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A candidate for the post of ‘America’s Pastor’

For decades Billy Graham held the title of “America’s Pastor.” And when he died, there was no heir apparent

SHARE A candidate for the post of ‘America’s Pastor’
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Saddleback Church founder and senior pastor, Rick Warren poses for a photo at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.

Nick Ut, Associated Press

For decades Billy Graham held the title of “America’s Pastor.” And when he died, there was no heir apparent.

We’ve had contenders — and pretenders — ranging from members of Graham’s own family to the mega-church ministers who fill our flat screens on Sunday mornings.

If another “America’s Pastor” does emerge, however, it will likely be someone with a healer’s touch and a shepherd’s voice; someone the nation instinctively trusts and turns to in an hour of pestilence and political strife.

I make no claim to clairvoyance, but I have kept an eye on one candidate for the mantle: Rick Warren, the pastor of the Saddleback Church in Southern California.

Warren is the author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” a book so popular he says he and his wife had to start paying “reverse tithing.” They now donate 90% of their income to the church and live on 10%.

Warren’s not every person’s picture of a man of God. He’s heavy-set with bifocals and a fondness for Hawaiian shirts. He looks more like your buddy from the bowling team than a man of the cloth.

But he has a wonderfully common touch and a heart as big as a California beach ball.

Not long ago he stood in the driveway of his California church and administered communion to anyone who cared to drive up and get it.

And the short messages he sends out to his flock each week are as fresh as lettuce leaves. His advice is practical. His concern is honest and uplifting.

Not long ago he told his followers:

“Life isn’t fair. Innocent people suffer ... but God specializes in bringing good out of bad.

“How do you respond to bad things? If you start dwelling on them and stewing, spewing and worrying, your soul takes a hit. You become blind to the needs of people around you ...

“God wants to restore your soul. He turns your wounds into wisdom. He uses offenses to remove your pretenses.”

Back when I was a sports writer we called that “bop writing.” It’s quick. It’s memorable. And it’s laced with rhymes and puns. Such writing can be superficial, except — as with Warren — it’s used to lift and lighten weighty concerns.

Reading or listening to Warren makes you smile. You feel a bounce. You think, if Rick Warren can be that upbeat in these devastating times, maybe I can brighten up a click or two.

For the moment, I’m not sure Warren will ever become “America’s Pastor.” Perhaps in our splintered era no preacher can hope to enfold the whole nation.

Still, if it’s possible, Rick Warren is the candidate I’d vote for.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com