Rick Warren takes in $2.4 million in one day

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Celebrity pastor Rick Warren put out the call Wednesday on his Saddleback Church website for $900k in emergency donations to support what he describes as his national and international ministry. It was a high-tech appeal, heavily reported in the press, complete with a banner ad and a link to an online tithing page (tithing, in this context, is the practice of donating ten percent of your income to a church you actually attend).

Well, Pastor Rick got almost three times as much money as he asked for, but the internets let him down. Saddleback is reporting $2.4 million in donations - every bit of it, Warren says, a donation of less than $100 dropped off personally by a parishioner before the end of Thursday.

On its face, this is not only counterintuitive but improbable, since even larger donations of $100 would require a round-the-clock steady stream of 1,000 parishioners an hour through the church to reach that figure in a single day.

Still, that's Warren's story. According to the Orange County Register,

The outpouring of thousands came after Warren on Wednesday posted a message on the church's Web site appealing for donations to be delivered or mailed by today to overcome a $900,000 shortage in collections.

For the record, what the online message actually said was
YOU CAN HELP SAVE THE DAY 3 WAYS BEFORE JAN 1
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  1. Click HERE right now to and give as large an end-of-the-year gift as you can to help avert this crisis. If we all do what God leads us to do, we'll all be a part of a miracle.

  2. Mail in your gift today. Gifts must be postmarked in 2009 to be posted as 2009 gifts for tax purposes. Mail to: 1 Saddleback Parkway, Lake Forest, CA 92630.

  3. Drop your gift in the box at the front door of the Ministry Center at 1 Saddleback Parkway so you know for certain we get it TODAY or Thursday.

It's not clear why Warren's version of the story is so important to him - according to the plea for funding, the money is going to go to help homeless and unemployed parishioners, which seems like an unexceptionable reason to ask for online donations - but it seems to have something to do with his feelings of ill treatment by the media.

The day after his initial request, Warren posted this warning of possible media misbehavior to come

MEDIA: Because our church attracts a lot of attention, the media will undoubtedly report my letter- but only partially, not telling the whole story. It is likely that none of the positive end-of-the-year reports of your service to the community and none of your amazing accomplishments as a church family in 2009 will be reported. They may get some facts wrong or even misjudge our motivations. I know this is frustrating, but don't let it bother you.

followed the next day by
In spite of a media culture that thrives on bad news and is typically clueless about how churches actually work, and in spite of hatefulness and insults by some who immediately jumped to wrong conclusion - the church of God marches on, and once again God surprises all of us!

which, by Saturday, had become
Warren addressed some of the criticisms associated with media reports in recent days, suggesting that many are unaware of how a church operates. He also added that his letter was directed at the Saddleback Church members.

"I knew critics and pundits would misunderstand this," he said. "We have never asked outsiders to give to the church."


What I wasn't able to find with a flurry of googling was any actual media (much less pundit) criticism of Warren's fundraising plea, and he hasn't pointed any out. What little criticism I did find was in the comments of the very respectful AP and Orange County Register stories on the subject. Still, I suppose any backlash against imaginary media mistreatment will make real media scrutiny less likely to appear in the future.

So in summation: Rick Warren appears to have done nothing wrong, and he appears to be very anxious to keep people from finding that out.



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