Branding a Compassionate Christ a 'Liberal'

A scheduled appearance by Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., at pastor Rick Warren's "Global Summit on AIDS" Friday afternoon is sparking protests within the Christian community, as conservative evangelical leaders differ in their views of bringing new issues to their political mission.

Warren holds his second annual Global Summit at his 22,000 member church in Lake Forest, Calif.

The best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life" and influential conservative evangelical decided amidst much fanfare last year that conservative Christians had for too long ignored those suffering with AIDS. And he decided that was not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

"The fact is the evangelical realm of the church has failed in this area. They've put it off too long, they didn't care," Warren told ABC News last year.

But many leaders decidely care that Warren invited the liberal Democrat Obama to speak at Friday's conference. Dozens of conservative Christians have urged Warren to rescind his invitation, including Rev. Rob Schenck, who heads the National Clergy Council.

"When you put someone like Sen. Obama in that pulpit, you loan that individual a religious credential they otherwise wouldn't have," Schenck said. "That's what we object to."

Schenck said Warren has no business bringing a man who supports abortion rights to the pulpit, what he called sacred desk.

"Sen. Obama's policies would nullify that right to life, and right now that is the paramount moral issue of our day," he said. "Sen. Obama's presence in Rick Warren's pulpit will send a very confusing signal on that."

Splintering Community

This debate is just the latest in a number of contentious fights emerging within the Christian conservative community. Many evangelical Christians are openly questioning whether their leaders have focused too much on issues such as abortion while ignoring subjects more relevant to the vast majority of what's in the Bible -- such as helping the poor and the sick.

"What would Jesus do?" they ask. Warren, in an e-mail to his congregants, responded to the criticism by noting, "Jesus loved and accepted others without approving of everything they did. That's our position too, but it upsets a lot of people … "

'Not Just About Morality'

Also upsetting a lot of people is the Rev. Joel Hunter of the Northland Church outside Orlando, Fla.

Hunter was named president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America but resigned this week even before his term could begin, saying the board disagreed with his desire to expand the group's agenda beyond opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

"I wanted for us to do in the political realm, in the political advocacy realm, what we do in the church," Hunter said. " We pay attention to poor people, we pay attention to injustice, we pay attention to those who are sick, we pay attention to the environment, because it's God's gift of creation and so on and so forth. So I wanted to expand the issue base … because Christ was not just about morality, Christ was about compassion."

Hunter said he would also have "stuck by" the traditional moral issues while tackling the other issues. But this week he announced that he and the board had parted ways.

"They really weren't ready to risk expanding into these other areas. They were afraid of alienating the base, which is a legitimate concern. They were afraid of declining income, which is a legitimate concern," Hunter said.

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