The Reverend Rick Warren was the featured speaker this weekend at a Muslim conference in Long Beach. President-elect Obama has invited the evangelical minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. That's angered many gays and lesbians. Warren briefly addressed that issue and reached out to Muslims in what was billed as his first major address to a Muslim audience. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.
Frank Stoltze: More than a thousand Muslims packed the Long Beach convention hall for the annual banquet of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Executive Director Salam Al-Maryati says he invited Warren to speak because he's a new kind of evangelical Christian.
Salam Al-Maryati: People like Rick Warren represent a change in the paradigm from one of confrontation to one of accommodation and cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
Rick Warren: As-slaam alaikum.
Stoltze: The 54-year-old Warren began with the traditional Arabic greeting. It means, "Peace be upon you."
Warren: Let me just get this over real quickly. I love Muslims. (applause) And, for the media's purpose, I happen to love gays and straights. (applause)
Stoltze: In the past, Warren's also said he thinks homosexuality is unnatural, and equated approving gay marriage to condoning incest. He backed Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage that California voters approved last month.
President-elect Obama, who opposed Prop 8, has come under fire from gay activists for inviting Warren to deliver a prayer at his inauguration.
Warren: My attitude is, you don't have to see eye-to-eye to walk hand-in-hand. And this is what Barack Obama and I happen to agree on.
Stoltze: Warren heads one of the largest evangelical congregations in the nation, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest in Orange County. He espouses traditional conservative views. He's also urged Christians to do more to fight poverty, AIDS, and global warming. Warren invited Muslims to join him.
Warren: There are a billion Muslims in the world. There are about two billion Christians in the world. If just the two of us could get together to start working on these problems, that would be half the world.
Stoltze: Sajid Veera of Redondo Beach, Raudina Edaih-Tally of Irvine, and Faheed Ahmad of the San Fernando Valley said the pastor impressed them.
Sajid Veera: It was eye opening.
Stoltze: What was eye opening?
Veera: The similarities between what he believes and what his faith is, and what Islam teaches us. It's the same coin with two different sides.
Raudina Edaih-Tally: I'd always heard of Rick Warren, but today, I have more respect for the man.
Faheed Ahmad: I mean, I must admit, I had some preconceived notions. Just in my head, I was like, 'oh, here's another bigot.'
Stoltze: So he changed your mind?
Ahmad: Yeah, definitely, definitely.
Stoltze: Warren is the author of "The Purpose Driven Life," a Christian devotional that's sold more than 20 million copies. He provided autographed copies for sale at the Muslim convention.
Stoltze: We're over here at the table that's selling "The Purpose Driven Life," the book by Rick Warren. How are sales going?
Bookseller: Actually, they're pretty good. All the signed copies are gone. I think it was about four boxes of them.
Melissa Etheridge: Today, I reached out to Pastor Rick Warren.
Stoltze: Singer-Songwriter Melissa Etheridge sang at the banquet, and sat at the same table as Warren. She said he'd apologized to her for some of things he'd said about gay marriage. Etheridge, who is lesbian, disagrees with those who've urged Obama to take him off the inauguration agenda.
Etheridge: I would urge leaders of the gay community to reach out to him, as we would hope people would reach out to us and listen to us. We have a lot more in common than has been painted.
Stoltze: The pastor, it seems, had won some converts at the Muslim Public Affairs Council banquet.