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The Balls-in-the-Air Question
The halting progress of Warren's PEACE program raises another question: Is he oversubscribed? I ask him how many countries there are in the world. Of course, he knows: "There's 195 countries." I think, 195 countries, and so far, even one seems to be a challenge. As Warren tallies it, he is just 28 years into a 40-year commitment to pastor Saddleback. He has written a holiday book, The Purpose of Christmas. He spent much of the past six months in 20 countries doing purpose-driven training and will be traveling to New York City in November, when 350 churches will do "40 Days of Purpose." As we speak, he is in Buenos Aires; yesterday was Brazil. His networking presents escalating opportunities, but of course, opportunities eat time. "It's the most amazing thing," he says. "I've had to add a new hat: my statesman hat. I had a call the other day from a President in Africa asking me to contact a President in Asia to set up a meeting." Then there's his business hat: "I put this unbelievably big deal together. The bottom line was $300 million." How did it happen? "A guy called me and asked me, 'Would you call this person?,' and I said, 'Well, it's not my role or anything I aspire to,' but out of it came this huge deal."
Warren may not aspire to global mogulhood, but he is clearly near giddy over occupying a globetrotting-catalyst status normally reserved for ex-Presidents. If he no longer wants to be the official pastor of the Republican Party, that's in part because he needs support from both parties for his various world projects. His new willingness to embrace causes regardless of their political implications places him firmly in the movement of New Evangelicalism, which remains socially conservative but has opinions on, say, Christianity in China that don't align with either political party's.
It's possible that what drives Warren is the opportunity not just to lead American Evangelicalism but also to reshape it as a broad-based postpartisan movement, as focused on challenges abroad as Graham's was on the crisis within. But it's still unclear whether Warren's many spheres of activity, his seemingly genetic disposition to multitask will sap his energy and influence rather than enhance them. Trouble recently popped up in the form of an "Evangelical Manifesto" that expressed several New Evangelicalism principles he has come to support. Despite having helped launch the document and claiming to still agree with it, he declined to sign it, saying it was released before consensus could develop for it. Warren's retreat made it easier for old-line conservatives to dismiss it. It would indubitably have fared better had he applied his networking skills.
"The only worry one might have about Rick Warren," says Michael Cromartie, a prominent Washington Evangelical with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, "is that he gets so many balls going up in the air that one might ask, 'Does he have enough hands to catch them?'" Warren has clearly heard this before. "God has given me the ability to manage my time pretty well," he says. "I can handle a lot of balls." Everything he does, he claims, feeds everything else. "I'm a door opener and a bridge builder," he insists. "If I weren't doing it, I'd be dead and in my grave."
An argument can be made that Warren's career has always been a California freeway, navigated at full speed with panache. But there is bound to come a moment when even a man with a racing brain can't keep up with all his options and must define himself more closely in order to do things right. Inevitably, that point will follow a great new opportunity, like the presidential forum and the possibilities it embodies. I ask Warren what Bible verse he will take into the forum, and he quotes David's words after God has secured his position as the King of Israel "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me so far?" and David's subsequent realization that God did it for the sake of His word and according to His will. It is a humble response, one that puts Warren's elevation, like David's, in the Deity's hands. But as Warren knows and David's kingship abundantly proved, it can be after the coronation that the complications really set in.
with reporting by Alex Perry/Kigali