Christians must show love to all people, even if they don't support their values, evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren told breakaway Episcopalians and other Anglicans splitting from their national church over gay clergy and other issues on Tuesday.
"We are to love the people of the world no matter what they believe; we are to not love the value system of the world. And the problem today is a lot of Christians are getting that reversed. They love the value system and hate the people," Warren told the crowd of 800 under a large tent on the lawn of St. Vincent's Episcopal Cathedral Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Bedford. "God has never met a person he didn't love."
This week's meeting is the first national assembly for the Anglican Church in North America, formed by theological conservatives as a rival to the U.S. Episcopal Church. On Monday, delegates approved a constitution and church law for the new group.
Warren, who opposes gay marriage, sparked a protest by gay-rights supporters after President Barack Obama selected him to deliver a prayer at his January inauguration.
Gay issue absent in speech
Warren did not mention gay relationships or other issues that caused the conservatives to break away, but he said he "jumped" at the chance to speak to the assembly and called it historic. He encouraged the new group and offered advice on how churches could reach out with ministries.
"The church — God's family — is going to go on forever and ever and ever and ever and ever," Warren said. "If God has called you to serve in a local church ... don't you ever step down to become the president of the United States or anything else for that matter, because nothing matters more ... (than) the privilege of guiding and guarding and shaping and sharing and encouraging and helping the flock of God."
Warren has extended support before to conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans and has offered space to seceding Episcopalians at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. But his appearance Tuesday, at a key organizing meeting for traditionalists, was his highest-profile statement of solidarity with them so far.
"He has been a friend of the Anglicans," said the Rev. Peter Frank, spokesman for Archbishop-elect Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who will be installed Wednesday as head of the province. "It's good for us to hear from someone who's been single-mindedly focused on the mission and doing things churches should do — loving people. We're glad he came to reinforce that."
Episcopalians have been arguing for decades over how to interpret what the Bible says about issues ranging from salvation to gay relationships. The rift blew wide open in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Church to join global communion
The new church includes four breakaway Episcopal dioceses, individual parishes in the U.S. and Canada, and splinter groups that left the Anglican family years or decades ago. Leaders estimate the new entity includes 100,000 members in 700 parishes.
The new North American church hopes to be recognized as a full member of the global Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S. It is unprecedented for an Anglican national province to be admitted where another national church already exists.
The new church aims to unite under one umbrella a wide range of worship traditions and outlooks on issues including ordaining women and charismatic healing through the Holy Spirit. However, members are united by their traditional views of core Bible teachings, including opposition to ordaining gays who are not celibate.
In his opening address Monday, Duncan said members of the new entity had "come out of bondage" and escaped from a church that "got cut from its moorings."
"Though the journey took its toll, we know that we have been delivered, and have found that deliverance very sweet, indeed," Duncan said. "This assembly will be a test for us, as will our church life in the months and years ahead."