Rick Warren and the “Red Guard” Photo
Last night Rick Warren, the well known US pastor and author of “A Purpose-driven Life” inadvertently stirred up a controversy over a photo that he posted on his facebook profile.
with the caption: “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
When his followers (especially Chinese followers) started to complain about cultural insensitivity, he responded with:
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!
My first thought, when my wife brought this thread to my attention was that he probably had no idea the baggage that this image carried with it and merely posted it because it portrayed a young, energetic girl emanating a “go get ‘em” attitude, which the staff at his church also exude in abundance.
But then why would he respond that it was a joke? How is it a joke to say that his followers are jumping to the pump? Perhaps he doesn’t really understand what a joke is, and he meant to say “It’s just a facebook post - it’s meaningless, etc…”.
I decided to do a little Google searching to see if I could find any more details about this episode, so I started searching for things like “Rick Warren Red Guard Controversy”, and it didn’t take me long to find this account of a 2005 sermon/revival speech where he discussed, not only the Red Guard, but Hitler’s Youth, and Lenin (not the Beatles’ Lennon, the other one). In the sermon he talks about the devotion of Mao’s, Hitler’s, and Lenin’s followers and challenges his listeners to have similar devotion to Jesus.
"In 1939, in a stadium much like this, in Munich Germany, they packed it out with young men and women in brown shirts, for a fanatical man standing behind a podium named Adolf Hitler, the personification of evil.
And in that stadium, those in brown shirts formed with their bodies a sign that said, in the whole stadium, "Hitler, we are yours."
And they nearly took the world.
Lenin once said, "give me 100 committed, totally committed men and I'll change the world." And, he nearly did.
A few years ago, they took the sayings of Chairman Mao, in China, put them in a little red book, and a group of young people committed them to memory and put it in their minds and they took that nation, the largest nation in the world by storm because they committed to memory the sayings of the Chairman Mao.
When I hear those kinds of stories, I think 'what would happen if American Christians, if world Christians, if just the Christians in this stadium, followers of Christ, would say 'Jesus, we are yours' ?
What kind of spiritual awakening would we have ? "
So it is clear that Rick Warren is well aware of the Red Guard and, therefore, it is likely that he is well aware of the context, connotations, and baggage that come with the photo that he posted.
And, again, it was not a joke. He was making a point. The same point that he made in this 2005 sermon, and has undoubtedly made to countless audiences between then and now. His point is that if Christians were as devoted to Christ as Mao’s followers were to Mao, then they could change the world.
If you roll in evangelical Christian circles, then you won’t find this message to foreign or radical. It is part of the standard evangelical rhetoric that sits at the movement’s core. If you go to a rally like this you’re bound to hear this same type of message for a large proportion of the sermons. The only difference is that most pastors won’t equate the evangelical movement to well-accepted symbols of evil and oppression. Rick Warren did. And by doing so he is not making *that* much of a logical leap.
Chinese Christian followers of Warren should be less concerned about his “cultural sensitivity” that was displayed in this episode, and more concerned with the painful truth that was revealed by it. He used this analogy because it is apt, so if you are willing along with all of the rest of the rhetoric of doing whatever it takes to bring about a revolution in which the world (or country, or community) will be remade in God’s image, then you should at least pause and consider where the logic leads. Warren used comparisons to three of the greatest human tragedies of the past 100 years (Naziism, The Cultural Revolution, and the Russian Revolution) because they are the best examples of revolutions where a group of people embark on a mission to transform society into a utopia - the status quo be damned.
If you are an evangelical Christian and you are outraged by Rick Warren’s suggestion that the revolution you seek is similar to the cultural revolution, then you should take a moment to examine the source of your outrage. Don’t simply crucify Rick Warren for making this connection. Instead channel your outrage at the fact that there IS a connection.