Pastors today often try to work humor into the communication they have with their congregations and many, including Saddleback’s Rick Warren, try to sneak it into their social media as well. As Warren learned this week, using a Red Army propaganda poster to describe his staff is not the best way to be funny.
On Facebook and Twitter, Warren posted a picture of a happy and eager female member of China’s Red Army around 5am Pacific on September 23rd. It was from a propaganda poster used during the Mao Zedong era, one that was used to portray a happy Red Guard member during the Great Leap Forward when over 45 million people were killed in a four-year-period. He eventually had the posts removed, but not before getting over 4000 Facebook likes. Here are some screen shots of the posts before getting deleted:
The initial response was a mixture of people complaining about the posts, supporters of Warren and Saddleback Church defending the post as a joke, and Warren himself defending the post with references to Jesus Christ using Hebrew jokes during sermons. This may be true, but it’s very doubtful that His jokes tried to compare his Disciples to a mass murdering faction that killed more people than Hitler.
Kathy Khang posted the image to the right on her blog with this note:
The image of the Red Army soldier is offensive. It isn’t funny. And it does have racial implications. I know you are a thoughtful leader, so why not choose an equally funny/not funny image of Hitler Youth who look just as cheerful, focused and determined (and perhaps, dare I say, more like your staff?)
Many lashed out at Warren but were met by an army of supporters before the posts were removed. Warren’s own comments in the thread far from gracious or understanding of the cultural insensitivity that he had posted:
People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!
Sam Tsang wrote a scathing report on the matter. Warren responded in the comments:
Thanks so much for teaching us! It was removed instantly. May God bless you richly. Anytime you have guidance, you (or anyone else) can email me directly, PastorRick@saddleback.com.
May the grace of Jesus be your experience today. Thanks again! Your servant, Rick Warren.
P.S. In 1979, Kay and I felt called of God to serve in China but we were prevented by the government at that time. I had already been a part of planting a church near Nagasaki, Japan where I lived in 1974. When our plans were blocked, we ended up planting Saddleback in California.
As one reply to Warren’s comment noted, he did not actually issue an apology. It was more of an acknowledgement.
The Bigger Picture
This was a snafu. It was not intentional and Warren (or his staff) did not understand the cultural implications of the image. That is our hope. He made a mistake and he should be forgiven.
The problem here is three-fold. First, people with smaller followings are allowed to make snafus. Those with the reach and reputation of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church must be very careful with all of their actions and words. It was careless to post this and it would make one question how much care is taken in any of their endeavors from putting out the right messages through sermons to planning a church appropriately. Warren is planning an English-only Saddleback Church… in Hong Kong.
Over the years, he has demonstrated that his desire to be popular is greater than his desire to preach the true Gospel. In his famous TED talk, his message was much more about himself than anything that had to do with Jesus. The biggest example is, of course, his book, A Purpose Drive Life, which warps the Word of God to fit in with a popular method of coaxing people into sort of living with Bible-esque principles in order to do good things in this life. It’s so far from a Biblical message that it does more damage than good, but it’s veiled in things that make sense to 21st century people wanting to use Christianity to live well today. As a result, it’s one of the best selling books of all time.
The second issue with this is the response from his followers. It was discouraging to see that so many people follow him without a single ounce of reservation. These are people who would never make a joke out of the representation of millions of people robbed, raped, pillaged, and murdered, but their blind devotion to Warren gives him a complete pass. This is worrisome. Even the best Biblical pastors in the world make mistakes and their congregation should be willing to call them out on it when it happens. Warren is on the opposite spectrum of pastors, yet his followers are rabid to the point that they appear to worship him as much as the Messiah whose message he claims to teach.
The final and arguably worst part of this is that the mainstream media didn’t pick up on this at all. As a liberal religious figure, Warren represents the type of pastor that mainstream media wants, the type of pastor that keeps focus away from Biblical truths. He tries to unite Christians with Muslims and other religions. He promotes doing good rather than being repentant and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Sure, he mentions Jesus, but only in circumstances when it won’t offend anyone. This is the right pastor for today’s mainstream media to embrace.
A story like this will never be allowed to see the light of day.