Branding a Compassionate Christ a 'Liberal'

Dissention among religious leaders led to protests at Rick Warren's AIDS summit

ByABC News
November 30, 2006, 9:12 PM

LONGWOOD, Fl., Nov. 30, 2006 — -- 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."

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.