Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren (L) is interviewed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for an episode of the PBS series "Finding Your Roots," April 15, 2012. (Photo: PBS.org via Christian Post)
A look into the ancestral family history of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren produced for an episode of the PBS series "Finding Your Roots" revealed at least two big surprises for the renowned evangelical leader.
The program's host, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was able to show through genealogical research that Warren had several relatives rooted in church leadership positions dating back to the nation's founding.
However, perhaps more shocking was the discovery of a great grandfather dating back three generations with a profession viewed as less than admirable today – a slave owner.
"Rick Warren's paternal third great grandfather was a Baptist named Byrd Griffin born in Georgia," Gates told viewers of the show first broadcast last Sunday and available on the show's website. "According to the 1830 census, he was a farmer, but upon closer inspection we discovered something else, he was a rather prominent slave owner."
During the show, after the discovery was revealed to Warren, he read out loud a historical document that listed the sex and ages of the Griffin's 12 slaves. Griffin, who was a Baptist according to records, was both a farmer and a judge.
During the show's narration, Gates explained that during Griffin's time, slavery was often justified by people pointing to Bible verses as proof.
Gates asked Warren, "Do you think there was a valid justification of slavery before and during the Civil War?"
"There is zero biblical justification for slavery. Zero," Warren said. "From the very beginning of time God says. 'I have created every man in my image.' If you are going to read scripture with a prejudicial lens you are going to have a prejudicial interpretation."
The "Finding Your Roots" episode also traced the family histories of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, and Sheikh Yasir Qadhi – "three people of different faiths, whose family histories have deeply impacted their religious beliefs."
During the program's introduction, Gates said, "Our choice of religions is perhaps most often decided for us by the beliefs that our ancestors have raised. All three inherited their religious beliefs from at least one of their parents and for each of them their faith turned out to be a call to service."
While introducing Warren's part of the program, he said, "What Rick didn't know was that his family's commitment to the church actually stretches back to the founding of this country. We discovered that his 9th great grandfather was a man named William Parke who was struggling to worship as a Puritan in Semer, England in the early 17th century when he decided to escape persecution by sailing to America in search of religious freedom.
"William would eventually book passage on a ship called the 'Lion' in the year 1630," he continued. "Less than a year later, charismatic minister John Elliot would arrive on a subsequent voyage of the same ship. Elliot, one of the original members of the First Church of Roxbury in New England is credited with printing the first Bible in the New World."
Gates then showed Warren a membership record of the church of Roxbury started in the year 1632 that describes the arrival of Parke, his 9th great grandfather, to America.
"Hey, we've had family here since 1630," said Warren excitedly. "Can I get a scholarship somewhere on this? Can I go back to school and be like an original guy?"
Parke served as a deacon in the church from its founding in 1632 to at least 1674, said Gates. "Did you know you had such deep Protestant roots?"
"No I did not," Warren answered Gates. "This is what you call having Calvinist props. Puritan props."
Warren, who was born in San Jose, Calif. in 1954, said earlier in the program that he was deeply influenced by his father and described him as a church planter with more skills as a carpenter than a preacher.
The best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life and many other books told Gates about his commitment to Jesus at a young age.
"When I was a sophomore in high school I got a job at a Christian camp in Northern California," Warren said. "At nights I was responsible for campfires. One night I went into a cabin and got down on my knees and I prayed a really simple prayer. I (prayed) 'God, if there is a God, I want to know you.' It was really that simple. And I said I don't understand it all. I don't get it all, but if you are real, make yourself real to me. Jesus Christ I want to know you. That was really it.
"No thunder, no lightening, no angels came down. My hair didn't turn white like Charlton Heston (in scene from movie 'Ten Commandments'). I didn't get emotional. I didn't cry. It was really a matter of fact decision. That was the turning point in my life."
On the Web, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/.
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