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updated 12/24/2006 1:17:12 PM ET 2006-12-24T18:17:12

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Christmas Eve morning: faith in America.  Can religion unite the country for the greater good? And what role will God and values play in the 2008 presidential election? With us, the pastor of one of America’s largest churches and author of the best-selling hard-cover book in U.S. history, “The Purpose Driven Life,” Dr. Rick Warren; and the editor of Newsweek magazine and author of “American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation,” Jon Meacham. Then, two MEET THE PRESS holiday traditions, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE from Christmas Day 51 years ago with poet Robert Frost and a special performance by the U.S. Navy Band Brass Quartet.

But first, we are joined by Pastor Rick Warren and Jon Meacham. Welcome both, Merry Christmas.

DR. RICK WARREN: Thank you, Tim. Merry Christmas to you.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, let me start with you. Ninety-five percent of Americans say they believe in God.

MR. JON MEACHAM: Correct.

MR. RUSSERT: A survey done for Baylor University says it’s different views of God, authoritarian God, benevolent God, critical God, distant God, but we are a religious nation.

MR. MEACHAM: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: What is the state of faith and religion in America as you see our country in 2006?

MR. MEACHAM: I think it’s as strong as it’s ever been. We were founded as a religious nation, largely by people seeking both economic opportunity and religious freedom. And in many ways, they saw the two linked all the way back from Jamestown forward. Religion has been an essential element in the American story, for good and for ill. It has supported—offered scriptural justification for slavery, for segregation, for denying women full rights, for justifying the taking away of Native American land. It has also united the country in the causes of abolition and the civil rights movement and the extension of freedoms. It is part of the culture and it’s something that, in many ways, is like economics, is like geography, is like political belief.  It’s something that shapes what people value. It shapes how they act, it shapes what they do in a democracy. And when you have a democracy, you have to take account of all the factors that drive and shape the appetites and ambitions of the people. And any leader who does not take account of, of that component, I think, is not leading us very well nor will he or she lead us very effectively, because you have to understand what it is in a republic that makes up the possibilities for republican, lowercase R, virtue.

MR. RUSSERT: Of all the countries in the world, Pastor Rick, the—America is one of the most religious. Why?

DR. WARREN: Well, Tim, the history of America, as Jon pointed out, is faith-friendly, it’s pragmatic and it’s pluralistic. And all three of these are true. And when Jefferson wrote that famous phrase, “separation of church and state,” he was basically saying, don’t tax me to higher Anglican priests.  That’s all he meant by it. He didn’t mean anything more than let’s separate these two different worlds. Madison once said, “If you have one religion then you’ve got tyranny in a country.” He said, “If you have two religions, you’ve got civil conflict. If you’ve got many religions, you’ve got civil peace.” And I believe that the reason why faith has thrived in America is because we have a free market economy for religion, not just for economies, that may the best idea win. I am totally opposed to theocracy, totally opposed to state church. Look at what it did to Europe. Christianity was killed when the government got involved in Europe.

MR. MEACHAM: There’s a, there’s a distinction between, as Rick says, between church and state and separating religion and politics.

DR. WARREN: Mm-hmm. That’s a good point.

MR. MEACHAM: Church and state, you can do.

DR. WARREN: Yeah.

MR. MEACHAM: Religion and politics, because they’re both about people...

DR. WARREN: And values. Yeah.

MR. MEACHAM: ...and values, you, you, you cannot. And the free market analogy is exactly right. Religion took off in this country the moment we disestablished churches.

DR. WARREN: The other thing that, that I’d point out is, and I think you mentioned earlier we’re going to get into this, in the last eight elections, America tends to vote for born-again presidents, regardless of their political persuasion. You can go all the way back to Carter, OK? Reagan, Bush one, who didn’t talk about it much, but was a devout believer, Clinton and Bush two.  Regardless of whether they are Democrat or Republican, right-wing, left-wing, they—America tends to like leaders who have a faith.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, in “American Gospel,” you write this and ask this question: “Can religion be a force for unity, not division, in the nation and in the world? The Founders thought so, and so must we.” Is there a place in this country for an atheist who is, who’s troubled by what he sees as too much religion in our politics?

MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely. That’s—there’s a theological case for religious freedom, to make this quickly, I am a believer, not a very good one, but I try.

DR. WARREN: I’m working on him.

MR. MEACHAM: The, the key thing, I think, is that if God himself did not compel obedience, then no man should try.

DR. WARREN: Yeah, that’s right.

MR. MEACHAM: And faith coerced is not faith, it’s tyranny.

DR. WARREN: Good point. Yeah.

MR. MEACHAM: It’s tyranny. And so Madison, Jefferson, Washington, all of the key founders, Franklin, were committed to the idea that you had to have this as a choice, and if you didn’t have the ability to choose not to believe, then it wasn’t a choice. I think there’s certainly room for atheists in the public square, as we call it, obviously, there is, best-selling books are written about it, it’s a moment of great ferment in that part of the world, that intellectual part of the world. And I think part of it’s a reaction to a—an alleged sense that religion has too much influence.

DR. WARREN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to take you back to June of 1944 to give you a sense of how much religion, faith, played in our politics on D-Day. Here’s the president of the United States saying very openly a prayer. Let’s listen.

(Audiotape, June 6, 1944):

PRES. FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer: Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. ...  With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. ...

Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “the unholy forces of our enemy,” “Thy will be done.” That’s extraordinary.

DR. WARREN: Well, in that same war, of course, Churchill and Roosevelt sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” on a, on a battleship, where they played and met.  So, yeah, things have changed, there’s no doubt about that. People don’t really realize how—that even under the basis of so much of, of what’s happened over history, there has been a spiritual basis. A couple of years ago, Tim, I was at the Aspen Institute speaking, and the great historian, Dr.  Arthur Schlesinger, got up, and he, he made this statement that George Bush, our president, current president, was the most religious president in history.  And I was up next and I said, “Well, I admire Dr. Schlesinger, but I have to disagree. The most religious president of history was Lincoln.” You go and read his second inaugural address, it’s a sermon, it’s just flat—no—Bush or Clinton could have never gotten away with what, what Lincoln said at the second inauguration. It was just a flat out Christian sermon.

MR. RUSSERT: The original oath of office for the president did not contain the words “So help me God,” correct, Jon?

MR. MEACHAM: That’s right. George Washington is reported to have improvised them at Federal Hall in April of 1789 right before he went to St. Paul’s Chapel and went to services after the service—after the inauguration. The intertwining of, of religion and politics in ceremonial occasions is, is fascinating, I think. I think it’s best described by a phrase of Benjamin Franklin’s, as is so much, he used a phrase called “public religion” when he was laying out his syllabus with the—what became the University of Pennsylvania in 1749, and he said that “history had shown the utility of a public religion in maintaining the morality of a people.”

DR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.

MR. MEACHAM: And remember, the, the founders were working in an intellectual context in which republican, again, lowercase R, virtue was essential, that is you could have a republican democracy if the virtue of the people was such that it built a good society. And we were working with the reverse of centuries and centuries of thought from the divine right of kings down to the divine right of the governed. Part of the American experiment was flipping that around.

And religion was a key engine in that, because in theological terms, we’re all created in the image and likeness of God. The early part of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson while he was being eaten by blue bottle flies coming in from a stable in Philadelphia, talked about—grounded our fundamental human rights in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. I think it’s very important, particularly on a holiday, a Christian holiday, to emphasize that the founders had many opportunities to use sectarian, Christian, Judeo-Christian language, and they almost always resisted.

DR. WARREN: Right. The Constitution.

MR. MEACHAM: It is the—it’s the language of providence, it’s the language of the holy author of our religion, it’s the language of the supreme governor of the universe, it’s a kind of deism, the idea that there is a creator God who, who works in the world through providence, who answers prayers, who’s attentive to history and to the United States. As Jefferson said, “He led us as Israel of old across the seas.” But it was—they were very careful not to say Jesus, you know, created America. What would Jesus do? is not an amendment to the Constitution.

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say attentive to the United States...

MR. MEACHAM: Yep.

MR. RUSSERT: ...do you believe we, too often as Americans, invoke the notion that God is on our side?

MR. MEACHAM: Yes.

DR. WARREN: Oh, without a doubt. And, and, and I tell people all the time, I’m not called to save America, I’m called to save Americans. Jesus didn’t die for a country, he died for individuals. But, you know, what Jon was just saying—I debated some leaders in China about this just a few years ago. We actually had a dinner in People’s Hall, and some of the Cabinet members had invited me to this dinner, and as we talked, I was—and you know the problem with China is you want to have the economic freedom of the West without the moral underpinnings of it. And I said, it isn’t going to happen, because there are three freedoms you have to have to have the success of the West.  Number one is freedom of religion. It’s the First Amendment, OK, and the—freedom of religion. The second is the freedom of information and freedom of speech. And the third is freedom of markets. And what you’re trying to do is put freedom of markets into China without freedom of religion and freedom of information, and it isn’t going to work, because capitalism without either Judaism or Christianity or moral basis is pure greed. It is the moral basis beneath it that says, “Oh, I need to take care of my employees. I don’t just become a robber baron.” And when you take capitalism, as for instance, and put it into Russia without the moral basis, you get oligarches. You get a bunch of thugs who rip off the country as much as the communists did.

MR. RUSSERT: Can you have a moral basis without organized religion?

DR. WARREN: Of course you can.

MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely.

DR. WARREN: Yeah.

MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: There’s an interesting evolution in the evangelical movement here in the United States.

DR. WARREN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: And Jon’s magazine, Newsweek, wrote about it in November. Now, I want to get your reaction to it. It’s headlined “ An Evangelical Identity Crisis .” And it says: “More than three decades after Roe v. Wade propelled religious conservatives fully into the arena, a new generation of evangelical believers is pressing beyond the religious right of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, trying to broaden the movement’s focus from the familiar wars about sex to include issues of social and economic justice. ... Can they move beyond the apparent confines of the religious right as popularly understood, or are they destined to seem harsh and intolerant—the opposite of what their own faith would have them be? ... Some Christians, exhausted by divisive wedge politics, are going back to the Bible and embracing a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised.  Almost unanimously, these evangelicals cite as a model Rick Warren.”

DR. WARREN: Well, at first I, I, I say Jon’s right, and I would say that, first of all, I’d like to thank him for putting faith on the front cover, because he—I think Newsweek has done a really good job of this. Most of the major questions of the 21st century have a faith component, have a religious component to it. Will Islam modernize peacefully? What’s going to replace the, the, the vacuum in China now that Marxism is dead? Will America return to some of its roots historically? So you’ve done a good job on that by putting a lot of faith issues in the magazine.

But I do think that evangelicals as a whole, we’re trying to broaden the agenda. There’s no doubt about that. The way I tell it to my people is the church is the body of Christ, and for the last 50 years, the hands and the feet have been amputated. And all we’ve been is a big mouth. And most of the time, we’re known for what we’re against. And frankly, I’m tired of that. I think the church should be known for what it’s for, not what it’s against.  And...

MR. RUSSERT: So has there been too much emphasis on the Ten Commandments, and not enough on the Sermon on the Mount?

DR. WARREN: Well, that’s part of it. It really is. You know, about 100 years ago, the first part of the 20th century, Protestantism, Catholicism never had this split, but Protestantism split into two wings. There was the, the liberal and conservative wing or, probably the main line, and the, the evangelical or the fundamentalists in the early days. And what that was all about is there was a group of Protestant theologians who came out and said, you know, “We really don’t need to worry about personal salvation anymore, this thing about Jesus on the cross and atonement and stuff like that. What we need to do is just redeem the social structures of society. And if we do that, then the world will be a better place and everything will be great.” And frankly, in many ways, it was just Marxism in Christian format, which basically said, “We’ll be—people will be better if you just give them a good world.” And there were actually—the magazine The Christian Century started off with this view. And now you look back 100 years later, and I think they might be embarrassed at that name, because I sure wouldn’t want to claim the 20th century as the Christian century after two world wars and genocide and, you know, the, the, you know, the Holocaust and things like that.

But that was the attitude at the beginning of the 20th century is that, “We’re going to bring in the kingdom, and, and Christians will just make society better and better and it’ll become a Christian society by, primarily, politics.” And so what happened is the Protestants split and the liberals took the body and the evangelicals took the soul. And they said, “We’re going to focus”—the liberals said, “We’ll focus on rights, racial equality and injustice and, and, you know, equality in society and economic issues and things like that,” and the fundamentalists, and then the evangelicals said, “We’re going to focus on personal salvation, personal morality, and, and family.”

Well, who was right? Well, in my opinion, they’re both right. I think they’re both right. And I think there are some of us who are evangelical leaders today who are saying, “We need the whole gospel for the whole man, and it all matters.”

MR. RUSSERT: This is what Rick Warren said, Jon Meacham. “It’s time for the church to be known for love, not for legalism.” Do you agree with that?

MR. MEACHAM: I do agree with that. I, I think it’s time for all of us to be known for love, not for legalism, whether it’s the church or not. You know, there’s, there’s an interesting argument within what Rick is—was talking about, which goes exactly to that point, which is Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, said, argued that the wilderness of the world contaminated the garden of the church. And there’s an important theological tradition in which believers worry about putting too much faith in politics. The psalmists said, “Put not thy faith in princes.” Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were of this world, then would my servants fight and deliver me from this.”

Religion—a wonderful archbishop of Canterbury once said that it is a mistake to believe that God is chiefly, or even mainly, concerned with religion.  He’s—ideally, the way some of us think about the cause of justice, the cause of equality, of making gentler and better the life of this world, some of us think of it in theological terms. Some people, as you were mentioning before, think of it in solely secular morality terms. Robert Ingersoll, the great agnostic of the, of the 19th century, talked about the religion of secularism.  Secularism is a dirty word in America today. Shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be.

I think one of the reasons things feel so divided right now in the country as we head into ‘08 is both sides feel they’re losing. That is, the left...

DR. WARREN: They both feel victims.

MR. MEACHAM: They both—right. The self pity—the capacity for self pity in this country is enormous, which is remarkable. But it’s been 40 years since the high water mark of the Great Society, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Johnson’s huge win in ‘64. They were going to fulfill the promises of the New Deal and all, and all was going to be well. Then comes Vietnam and it all falls apart. The religious right, broadly defined, comes into the arena out of Roe vs. Wade. Jerry Falwell recalls the morning he read the, the story about the Roe vs. Wade decision and decided to go forward. But the two central claims of the movement—a pro-life amendment to the Constitution and a school prayer amendment to the Constitution, and now a gay marriage ban—have never had a remote chance of passing.

So when you have both the right active and thinking that they’re losing and the left active and thinking that they’re losing, that creates an atmosphere and a recipe for extremism. And people lash out in, in often irrational ways, I think. So, if—I think if both sides could take a deep breath and realize that we’re—we’re all in this together, you know.

DR. WARREN: Great point. I, I would say I’d like to see a culture of civility. Our civilization is becoming less civil. It’s just gotten quite rude. And you don’t have a right to demonize somebody just because they’re different.

MR. MEACHAM: Right.

DR. WARREN: And civility means I’m going to treat you with respect, even if I totally disagree with you. And, and there was civil discussion in our society for many years, but it has become so polarized, so rude, and I honestly think people are tired of it. And we need to get back to the idea of we treat each other with respect, we come to the table, we’re not disagreeing—we’re not downplaying our differences. There are legitimate differences and there is no mainstream culture in America. We are many streams. And we are a pluralistic culture. But we have to treat each other with respect and civility.

MR. RUSSERT: It was interesting going through again your book “The Purpose Driven Life” and going up on your Web site, Pastor Warren. You write about the five global Goliaths.

DR. WARREN: OK.

MR. RUSSERT: And I think if liberals, moderates, conservatives saw these...

DR. WARREN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: ...it’s interesting how they could coalesce on—around some of these themes and goals. Let’s look at them. The first is a spiritual emptiness.

DR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: Second, egocentric leadership. Third, extreme poverty. Four, pandemic disease. And five, illiteracy and poor education.

DR. WARREN: These problems are so big, Tim, that everybody’s failed at them.  The United Nations has failed, the United States has failed. And the reason why is because we have not worked together on these issues. Last year at Davos I kept hearing people talk about public and private partnerships. And what they meant was, we need government and businesses to work together on these big global problems. These are problems that affect billions of people, not millions. And when they said that, I said, “Well, you’re right, but you’re not quite there yet. You’re missing the third leg of the stool.” A one-legged stool will fall over, a two-legged stool will fall over, and business and government alone cannot solve these problems. They haven’t, or they would’ve. The third leg of the stool is the churches. There’s a, there’s a public sector role, there’s a private sector role and there’s a faith sector role.

Each of the three legs have something to bring to the table that the other doesn’t have. Government brings three things to the table on these issues.  First, they bring safety and security. That’s the primary job of the government and that is, keep me safe from terrorism or from war so that I can live in peace. Second role of government is to provide freedom so I can prosper. I can go out and I can start a business if I want to and give me freedom. And the third is, set laws and enforce them because somebody’s got to put up stop signs so we’re not in chaos. The church can’t do that and business can’t do it. There’s a legitimate role for government to do these things.

Now, when we talk about poverty, disease, illiteracy and things like that, businesses have a role that government can’t play. Business brings to the table expertise in technology, in health and all kinds of things. They bring capital to the table. Enormous investments. And then they bring, this one’s really important, management skills, because most governments, most businesses and most churches are poorly managed. But if we’re going to solve issues like poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption, trafficking, all these other things, the church has to be invited to the table for three reasons.

First, we have universal distribution. I could take you to 10 million villages around the world that the only thing they’ve got in it’s a church.  In fact, in most of the world, the only civil service society is a church.  They don’t have a clinic, they don’t have a school, they don’t have a post office, they don’t have a bar. They’ve got a church. Millions and millions of—the church was global 200 years before anybody started talking about globalization. In fact, it’s the only global, truly global organization.  There are 2.3 billion people who claim to be followers of Christ. Now that means the church is bigger than China. It’s bigger than India and China put together. So universal distribution. Second thing it’s got is it’s got the greatest pool of manpower. One out of every three people in—on the planet claims to be a follower of Christ. If you mobilize just a billion of those people for these issues, you’d solve it pretty quick. The third thing is, local credibility. What I mean by that is on these issues like poverty, disease, illiteracy, you just can’t go into a village with a program and expect them to accept it. And you have to have credibility. Well, that priest, that pastor, that minister, or for that matter, in the Muslim world, the imam or a rabbi, they have credibility because they’re marrying, they’re burying, they’re with the people in the stages of life. And frankly, I trust them to know more about their community than any government or NGO would ever know.

MR. RUSSERT: But with more than five billion people in the world, the majority are non-Christian...

DR. WARREN: And I...

MR. RUSSERT: ...and is it fair to say that there’s a concern that religious groups, Christian groups going around the world, are as much interested in proselytizing the faith...

DR. WARREN: Yeah, yeah.

DR. WARREN: Well, it’s a good concern. That’s true, most of the world is non-Christian, two thirds is not, but the—most of the world has faith of some kind. For instance, there are 600,000 Buddhists in the world, there are 800,000 Hindus, there are 1.3 billion Muslims and 2.3 billion Christians. The actual number of true secularists is actually quite small outside of Manhattan or Europe. So most people have a faith. Now, if you say you have to put your faith on the shelf to do humanitarian aid, you’ve ruled out most of the world.  And, and so what I’m saying is, I honestly don’t care what your motivation is to do good, as long as you do good. You might have a political motivation.  Somebody comes and says to you, “It makes good sense—it’s good foreign policy for us to help people get well, like with AIDS.” I’ve noticed they tend to like your country when you help them out. It’s just flat out good foreign policy to do health care, OK? That’s not my motivation, but it’s fine. Then there might be a political—a profit motivation, make money and help people.  I wish more businesses did it.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon, you mentioned that the intellectual vitality now, it seems to be awakening in the atheist movement.

MR. MEACHAM: Hm.

MR. RUSSERT: Sam Harris has written two books; the latest, “A Letter to a Christian Nation.” And on his Web site he writes this as part of the atheist manifesto. “Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities - Christian, Muslims, Jew, Hindus, etc. - and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq, and the Caucasus are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years.

“In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious:

Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree.”

MR. MEACHAM: We’re unclear where Sam stands. Yes. I don’t think there—yes, religious feeling has fueled conflict from time immemorial.  There’s no question about that. It has also brought people together.  Religion itself, the one derivation of the word is to tie back one to another and one to, if you believe in a God, in an order beyond time and space. My, my argument against the, the atheist position is, yes, that’s a very shrewd diagnosis. But, forgive the phrase, what the hell are you going to do about it? You’re not going to take religion out of people’s lives. You can manage it, you can marshal it, as Rick tries to do. Rick’s one of the great marshallers of religious fervor of, of, of our time, or perhaps of any time.  And the issue to me becomes one for the religious of humility. That is, you used a phrase a moment ago that pricked up my ears, millions of Christians on the march for good causes, what, what we can agree in a, in a civil conversation are good causes.

DR. WARREN: Yeah. Yeah. Right.

MR. MEACHAM: But, man, the phrase “millions of Christians on the march,” to so many people, it just makes them flinch, because millions of Christians on the march have done a great deal of harm throughout history. Crusades, pogroms, any number of things, the things that Sam was writing about. So how do we take something that is there, that we’re not going to get rid of, you can’t legislate religion out of human experience. You can try to legislate it out of politics and government—I don’t think it’s going to be very successful, but you could try—but if you accept that it’s going to be a factor in human affairs, then what you do about it at that point? I would submit that we should argue that the religious, particularly Christians, should acknowledge the centrality of humility in their faith, and have a sense of history about it.

Christians are—Jews and Christians are fundamentally taught that we don’t know everything.

DR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.

MR. MEACHAM: That, as St. Paul said, “We see through a glass darkly.” That wonderful moment in Job when God says out of the whirlwind, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” I’ve always wanted to stick in “buddy,” you know. We’re taught that we all may, all may be revealed, but it sure ain’t now, as, as we say where I come from. So we should understand that we’re called to do good, we’re called to live our lives, but we don’t have a monopoly on truth. And so we have to watch the proselytization that, that can be a byproduct of the wonderful work Rick is talking about.

And the other’s a sense of history. The wonderful thing—arguably the central thing about the American experiment that we should celebrate today and everyday is that we recognize the excesses of the old world and of our own colonial experience in the name of religion. What Sam was writing about, we saw, understood. Washington said, “The government of the United States shall give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.” Madison and Jefferson were ferocious advocates of religious liberty out of personal experience. Madison as a young man is said to have heard the cries of Baptist ministers being tortured by the Anglican establishment in Virginia. Jefferson was furious in the notes on the state of Virginia that Quakers were denied the rights of custody for children in—under an established church in Virginia.  They understood their history, so they wanted to do everything they could to make the world better as they moved forward. And they did that not by banning religion, not by denouncing it, but by trying to manage it and marshal it.  And I think that’s what we’re called to do.

DR. WARREN: Well, but let me say this to you. You’re exactly right. Sam is overlooking the 20th century. Because the truth of the 20th century is more people were killed in the 20th century by atheist governments than all Christian ideas throughout history combined. When you look at the godless communism, and, and Nazism—which in itself was, was we’re the ruler—tens and tens of millions, maybe a hundred million people were killed in the 20th century by atheists, not by believers. So yes, you can go back to the Crusades, and they were wrong. They were flat out wrong. But let’s take the most recent history. Atheists were what caused the most people—Stalin was an atheist, Mao was an atheist, Hitler was an atheist. He was an occultist, actually. And, and so let’s just make sure that history is told.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn back to domestic concerns here, because it is quite interesting watching you and your wife Kay involved in the AIDS movement.  Strong evangelical Christians who nonetheless—this is what your wife, Kay Warren, said: “There are consequences that can happen when you’re sinful, but it’s not a sin to be sick.”

DR. WARREN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: Embracing those with AIDS, even though she has strong feelings about homosexuality, you created quite a controversy last month when you invited not only Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas to your church, but Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois who’s thinking of running for president, as a Democrat. This is the Christian News Wire, when Phyllis Schlafly and some other Christian leaders wrote to you, saying this: “We oppose Rick Warren’s decision to ignore Senator Obama’s clear, pro-death stance and invite him to Saddleback Church. If Senator Obama cannot defend the most helpless citizens in our country,” speaking about abortion, “he has nothing to say to the AIDS crisis. You cannot fight one evil while justifying another. The evangelical church can provide no genuine help for those who suffer from AIDS if those involved do not first have their ethic of life firmly rooted in the Word of God.”

I want to bring you to what happened at your church. Sam Brownback first said something—Barack Obama was there—you did not rescind his invitation—and responded. Let’s watch.

(Videotape, World AIDS Day):

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Welcome to my house.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: This is my house, too. This is God’s house. So I just, I just wanted to, I just wanted to be clear. I hope, I hope you don’t mind that modest correction.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: A liberal and a conservative, both saying God’s house is my house.

DR. WARREN: Yeah. I called it the face of compassionate conservatism and the face of compassionate liberalism. And what they had in common, was compassion, which is the Jesus part. For pro-lifers to attack me is ludicrous. If you’ve read “Purpose Driven Life,” chapter two and chapter 22 specifically says that God had a purpose for your life before you were born, and that abortion actually short-circuit’s God’s purpose for your life. So there are accidental parents, but there are no accidental children. You may not have planned your kid, but God did. So everybody knows where I stand on that.

But there—it goes back to the stability issue that I deeply believe is missing in our world. And that is, you don’t have to agree with everything a person believes in order to work with them. And we need leaders who work for the common good, not a single-issue people. I feel deeply about pro-life, very deeply about it. I’m a staunch pro-lifer. But I will work with anyone on anything if we can work together. If you can only work with people you agree with on everything, you’ve ruled out the entire world. Because nobody agrees with you on everything. I can’t even get my wife to agree with me on everything.

So, for instance, Francis Schaeffer talked about the difference between being an ally and a co-belligerent. For instance, I’m a co-belligerent with the feminist movement on a number of issues. When feminist movement say, “We’re opposed to pornography because it objectifies women,” I’m saying, “I’m in your camp on that.” Now, I don’t agree with most of the feminist agenda, but I happen to agree with that, so I’m a co-belligerent with them on that. I don’t agree with everything my gay friends agree with, and they don’t agree with everything I, I believe in, but if they want to work on AIDS, we’ll work with them. We’ll work with anybody. That’s this civility of, to quote that great theologian Rodney King, “Can’t we just get along?” And have—look at what’s the common good.

And I really think in the next election, people are looking for that kind of leader, and both Sam and Barack are men of civility.

MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting, Jon Meacham, in 2004, those voters who said they went to church services at least once a week, more than once a week, excuse me, voted for George Bush over John Kerry 64 to 35. Those who never went to church voted for Kerry 62 to 36. There is a divide.

MR. MEACHAM: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: And yet you see Barack Obama going to Pastor Warren’s church.

Hillary Clinton has just hired a religious, spiritual adviser for her campaign.

MR. MEACHAM: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: Democrats recognizing that you have to at least demonstrate to religious people in the country that you have a basic understanding that faith is part of, or central to, many peoples’ lives.

MR. MEACHAM: Right. And I think that’s exactly what people are looking for.  I think there is, there is a—overly cleverly, we’ve all just kind of called it the God gap. And I think that’s—that is overly clever because you don’t have to go back very far, you know this well, into Democratic language to find the language of faith. The—I...

DR. WARREN: Martin Luther King.

MR. MEACHAM: Well, Dr. King. The arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. President Kennedy.

MR. RUSSERT: Inaugural address.

MR. MEACHAM: On Earth, God’s...

MR. RUSSERT: Asking his blessing in health, but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

MR. MEACHAM: Must truly be our own.

DR. WARREN: That’s right.

MR. MEACHAM: The fact that President Roosevelt—the prayer you played a moment ago, was the only thing Franklin Roosevelt said in public on D-Day. He didn’t address the country on military tactics. He didn’t say, “Here’s what we’re going to do with the hedge rows.” All he did—and he wrote that prayer himself the weekend before down at Charlottesville.

These, these were titanic figures in the Democratic tradition, I would argue both uppercase D and lowercase D. And they understood that they were speaking to a largely religious people and they had to show that they shared common values. And, you know, Franklin Roosevelt never went around talking about, “I’m an Episcopalian.” You know, President Kennedy didn’t particularly want to mention the Catholic issue very much.

So we have an interesting moment coming up in, in, in our world. We have a Mormon running for president, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. We have a Methodist, Senator Clinton. We have Senator Obama, who has written a book about some of these issues. And Senator Kerry and others are, are, are revisiting it. I think there’s a moment here, to go with what Rick was just saying, that’s very encouraging in a way, where we may be able to talk about American values, as opposed to religious values, as long as we understand that there is a religious element, a religious strain, in the American values. And no, no reading of American history, I defy anyone, no reading of American history could push religion out of the formation of the values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

MR. RUSSERT: As we speak on this Christmas Eve morning, tonight. many Americans will be surrounded by an abundance of gifts. I was quite taken by something that you said, Pastor Warren, and I’ll put it on the screen. “I don’t think it’s a sin to be rich. I think it’s a sin to die rich.”

DR. WARREN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Explain that.

DR. WARREN: Well, in my own personal life, when “The Purpose Driven Life” came out and it became the best-selling book for a long, long time in the world...

MR. RUSSERT: Twenty-five million copies.

DR. WARREN: ...yeah, now 30. And it’s in 56 languages. Well, that brought in enormous amounts of money. And it also brought in a lot of attention. And I had to pray about what I call the stewardship of affluence and the stewardship of influence. And I began to go to Scripture, and I, I found a verse in the New Testament on what to do with the money, and a verse in the Old Testament on what to do with the, the fame. And on—in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul—Apostle Paul says, “Those who teach the gospel should make a living by the gospel.” In other words, “It’s OK to pay your priest or your pastor.” That’s a legitimate offer to society. But, Paul says, “I will not accept that right, because I want the freedom to serve God and be a slave to no man.” And I thought, “I want to do this.” And when, literally, when all this money started pouring in, Kay and I make five decisions on what to do with the money.

First, we said, we’re not going to spend it on ourselves. I still live in the same house I’ve lived in 15 years, I drive a six-year-old Ford truck. I don’t own a boat, I don’t own a house—a second house. I don’t own—I don’t own a plane. We just said we’re not going to—I’m not going to spend it on that. A second was I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church about four years ago. Third is, I added up all that the church had paid me in 24 years at that time and I gave it all back. And I did that because I knew that I was being put under the spotlight and I didn’t want anybody to question my motives of why I do what I do. And sure enough, the very next week I was interviewed by Time, that, that other magazine. Have you ever heard of it?

MR. MEACHAM: Do they publish weekly now?

DR. WARREN: Yeah, I think so.

MR. MEACHAM: Oh.

DR. WARREN: And the first question the author—the editor—the reporter asked was, “What’s your salary?” Which I thought, OK, here’s another fat cat megachurch pastor fleecing the flock. And I said, “Well, honestly, I’ve now served my church for free for 25 years.” Her face went white and I thought, it was worth every penny just to say that. You know, I had to repent of my pride, but I really felt good for about a minute. You know, and then I got real humble again. But I did that. Then we set up some charities, one’s called Acts of Mercy, which helps those with AIDS. And another on training leaders and another on this Global Peace Plan.

MR. RUSSERT: What did the New Testament tell you about celebrity?

DR. WARREN: The last thing I did is we became reverse tithers. When my wife and I got married 31 years ago, we started giving 10 percent of our income as a tithe to our church. And each year we would raise it at least 1 percent.  Now, we never told anybody for over 30 years--25, 28 years. We’ve been married 31 years and, and the first year of marriage we raised it to 11 percent. Second year to 12. Well, we’ve now been married 31 years, we give away 90 percent and we live on 10. And honestly, that’s quite fun. The joy of giving at Christmastime—I really do belive in the joy of giving. I’m probably the happiest person on the planet because we get to use money in so many great ways. You can’t outgive God.

On the, on the stewardship of affluence, I was reading Psalms 72 and it’s an interesting prayer, it’s Solomon’s prayer for more influence. When you read this prayer, it sounds like the most egotistical prayer because he says, “God, I want you to make me famous.” He says, “I want you to spread the fame of my name to many countries. I want you to give me power, give me blessing and make we well-known.” And it sounds pretty selfish till you read the, the motivation and he says, “So that king may support the widow and orphan, defend the defenseless, care for the sick, assist the poor, speak up for the oppressed, the immigrant, the foreigner,” things like that. The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence, and that changed my life. It turned my old—I had to repent and said I will spend the rest of my life using whatever influence I’ve got for those who have little influence.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, we have 30 seconds. Do you have a final thought on Christmas Eve morning?

MR. MEACHAM: Well, to whom much is given, much is expected.

DR. WARREN: Good point.

MR. MEACHAM: And Americans are uniquely gifted. We have been blessed with abundant natural resources and liberties and it’s a great joy to live here.  And there is a kind of stewardship, I think, we owe to our children and, and future generations. The founders’ phrase was “generations yet unborn.” And I think the idea, you know, the commandment began in Leviticus, love thy neighbor as thyself, and I think that’s something we can all agree on, whatever our faith, whatever our doubts.

MR. RUSSERT: And to all our kids, they are always, always loved, but they are never, never entitled.

MR. MEACHAM: That’s right, that’s right.

MR. RUSSERT: The mandate of our generation.

DR. WARREN: What you think you own is really on loan.

MR. RUSSERT: “The American Gospel,” Jon Meacham. “The Purpose Driven Life,” Rick Warren. Thank you for a very uplifting conversation.

MR. MEACHAM: Thank you.

DR. WARREN: Merry Christmas.

MR. RUSSERT: And to you both.

Coming next, our MEET THE PRESS minute. Poet Robert Frost, 51 years ago, he was right here on MEET THE PRESS and wait till you see this memory of an 80-year-old man. We’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Our MEET THE PRESS minute, 51 years ago, Robert Frost, right here on this set. We’ll be right back after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Christmas Day, 51 years ago, Robert Frost was right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Videotape, December 25, 1955):

Mr. NED BROOKS: Our guest on this Christmas Day is a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Mr. Robert Frost.

Robert Frost has now passed 80 years old, but he is still young in hope and in dreams, free from despair and pessimism. Mr. Frost is a man of deep loyalties to his land, to people in general, and people in particular.

Mr. LAWRENCE SPIVAK: Mr. Frost, is there any one of your poems that better expresses how you feel about America than any other poem?

Mr. ROBERT FROST: I suppose that’d be hard to narrow down. You’re—there’s, there’s one, one that’s historic, almost, you—if you want me to say it.

(Reciting) “The land was ours before we were the land’s. She was our land more than 100 years before we were her people. She was ours in Massachusetts, in Virginia. But we were England’s, still colonials, possessing what we still were unpossessed by, possessed by what we now no more possess. Something we were withholding made us weak, until we found out that it was ourselves we were withholding from our land of living, and forthwith found salvation in surrender. Such as we were, we gave ourselves outright. The deed of gift with many deeds of war, to the land vaguely realizing westward, but still unstoried, artless, unenhanced such as she was, such as she would become.”

And it all lies in that first line, “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” We had to belong to the land that would, that belonged to us. And that’s my nearest talking about America directly.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: At the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, Robert Frost was to deliver a special poem for the occasion. The glare of the sun prevented him from seeing the copy. Instead, Frost recited from memory, “The Gift” outright, same poem you just heard.

And we’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today on this Christmas Eve morning. As we leave you, all of us at MEET THE PRESS hope you and your families have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas and a very happy new year. And during the holidays, we remember especially those men and women who are serving our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. In that spirit, we are joined by the United States Navy Band Brass Quartet.

(United States Navy Band Brass Quartet performs “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”)

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