- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009




In choosing pastor Rick Warren to officiate at his inauguration, Barack Obama did not look backwards to Bush-style faith based initiatives but forwards to a new kind of partnership between government, the private sector and the faith community.

Pro-life and anti-gay marriage are excellent credentials for a member of the religious right in America. Pastor Rick Warren, who heads the Saddleback mega-church in California, adheres to both these principles and was therefore a surprise choice to anoint a liberal president.

Indeed, Warren’s selection drew heavy criticism from Democrat activists and liberal commentators such as Frank Rich in the New York Times.

There’s no doubting Warren’s moral conservatism, but he is no typical conservative evangelical. He seems equally at home at gatherings of global leaders in Davos as he is in the pulpit, as he applies his ‘purpose-driven’ leadership to tackling big social problems such as malaria in Africa. He is already familiar with the White House, having been a participant in the December 2006 malaria summit, where he pledged his church’s support to Rwanda.

Faith-based aid organizations were part of President Bush’s overseas aid strategy. What marks Warren out as different is his willingness to decouple aid and evangelism, happily working with other denominations and even other faiths - including mammon.

Warren wants to bring down what he calls the “five global goliaths”: spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases and illiteracy, and lack of education. To do so, he has a vision of the church as the ‘third leg of the stool’, working in partnership with government and the private sector.

Warren is a disciple of the management guru Peter Drucker, his mentor for 20 years who helped him design a church to thrive in what Warren calls the “spiritual free market.” In his later years Drucker called for ethical leadership in business and was increasingly focused on the role of the nonprofit sector and social entrepreneurs in building community and gluing society together. He argued that the best leaders were “purpose driven.” This is the defining characteristic of a new global power elite, led by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, that is working to tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems - which look remarkably like Warren’s ‘goliaths’.

If President Obama is going to have the impact his supporters hope, he will need to work in partnership with private philanthropists and social entrepreneurs (faith-based and secular). He has already made this part of his transition priorities. By choosing Warren to stand beside him yesterday at his Inauguration, let’s hope he’s pledging to make that a central pillar of his presidency.

Matthew Bishop is New York bureau chief of The Economist magazine, and co-author of the book, “Philanthrocapitalism: How The Rich Can Save The World.”

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