Everything about Rick Warren is larger than life, from his megachurch, Saddleback, with its tens of thousands of members, to his best-selling book and its millions of copies.
It is not an exaggeration to say his brand of warm, accessible Christianity has changed the way many evangelicals see themselves … and changed how many other people see evangelicals.
But it is Kay Warren — his wife of 32 years and mother of his three children — who changed him.
The couple, both children of ministers, met at a Baptist retreat and married at 21. Rick proposed after only two dates.
"He's fast," said Warren. "And I had one of those moments where I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. And so I said yes, even though looking back on that, I think, 'Wow, I was very young and naive.' But I really do believe that Rick and I might not have gotten together any other way."
"I don't believe in the phrase compatibility. I think it's a myth," said Rick Warren. "I think any two people can be compatible if they just grow up. And a lot of it is plain selfishness: 'I don't want to change.' You know, we say before marriage 'opposites attract,' and then after marriage 'opposites attack.' And so that's what happened with us."
"The first few years of our marriage were pretty much hell on earth," he added, laughing, "but we've been married now 32 incredible years."
Now 53, Warren has written her own remarkable story, "Dangerous Surrender," which details their journey together as her husband became one of the most influential pastors in the world, including those "awful" early years of marriage.
Warren doesn't just open up about her relationship; some other revelations in the book are shocking, particularly coming from the minister's wife. She talks candidly about being molested when she was 3 years old.
"I talked about some of the effects of that molestation, the brokenness that happened in my life," she said. "The addiction to pornography. Experimentation, sexually, with some older kids. I'd never talked about that to anybody besides my husband and my counselor."
Warren says that as a teenager, pornography "became a regular part" of her life.
"I did a lot of baby-sitting, and it turns out some of the people I baby-sat for had pornography," she explained. "And I viewed it. And I wanted to do it. And it became a cycle of failure. Anybody who's ever caught in any addiction. … The cycles are the same. … Drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping. … It doesn't even matter. Whatever that addiction is, that cycle is the same. And to break that and to find freedom on the other side, and to find freedom from the guilt and the shame is so incredible."
Warren says that like any addiction, she was using pornography to "soothe the ache" of her abuse. Years of living with silence and shame makes the startling change Warren underwent five years ago even more surprising. Abrupt and unexpected, it was brought about by reading a magazine she has long since thrown away.
"It was not a cover story, but on the cover there was this little line that read something about a story on AIDS in Africa," she said. "I opened it up and began to read. I was instantly horrified."
Reading about the 12 million children orphaned in Africa due to AIDS rocked her world, but Warren says she isn't sure what made her notice that particular article on that particular day, or why she had been oblivious to the issue beforehand.