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Rick Warren to Headline King Observance in Atlanta

The Rev. Rick Warren, whose selection to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration next month has drawn controversy, will be in the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church to deliver the keynote address at the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service.

The Jan. 19 service at King's former church on the federal holiday marking what would have been his 80th birthday comes the day before the inauguration ceremony in Washington. It will cap a week of activities to salute the civil rights icon, according to a schedule of events listed on the Web site for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Warren is pastor of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of the best-selling "The Purpose Driven Life." Obama's decision to include Warren in the inauguration sparked an outcry from liberal groups and gay rights activists over the Southern Baptist's views on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

King Center President and Chief Executive Officer Isaac Newton Farris Jr. said holiday organizers tapped Warren to speak at the service for his "unifying spirit" and commitment to his conservative faith, which is part of the concept of the "beloved community" embraced by King.

"We approached Rick Warren in May to be the speaker long before anyone knew who our next president would be," Farris said. "We were wondering if they took a cue from us."

Farris said organizers are excited about Warren's appearance next month.

"Dr. King's dream includes everyone," Farris said. "Rick Warren might not agree with some of the things that some of God's children do, but he does at least acknowledge that they are God's children, unlike a lot of his other conservative colleagues. We are looking very forward to hearing the message he will bring to us."

Farris said the president-elect had also been invited to attend the King holiday service, but that he has not responded to the invitation.

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