Rick Warren: Government and Church must work together on foreign aid

Rick Warren and Elton John joked together before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on funding global health initiatives.Reuters

Saving lives through foreign aid makes friends and allies of potential enemies, megachurch pastor Rick Warren told Congress. He said that good distribution of aid could not be done without the help of faith communities but the faith community finds the US government difficult to work with.

Warren said: "It's been my experience that the faith community has been more willing to partner than the government has been willing to partner back. The government is more afraid of the faith sector than the faith sector's afraid of government."

He told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on funding global health initiatives that most other governments welcome help from faith organisations.

"They're not nearly as afraid of the Church as the American government is. I mean, we work with governments, literally, all around the world and they're very friendly. They realise we're not trying to do their work," said Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, California,

"Everybody has a different role to play and the Church's role is not government, and the government's role is not Church. But on health issues, and on education issues and on development issues, you can team tackle. As I said, I found it easier to work with governments overseas," he continued.

Warren said churches remained at the heart of local communities.

"In Africa, they say the pastor sleeps in the same blankets as the community," he said. He referred to Rwanda in particular. "When the genocide hit in 1994, every single NGO left the country. It was unsafe. Who stayed? The Church because the Church is the country. It is the country. And in most of the world you can't talk about community development without talking about the Church."

He criticised those who argue that the government should cut back on or eliminate foreign aid, and said few realised that foreign aid was already less than 1 per cent of the budget. In addition, foreign aid had crucial strategic importance.

"Proverbs 3:27 in the Bible tells us it's morally wrong to withhold assistance for those who need it," he said. Further, it would be "shortsighted and unwise" to cut aid because when America saves lives, it makes friends. "When we make friends like that by saving lives, potential enemies are turned into grateful allies. If somebody saves your life, you have zero desire to terrorise them."

Elton John was also among the witnesses who focused on the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS and how to avoid the type of delayed response that was made to the Ebola crisis in western Africa. At one point, Pastor Warren and Elton John held hands, and joked about the potential global impact were they to share a kiss.

Saddleback church has a global P.E.A.C.E plan that operates in 197 countries.