Warren clarifies affiliation with SBC
By Greg Warner
Associated Baptist Press
LAKE FOREST, Calif. (ABP) –Saddleback Community Church is the largest congregation in the Southern Baptist Convention. But is it really Southern Baptist?
Pastor Rick Warren told a group of journalists in May the 40,000-member church no longer is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. But he retracted that statement Aug. 20, saying he misspoke.
A transcript of the interview, posted in May on the website of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life, was altered to delete the declaration at Warren's request, a Pew spokesman said.
In a recent interview, Warren clarified his position, saying: “I'm Southern Baptist. Our church is Southern Baptist. And we are a leader in SBC missions support in our state.”
In the original May 23 interview, Warren responded to a question by Rebecca Haggerty of NBC's Dateline, who asked in what denomination he grew up.
Warren responded: “My father was a Baptist pastor. I grew up in little tiny churches of less than 50 people. I call myself an evangelical. We are … .”
Haggerty apparently interrupted, asking, “Your church is not a Baptist church?”
Warren responded: “No–it was. In the early years, when we first got started, it was a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. One out of 10 churches in America is an SBC church, and the reason the denomination's so big is that every church is totally independent. The denomination has no control over it. So basically we cooperated with them in their missions program, but now we're doing our own missions program.”
The altered transcript, on the other hand, ends the quotation with “I call myself an evangelical.” It then jumps to the next question by Haggerty, on a different topic.
Warren, whose book The Purpose-Driven Life has sold a record 20 million copies, asked Pew to change the quote, which the organization did. But not before the transcript got passed around among some Southern Baptists, stirring discussion on several Internet chatrooms and weblogs.
The rumor of Saddleback's departure from the Southern Baptist Convention took on more credence after the July Baptist World Alliance meeting in England, where Warren, a keynote speaker, disagreed publicly with the SBC's withdrawal from BWA.
Saddleback Community Church, started by Warren and his wife, Kay, in 1980, always has downplayed its denominational affiliation because of what Warren calls “widespread misperceptions” about Southern Baptists.
Saddleback claims 40,000 members and regular attenders, which would make it the largest church in the country.
In 2004, the church gave $150,000 through the California Southern Baptist Convention, which qualifies it as a California Baptist and Southern Baptist church.
Warren said he misunderstood Haggerty's question during the May interview.
“At one point, I thought I was asked if Saddleback was identified as a Southern Baptist church, and I told the reporter 'no' because we've never had Southern Baptist in the name of our church,” he explained in an e-mail. “Reading the transcript, I saw that the question was, 'Your church is not a Baptist church?'
“In the early years of our church, we used to put the byline 'Southern Baptist Convention' under the name 'Saddleback Community Church' in our ads, business cards and brochures, but we dropped that by 1982. But for 25 years, our church has been involved in the convention at the association, state and national level and has no intention of changing that.”
“The bottom line is, I jumbled my words in haste trying to quickly explain that Saddleback has thousands of members–over 4,500–who've gone on short-term missions around the world. It appears that I said we're not supporting Southern Baptist missions, but, of course, that simply isn't true.”
Warren said a person in the public spotlight is bound to “eventually say something he didn't mean, or intend, or even believe.”
“Any individual's ministry and impact needs to be evaluated in toto, and not on the basis of one stray comment from a live–and sometimes adversarial–interview,” he added.
“I trust that fellow Southern Baptists will realize that my and Saddleback's mission is better reflected by our faithful track record over 25 years, rather than my fatigue in the spotlight during a busy week.”