe Rick Warren is making the right call by inviting people like Obama to be part of the conversation on AIDS. We already speak to ourselves as evangelicals. It's time to start a dialogue in this country -- and around the world -- with those who may not agree with the evangelical position, but who are willing to talk about ways to find solutions to the problems we face.
And if you haven't noticed, AIDS is one of the biggest problems facing the Church around the world today.
More than 22 million people have died of AIDS. More than 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and 74 percent of these infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 14,000 new infections every day (95 percent in developing countries). HIV/AIDS is in many ways a "disease of young people" with half of the 5 million new infections each year occurring among people ages 15 to 24.
By 2010, 25 million children will have been orphaned by AIDS -- most of them in Africa, where an entire generation of people have been wiped out by this plague in some regions.
These are people -- people that Jesus died for -- people who are mothers, sons, daughters, and fathers -- people like you and me who need our compassion and not our political infighting.
Just as Billy Graham was criticized for opening a dialogue with the leaders of the former Soviet Union in the 1980s, Rick Warren is being attacked for his willingness to go to North Korea -- and his willingness to start a dialogue in America with people from the liberal side of the political spectrum.
Billy Graham was right to try to build bridges then (though I didn't agree with all his conclusions about religious persecution in the Soviet Union), and I believe Rick Warren is right in what he is doing now. It's time to take the gospel from the stained glass of the churches into the plain glass of the world.
The Pope in Turkey
As Pope Benedict XVI visits Turkey this week, he is both working to ease anger over his recent remarks linking Islam and violence. But he is also expected to press this secular country -- which has a 99 percent Muslim population -- to give its Christian community more rights.
Some of those Christians are forced to worship in what are called "apartment churches" -- or no church at all -- and they often suffer prejudice, discrimination, and even assault.
"The pope will discuss the rights of the religious minority" with Turkish officials, Monsignor Luigi Padovese told the Associated Press. Monsignor Padovese is the pope's vicar in Anatolia. "In a secular country, people must have the right to believe in whatever faith they choose to believe."
One protestant pastor, the Rev. Ihsan Ozbek, sees an opening for dialogue. "We face serious problems. Turkish citizens who converted to Christianity, especially, face serious discrimination and violence," he said. According to the AP, the windows of his makeshift chapel have twice been smashed by suspected Turkish nationalists, reflecting a widely held conviction that conversion is treason and that Christian clergy are missionaries or spies for Western powers.
Of Turkey's 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 are Roman Catholic, and 3,500 are Protestant, mostly converts from Islam. Another 2,000 are Greek Orthodox and 23,000 are Jewish.
But the small Christian community is not reflective of the Christian Church's long history in Turkey.
The great city of Constantinople is modern-day Istanbul. It was the Christian Byzantine capital for more than 1,000 years until it fell to Muslim forces in 1453 and became the seat of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
Today, Christianity is an often-persecuted minority in Turkey.
According to George Thomas of CBN News, who is reporting from Turkey this week, on November 23rd, a criminal court charged two Christian men, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal, under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. Under this widely-criticized law, the men allegedly insulted "Turkishness" and incited hate while "trying to convert other Turks to Christianity."
"We are not guilty but, yes, we do share our faith because the Bible tells us that we are free to talk about the love of Christ to anyone who asks for it," Tastan said.
Article 301 has been condemned by human rights groups for restricting freedom of speech. Thomas reports that European officials have demanded that Turkey amend the article if it hopes to join the European Union. Christians in Turkey have suffered much over the years. Converts are often considered spies for America and those caught sharing the Gospel are often detained.
Those who convert to Christianity are accused of betraying Turkish heritage.
Tastan and Topal's case goes to trial in January. "We are all Turks and proud of it," Topal said. "God created humans in His likeness, including the Turkish people."
More from George Thomas in Turkey:
Article 301: Thou Shall Not Share Christ
The Radicalization of Turkey
Read George's Blog, "WorldBeat"
Related story from CBN News -- Pope: Christian Divisions "Scandalous"
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