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I’ve been fuming a bit this week over the way the usual constellation of journalists, pundits, and commentators have analyzed this past Saturday’s Civil Forum on the Presidency, hosted by Rick Warren at his Saddleback Church in southern California. I watched the forum with great interest and found it a useful contribution to our evolving sense of who Barack Obama and John McCain are, what they believe in, how they explain and present themselves.

82383336I won’t focus here on my personal impression of how the candidates performed. I will say that I found much to admire in the way the evening was laid out. Interviewing them separately and asking each of them roughly the same set of questions provided a remarkable display of how different they really are. While some of Warren’s questions were predictable, I thought that many of them were very good, and different enough from the usual network or public broadcasting fare that they elicited a few answers we hadn’t heard before.

For example, Warren asked each of them, in the context of tax reform, to “define rich.” At another point he noted that what is often called “flip flopping” may be a sign of wisdom — changing one’s mind can be a result of personal strength and growth. Such common sense questions and statements have been lamentably rare in all the debates hosted by professional journalists in this long campaign season up to now.

And yet the edition of the Sunday New York Times that landed on my doorstep the next morning did not even report on this first post-primary encounter of the two candidates on the same stage. I’ve heard and read one parody after the other online, in print, and on the air, at least in my home territory of public radio. When these news gatherers have seen fit to mention the Saddleback event, they’ve analyzed it in terms of what it says about the changing Evangelical scene. The same kinds of journalists who are happy to earnestly take the temperature of “the man on the street” have gleefully made fun of the demeanor and words of Saddleback members who attended the event Saturday night and church the next morning. It’s been a field day for pat generalizations about Evangelicals that nearly amount to caricature - sometimes verging on bigotry - that might be nixed by editors if it were about people of different ethnicity or race.

Obviously I have strong feelings about this. Did any of you watch the event? What do you think?


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59 Comments

Oh Hildegarde....I sure hope you are right.....ive watched in dismay as the foolish religious right acts as if they were still living in the Dark Ages or hoping the SecondComing would save them from an impending catastrophe.......lets hope they (the fundamentalists) finally get that science is part of Gods world and begin to incorporate it into their chruch-imposed sense of reality.

I agree with you Krista. I found the forum both informative and telling. The format allowed us to see the candidates in a conversational versus confrontational mode. Most TV/ Mass market journalist prefer the latter to the former for ratings and print sales. It's just the way they they're trained by their business offices. Faith, Fidelity, and honesty sell few papers or boost ratings.

Thanks for a breath of fresh air on the gathering. I too am frustrated at the lack of reporting "real" news, vs. the spin makers putting their opinions and scorn out there for everyone to read. It seems as if the U.S. people just want to be spoon fed their news and opinions instead of digging for the truth on the candidates. Thanks again -

bkk

I listened to it on Satellite radio while driving on my car. I thoroughly enjoyed the way that each was interviewed separately and was given enough time to answer the questions without someone interrupting.It was interesting how differently they answered the same questions.

Krista,

I am a fellow Oklahoman. I left my church upbringing in high school as I did not see that it was relevant to my daily life. During my college years I started searching for purpose and meaing in life. This journey eventually led me to became a Christ-follower. For the past 20 years I have had the privilege of having a ministry to and with university professors in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

I recently caught your program with Sir John Polkinghorne and I have been hooked since that program. I have also read your book. I admire the way you are able to inteview people of different faith backgrounds with dignity and respect. I also love the way you create dialogue through the use of questions so that your audience feels as if they are there with you in the studio.

I also listened to the Saddleback program and found it refreshing. The novel idea of asking the same questions for each candidate, without debate, allowed the audience to glean insights into each candidate's life, faith, and vision for America.

Gary H.

You're right. We are two people of faith who did not watch this and relied on the press's analysis. So we just watched it through your link. Very glad we did.

It was thoughtful and did allow both candidates to reveal their beliefs, etc. in a much more thorough fashion. In our opinion, Sen. Obama used the opportunity to be open and explore new areas. Sen. McCain used the opportunity to rerun old sound bites and avoid the questions.

The one criticism we would have is one we have of many interviewers. Pastor Warren did not hold Sen. McCain's feet to the fire, did not attempt to bring the Senator back to the question asked. Whether intended or not, that gives the impression of approval for the answer.

Thank you again for the push to watch this.

RICK RAN OUT OF STEAM DURING THE MCCAIN PERIOD AND , IN MY OPINION, LET MCCAIN SLIDE INTO PROSAIC STUMP SPEECH ING , HENCE AVOIDED THE HARD HITTING QUESTIONS THAT OBAMA GOT.THAT WAS THE FAULT OF RICK.

I LIKED THE INTIMACY , BUT WOULD HAVE LIKED AN ATHEIST GROUP TO HAVE SPONSORED A SIMILIAR FORMAT. WHY DO THE RELIGIOUS ENTITIES GET THE HEGEMONY IN THE DEBATE FORUMS?

I just wanted to thank you all for such thoughtful and respectful comments. The topic of politics alone can set the barn on fire. I've learned a good deal. Cheers.

Can you imagine the media making the same parodies or generalizations of Muslims? Seems Christianity in general and Evangelicals in particular are deemed "OK" to dump on.

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