WASHINGTON – Famed pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren Wednesday defended his invitation to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to speak at his church from objections by other evangelicals to the senator’s support of abortion rights.
Obama is one of nearly 60 speakers scheduled to address the second annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church beginning Thursday at Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
Obama, who is mulling a run for president, plans to take an HIV test during his appearance Friday and encourage others to do the same. The Illinois Democrat will be joined by a potential 2008 White House rival – Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
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, author of the “Purpose Driven Life,” opposes Obama’s position on abortion and other issues.
“Anyone who has read ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ specifically chapters two and 22, knows the Warrens are staunchly pro-life, because it’s the biblical position,” the statement said.
The statement cited a letter that Warren sent to other pastors before the 2004 election that said, “To be truly pro-life means far more than opposing abortion. It also means doing everything in our power to keep people alive, so they might respond to the grace of Jesus Christ. Sometimes that means working with people you disagree with. With AIDS killing 8,000 people a day, saving lives is more important to us than political alignment.”
The statement also noted that Obama will not address the Saddleback congregation, but a conference of leaders focusing on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“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 was not immediately available for comment.
Though still in his first term in the Senate, Obama has attracted national attention for his fresh face, commanding speaking style and compelling personal story. He also has encouraged liberals to engage in religious discourse and not leave the topic to conservatives to claim as their own.
While in California, Obama also plans a Friday night appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to promote his best-selling book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
As part of his consideration for a presidential run, Obama will make his first political visit to New Hampshire on Dec. 10 for a celebration of the state Democratic Party’s victories in the congressional, gubernatorial and legislative races.
Obama has traveled to Iowa, site of the leadoff presidential caucuses, but New Hampshire hasn’t been on his itinerary.
The race for the 2008 Democratic nomination is considered wide open, and at least a dozen potential contenders are weighing formal bids, including front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.