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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Your point is well-taken that the generalizations about evangelicals border on bigotry. But it has to be said that single-issue voters tend to play to that model. I'm thinking of that electric moment when McCain's instant two or three word response to the question regarding when life begins drew spontaneous applause when Obama's longish, overly nuanced response to the same question seemed to go over like a lead balloon.

My guess would be that in retrospect Obama wishes he had never darkened the door of that forum. It seems to have been a watershed moment in the contest with McCain being the beneficiary. (Obama's team may be saying "Thank God for Michael Phelps or it would have been even worse.")

I share your jaundiced view of the popular press. I tend to watch the main news channels more for the pictures than whatever passes for content. Thoughtful reflection is way, way down their list of virtues. Thinking usually requires whole paragraphs at least and they have a hard time with single sentences.

The sad part is the both candidates are obliged to cater to that type of reporting. I hear a lot of talk about "branding" and have concluded it means little more than holding a finger in the wind to decide what next to say. Despite the obfuscation -- or maybe because of it -- most voters in the end vote in response to feelings than reason. That would be okay if those feelings were rooted in longer memoriesof the past and visions for the future, but the bulk of voters, like children, seem trapped in the eternal "now."

I wish we had a different system that wouldn`t require millions of dollars to be spent and so much time to be taken away from their present jobs and stop all the mud slinging. We should be enriching the human spirit with cooperation, not what1s going on now

I agree the format was great and revealing, gave each individual an opportunity to answer fully.
I get the impression there aren't that many of us really looking to hear what people stand for. Knee-jerk Republican/Democrat sort of even-steven in my world.
People who like Obama found him nuanced and McCain to unreflected, too pat answered.
People who like McCain valued forthright, clear answers, and found Obama too waffly.
In the middle...still looking to see who has some real answers for the economy, still getting disappointed by an impression that for (necessary?) political expediency two people who started as unique, pragmatic, not-out-of-the-mold politicians look more and more like same-old, same-old each passing day.
If people of faith stick to rigid views, it wasn't Rick Warren's fault--he provided a good opportunity for all of us to be thoughtful about our values and how to live them out.

A fair analysis, aml.

I watched the forum and I watched Larry King's interview of Rick Warren. I was impressed with the attempt Rev. Warren made to be balanced and ask the same questions of each. I did note a sense of familiarity with Sen. McCain. Mr. Warren called him, "John," from the beginning. It seemed that he called Sen. Obama, "Senator," and that was a subtle deference towards one over the other.
It was clearly different in the ways that the two responded and perhaps those comments are for another time as you asked about opinions on Rick Warren. Other than his own clearly stated leaning and his familiarity with Sen. McCain, I felt he made an effort to be fair.
His comments about tolerance and open dialog and civility and acceptance of differences were well taken.
My sense was that both candidates knew very well with whom they speaking and who was in the audience. I was surprised by Sen. Obama's candor and disappointed with Sen. McCain's pat simplifications.
As mentioned above, I was pleased with Rev. Warren's effort to get at substance. I would have liked more time and more follow through on answers but as Rev. Warren later explained on King's show and CNN, he chose breadth over depth.
I am frustrated by horse race politics and reporting. I have seen nothing as deep as Rev. Warren's attempt. I would like to see more of this kind of discussion in all media. How can anyone make informed choice without information that goes beyond the internet, the ads, and the superficial media reporting? The answer is that we can't. So, we get caught up in the mist.

I watched the forum and actually kept a tally at how many hot-button issues Warren brought up during the interviews. I am often frustrated that our country contintues to return to these hugely controversial social issues. That is not to say that they aren't important, but at what point are we going to come to terms with the fact that we're not going to change anyone's mind on these issues of abortion, capital punishment, homosexual marriage, etc.? I'm terribly disappointed that this forum wasn't used as an opportunity to discuss pressing national and global issues.

On another note, I'm not at all surprised that John McCain was seen as the "winner" of this forum. He was received warmly by an evangelical crowd that he constantly panders to. While he was speaking to the audience in front of him and ignoring the fact that the nation was watching, Obama was speaking to all of us.

Excellent comments, Krista. I concur. Thank you for expressing an alternative opinion.

You are correct, especially, about some of the questions - "define rich" and is "flip-flopping" necessarily bad? - as being different than the same old, predictable menu of stuff.

I don`t feel that religious affiliation should be a criteria for the making of a good and honest president. Look at what a mess a so called born again christian has got us into.. I would rather have an aetheist with moral values than someone who hides behind the cloak of being religious who is a liar and disobeys the law of the land with blood on his hands. I do believe in the law of karma as ye sow so shall ye reap, and G Bush will have much to pay for as he faces self.

I watched the Forum Krista with keen interest and was profoundly saddened by what I witnessed. I had hoped for a real peak into the authenticity of the characters of Obama & McCain. Although I feel that Obama did a better job of that, I feared the risk he took would be turned against him. I feel McCain did not give us any insight but more pandered to the crowd. I am a 'progressive Christian' with a family full of 'evangelicals' so I know first hand how the misconceptions we can have of one another is the biggest barrier to mutual respect and understanding. I agree that the coverage of the Saddleback event was NOT helpful. I searched for enlightening comments on the forum in news & on the web and came up empty handed. Getting your email today gave me hope that there are people like you, who I admire and respect, that will continue to call people to stretch beyond their limited beliefs and learn to listen and speak in a way that promotes healing for all.

I believe that forum was one of the better ideas that's come along in decades. It' s easy to poke fun at Rick Warren because he and his wife had a good idea, did their homework, were successful and hence, resented. Which of the press 'pundits' wouldn't want 35 million of their books on a bedside table?

This morning I saw a story on CNN about Barack Obama's cold....

I live in New Hampshire where we are blessed to be able to take the measure of a candidate from a few feet away. Rick Warren's approach was extremely helpful in getting closer to these two men.

It is really too bad that some (most) of the more accessible press feels the need to give short shrift to evangelicals. Yes, it would be called bigotry under the circumstances you describe. At best, it's snobby and rude.

I'd be interested in how many people watched the forum.

Thanks for your thoughts.

George Cleveland

I was disappointed in our newspapers reporting of the event. The only reference was on the Opinion page in which a cartoon was posted with Rick in the middle with his arms around a caracature of both Obama and McCain. Obama is seen saying "Gotta convince these people that I'm not Muslim". McCain is seen saying "Gotta convince these people that Obama's Muslim. Rick Warren in the middle is seen saying. "Gotta convince these people that I'm Bigger than the Pope!"

I am saddened by this caracature. Cartoons are meant to strike at some level of truth. I think the cartoon struck at some level of how the cartoonist and newspaper media doesnt get it. I thought the debate even with its short comings had a good level of fresh authenticity.

I am not a huge Warren fan but even the caricature of megachurch term used only with evangelicals isnt accurate. Many Catholic churches could fit the category of megachurches if based on size. You are so right in your blog. I personally think you would do a great job of hosting the forum. Thank you for seeing others who want to engage people around themes of faith. That debate has created more differing opinions and conversations in our church than any other campaign and civil conversations. Thank you for speaking out about faith

I did not watch the forum and I admit that when I heard about it, I was befuddled and bothered that Rick Warren be the first moderator of such an event. The evangelicals in this country are a population and force to be acknowledged, yet again, it seems it was another opportunity for those on the right to define the campaign issues.

I agree with hootsbuddy regarding the tailor-made nature of the event and how that played to McCain's advantage. I also agree with his/her comment regarding the nature of the American public's desire or lack of desire for information. The more complex our world is, it appears the simpler the worldview. It's disturbing and concerning, and I can only hope something spawns a demand for something different.

I, too, thought that coverage by the media has been frustrating at best. I am continually irritated that 'evangelical' has come to mean one type of political viewpoint. I am a 'progressive christian' but that does not make me NOT evangelical.

I thought that Obama sounded thoughtful, and that McCain had pat answers and multiple evasions and probably knew some of the questions ahead of time. Yes, I learned something about the candidates - that one thinks and one has the answers already decided. I'll take a thinker any day!

I listened carefully to both interviews and thought both candidates did reasonably well, except I don't agree with either of them on all issues....probably just like MOST Americans! The day after the interviews, I personally heard Rick Warren state that he gave BOTH candidates some of the questions several days ahead of time, such as to name their three most trusted "advisors" - AND he also told them the general topics he would be touching on.

I would have preferred fewer questions that could elicit "pat" answers and more "big picture" questions of morality and ethics that would have allowed both candidates to express their take on living a purpose-driven life! Since the interviewer was a clergyman and the venue was his own church, the questions SHOULD have been deeper in scope.

I actually thought the toughest question was "define rich"! As far as I'm concerned neither answer was adequate, but the worst answer of the evening was Obama's flip response "That's above my pay scale" to when life begins. (No, I adamantly do NOT believe "life begins at conception.")

In all candor, did this "evening with an evangelical" add anything to the debate? Or was it a curious waste of time. I'm of the opinion that this gig falls in the latter category.

This election should be about choosing the person who can best guide the country and represent us on a world stage for the next four years. The job is president; not national pastor (though perhaps Mr. Warren has an interest in that particular post). Now, maybe we can chock this up to me being Heathen instead of Christian, but I feel that the issues raised and the questions asked during Warren's forum were truly of little to no importance in determining the better *presidential* candidate.

Having said all that, I will agree that Warren is much easier to take in this role than the theocrats he seems to be displacing.

Brian, your opening question is a valid one worthy of discussion. My thought is that most any time you can get a presidential candidate to sit for an hour and answer questions, the public is better served.

I thought the event was insightful; that we got to experience an extended conversation with the candidates. They both articulated who they are very well. I didn't see it as a "contest" and was disspointed that commentators evaluated them as if they were debating.

This event showcased two styles of discourse. I support and respect Obama because he has elevated what is said in the public square. He doesn't speak in tidy sound bites but is able to communicate complex ideas in ways that engages me. It grieves me that so many see this as tedious or overly nuanced. Don't Americans get offended when the popular press criticizes a candidate for taking time to give a thoughtful answer?

Rick Warren said 2 things on Larry King that should frame some of the remarks. He said the audience was made up of an even distribution of Democrats and Republicans. And in listening to the sound track, he said the applause was pretty evenly distributed between the 2 candidates. You wouldn't know that from the reporting.


Judging from the number of comments I would say your audience isn't too moved by this subject. The problem I have with evangelicals is stated by definition:

emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual

1 : to preach the gospel to
2 : to convert to Christianity
intransitive verb
: to preach the gospel

Anyone or anything that offers a final solution draws my captious eye. The marketing quagmire we live in today, the snake who eats his own tail, is a product of the science of managing large groups. That science was perfected by the church and carried forward by the corporation. The work of herding should be left to the shepherd of sheep, not man.

I wonder what Thomas Jefferson or James Madison or Thomas Paine would have said about such a gathering.

Krista, I admire your work very much. In fact, I admire your work so much that I have sent you money(albeit a small amount) and will in the future.

I shall leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

Thou shalt know by experience how salt the savor is of other's bread, and how sad a path it is to climb and descend another's stairs. ~Paradiso (XVII,58) Dante Alighieri

Keep up the good work,


I'm still not sure how I feel about it having been in a church? Whether it actually does or nor, it feels to me like it blurs the line between church and state. I'd have been fine with Warren moderating in a nearby civic center or public auditorium. As noted by someone else in this chain, I was disappointed with a couple of questions. In the TIME magazine article prior to the event, Warren said he would not focus on sin issues like abortion and gay marriage, he would focus on uniting issues. Unfortunately, abortion and gay marriage came up very directly even though the questions were worded carefully different.
For me, it appeared that Obama and McCain took completely different approaches to the evening. Obama struck me as thoughtful, honest, avoided taking over the interview with "talking points" and appeared to be having an intimate conversation with Warren. McCain, once he got comfortable, didn't appear to be having an intimate conversation anymore. He directed his answers toward the audience and his responses drifted more toward a rally speech with stories and specific points he wanted to make. The audience definitely responded more favorably to McCain but I imagined that would be the case no matter what he said.

Due to time constraints, I first saw the forum in the form of snippets followed by analysis on CNN - found it to be very interesting and enlightening, so we watched the forum in its entirety the next evening (rerun, obviously). Again, I found it so much easier to understand the points made by each candidate, appreciated the depth and thought generated by the questions, and in particular did not miss the wrangling that is so prominent in today's media debates/discussions.
Your comment about mainstream media is seconded here - I saw nothing else anywhere else about it. Very strange, especially given the battle for survival on the part of the newspaper industry. Not only do they need to cover ALL the news, but maybe it would help if they would encourage a little needed help from on high....

I watched the whole forum. I was distracted by my feeling that this event was housed in the wrong venue. I am for separation of church and state and was constantly thinking ,is this the place I wanted these nonsectarian candidates talking about non sectarian subjects. I wonder how many "Patriotic Americans" would have been comfortable watching the same nonsectarian forum in a Mosque? Warren was the winner. I did not feel that either candidate had much to show for the event after it was over. It was an obligation and now that it is over should not be repeated.

I did not watch this program. I don't blame Mr. Warren for exercizing his obvious power, but I am disturbed that the candidates seem unwilling or unable to say "no". Isn't there something about the seperation of church and state?

I watched the event with my ears wide open. I thought it was a clever idea of Rick Warren and my God how campaigning really changed. I thought that Obama was exceptional. He thinks before he answers his questions. Consider where Obama came from I admire him so much. I struggled in my lifetime. Although I am not running for President, but when one is not born with a silver spoon life is hard and for those reasons I will vote for Obama. He is my inspiration. Although McCain is a good person and he suffered during the war but I cannot for the life of me vote for him. I am so disappointed in Bush (having voting for a Republican since Ronald Reagan) I must pass on a Repubican this time around. I want to be able to wake up and smell the roses.

Please consider developing a program on religion and the media, inviting several of the NPR journalists who under-report or deride religion into a conversation with you about the roles of religion and media and what underlies the conflict. Some of my hunches:
that the media has become a sermonic center in the culture, overtaking, since 1950s, the importance of the weekly sermon in discerning the culture. Some reporters must feel that Rick Warren is usurping their role, and may be offended by this, hence the derision.
that evangelicals make secular and mainline (I am one of these) people uneasy, in part, because they take their faith so seriously. They don't just attend church, they are seeking to become transformed people who are joined together in a better life, and the questions they ask of candidates emerge from that desire. This is scarily not individual enough for many Americans. And it is scary because there has been and is some dangerous group-thinking in our history, and there are some pretty frightening pastors out there. But Rick Warren is not a fear-monger, and it doesn't take long to figure that out.
I listen to NPR every day, and am a pastor myself (UCC), and think it is a shame that NPR doesn't do more to bring the conversation of faiths into the telling of the American story. Thanks for all you do -

I didn't watch since I don't have cable. Kathleen Parker's Op-Ed, Washington Post, August 20, 2008, "Paster Rick's Test: The Candidates Submit, and a Principle Suffers," expresses my sentiments exactly.

The event was "supremely wrong...un-American...The loser was America."

I'm supremely curious why someone with a PhD would make such a remarkably sure judgement without seeing any evidence first hand?

Views such as those of columnist Kathleen Parker, lauded a few moments ago by Celeste Kearny, reflect a monumental reversal of American values. To call it “un-American” for a pastor to publicly interview presidential candidates seems part of the contemporary trend to expect Christians to renounce their right to political participation unless they vow to keep their faith a secret. It is difficult to imagine how Jefferson’s Wall of Separation, an image designed to convey the protection of religion from government interference, has become a tool to silence Christians in the public square. As even Parker noted, “[Warren’s] format and questions were interesting and the answers more revealing than the usual debate menu provides.” If we silence the Christian perspective, America loses a valuable voice that is an important counter to the anti-religious bias of many journalists.

I am frustrated by the comments about inappropriateness of the Saddleback forum. Ostensibly this is about "separation of church and state" but "no religious test" is talking about eligibility to be a candidate, not how people respond to the candidates. Each voter is left to use whatever criteria they see fit in voting for a candidate. If someone decides it should be height, alphabetical order or they just close their eyes and randomly mark their ballot, that is their choice, their right.

I am a scientist--if I ran for office, I would certainly talk to scientists--I relate to them easily, I can more readily communicate who I am and build trust with this population because we start with some common ground/experiences. No one would judge me for this, in fact it would appear a smart move talking to "my base".

I am also a person of faith, wouldn't I also talk to people who share this common ground?

Now if I didn't speak to anyone but those who identify primarily as scientists and people of faith, I probably would not win my election because I am not speaking to all of my potential constituents.

Obama and McCain are both people of faith. But this is not the only venue where they speak. They know very well to speak to everyone --they want all the voters they can get.

I think the Saddleback forum was revealing about the candidates. I thought Obama was great and McCain was a stump speech.

This is just one way to get to know the candidates. Don't blame the messenger just because you don't like the message. Instead go to/watch/read about one of the thousands of campaign events/ads/literature pieces/commentaries that both candidates will participate in now until November.

I was very pleasantly surprised that the forum revealed the candidates' differences so clearly and it was refreshing to hear differences without the divisiveness of debate.
Rather than the three scheduled debates, I would prefer the League of Women Voters or some other organization (or Krista Tippet) conduct a similar forum with the candidates uninstructed on the upcoming questions.

In my opinion, religious affiliation or belief system has NOTHING to do with ability to lead and I am troubled that the responses of the candidates can be used as a voting enticement. Whether or not someone has taken Jesus, or Moses, or Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius or any religious or non-religious entity as his or her personal savior does not equate with moral integrity and potential for leadership. Many non-believers are equally capable of moral integrity and leadership expertise.

Absolutely, America is the only and most magnanimous "Melting Pot" country in the planet! Together, we should not be so indulged in the kaleidoscope of behaviors or attachments. Rather, let's look at the GOD that lives within us, we who goes for all the IF's of God, and we who desire to fear HIS NAME, ..... we have an unction, a command, let us pray in one accord and be aware of all the Bible prophecies. All, Bible prophecies did took place, as God said, it will happen.

I listened to the broadcast. Rick Warren asked a legal question about when civil rights begin, when he knows there is no answer in law or any court in U.S. History. Obama tried to give a careful answer. McCain proclaimed a theological dogma. It was the asymmatry of the answers that was most disturbing about the evening, and Rick Warren had the responsibility to call that to the audience's attention. He failed to do that.
Further, Obama used Matthew 25 to portray his central Christian belief. Some clapped for that. But the crowd cheered far more loudly when McCain advocated his strong anti-conscience position. I guess that was because of all the things Jesus said aganist abortion! Warren did not point any of this out. I am sure he has read the scriptures and lives by his interpretation of them, but to hold up the issue of abortion as the one non-negotiable issue in an election is an abomination. It rejects the centrality of justice and love in the gospels, and mocks the conscience of a majority of Americans.

I don't know if a lot of you, noticed that the Senator McCain was scheduled to appear second to Senator Obama. It was so obvious, and kind of a brilliant script for McCain to answer so timely; and full of abrupt equilibrium. Totally, I am an undergrad, but McCain's responses were "oh, oh, oh, so rehearsed!" This is how I feel .... and McCain might as well, be a full-time Evangelical!

They actually tossed a coin to determine who was going to go first.

I saw part of the discussion and thought it was a good way to view the candidates 'thinking out loud' without continually having to formulate a rebuttal. I am not an Evangelical but thought Mr. Warren was a reasonably good host, although his kind of hokey, aw-shucks friendliness (very Midwestern seeming for a Californian, I thought) was pretty ripe for snooty noses to look down on. Also thought McCain handled himself just a little more comfortably than Obama and any practice Obama can get before hitting the snakepit of the debates is good for him and all Democrats! Am not surprised at the media response -- it wasn't enough of a 'show' to make a big impression and I think there is a great deal of confusion about what constitutes separation of church and state which may be leading news outlets to just not be sure how to cover.

Watching it, I thought the forum was unsatisfying because it really didn't add to our knowledge of the candidates. Warren wanted to have a probing one-on-one conversation with each candidate, but he didn't have the skills to carry that off. Charlie Rose makes it look easy; it's not.
McCain turned the event into a frank campaign rally, bringing forth one talking point after another and speaking to the crowd instead of Warren. Obama, who tried (as much as a candidate for president can) to open his heart and bare some of his uncertainties, wound up looking tentative and sort of ineffectual.
Afterward, I wondered why the candidates even submitted themselves to questions about their religious faith. The column by Kathleen Parker (with whom I rarely agree), cited by Celeste Kearney, was right on point. We deserve to hear what the candidates think about public issues. We don't about their faith -- not even, I think, if they have one. I might prefer a candidate who has a religious grounding, but I don't think it's my right to know that.

I guess that my concern is that Rick Warren is using his church for blatently political purposes. It is not the same as a house of worship being used by a second party group for a candidate forum. I'm very bothered by this lack of separation between church and state.

I too was disturbed, if not exactly fuming, about the Saddleback event. I do not share the enthusiasm for this event and find it part of a troubling trend toward demanding religious conformity. We've come a long way since candidate Eisenhower felt comfortable stating that he might "get around" to being baptized after his campaign. Woe to the presidential candidate today who would have the temerity to make such a statement or decline to be subjected to a grillling about his personal religious faith.
The forum also demonstrated the public's thirst for short, simple responses to the great questions of the ages. We admire easy answers and toss off complex responses as too "nuanced," "thoughtful" and "professorial" - three terms I heard used by media analysts. While it is true that evangelicals are sometimes unfairly portrayed by the media, the far more significant media failure in terms of our democracy is this very "dumbing down" of the important discussions of the day.
I share the opinion of the writer below who questioned how enthusiastic the American public would be for an event of this type - only one held in a mosque and moderated by an imam. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

I watched the entire civil discussion with great interest, and was appalled at the critics response as well. I really appreciated Obama's "nuanced" responses. I was surprised by McCain's very quick & brief responses; when I later learned of the absence of the much touted "cone of silence" for McCain, I wondered if he had been given the advance notice of the questions - or if this is simply the way McCain operates.
I also found a post-Saddleback supplemental article on the Huffington website elaborating on the varied attitudes of evangelical women concerning women's rights to choose - attitudes that I had not been aware of and found very illuminating.

I, too, would prefer a candidate of ability - and frankly, as a Christian, and one for the 64 years I've lived, much to much has been made of "being a Christian," especially an "evangelical" one. The system trades in spectacular conversions and before-and-after stories. The evangelical community, though loosely organized, thrives on the constant proving of evangelical superiority to other Christian expressions and to all other faith-traditions. In other words, everyone else has to be wrong in order for them to be right.

No one has to be wrong in order for anyone to be right, and I believe the Warrens have some of that in their blood. But they have to walk carefully. Evangelical leaders are not free to speak openly on the issues. Their constituency remains stubbornly rooted in certain ideologies - thanks to the older generation of evangelical leaders - e.g. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell.

But it's my hope that folks like the Warrens can bring a new depth and a new direction to a now tired evangelicalism.

Hats off to Krista Tippett and NPR for creating a forum of thoughtful inquiry about religion.

In the recent Time magazine article (Warren is on the cover) Warren says the interview was not going to be a "religious test", yet one of the questions: "What is your relationship with Jesus?" sounded like a religious test to me. Warren also wanted to know the candidates view of the U.S.
Constitution. In that document there is clear church/state separation. Evangelicals have seriously
threatened that important part of the framework of the Constitution by co-opting patriotism, nationalism and the flag, in addition to the assumption that their doctrine is the measure of a candidate over other religious or non-religious beliefs. The candidates certainly knew
their answers were going to be measured by their religious audience.

In media reporting that I read and heard of the interviews, I concluded that many supposedly knowledgeable "political pundit"s seemed more impressed by McCain's short answers that didn't fully respond to the questions than by Obama's attempt to answer each question fully and thoughtfully. And, while I admire McCain for the mental and physical toughness that allowed him to survive hiis wartime incarceration, I don't believe that he has convincingly demonstrated that he possesses the sagacity required of our next leader if we are to flourish as a nation in these perilous times.

I would have admired the event more if Warren had asked exactly the same questions of each candidate. He didn't. Not exactly. Why not?

I would have admired the event more if Warren hadn't nodded his head in affirmation almost constantly with McCain.

Many of the questions were interesting. One was appalling. I write this from Berlin, a place you understand well I assume. "Evil" does it exist? Can you imagine a Merkel or a Sarkozy or even a Kennedy dealing with such a question?

Much better would be, "Define evil." That makes sense.
To me, and most Germans around me, this is a great example of the "dumbiing down" of America.

I generally "liked" Warren. He is obviously very intelligent and warm hearted and I was glad that he brought the two candidates together.

It's interesting though that you were angered by the lack of coverage by the NY Times, etc. I am surprised if this is true. How about those "pundits" who criticized Obama for his taking time
to answer the questions, sometimes showing real "thinking" as he tried to grapple with some strange questions. Obama thought...McCain gave his pat stuff. That angered me.

I did watch the event. As a pastor myself, and one who has visited Saddleback on two occasions, and has utilized the tools of the purpose-driven church and life and the 40 Days of Purpose program, I was quite pleased with the idea of Pastor Warren serving as host, and the event being held in a church setting. I thought the format was good - asking both men the same questions, but not just the typical debate questions. I was very concerned, however, when I learned that the whole "cone of silence" that was promised was simply untrue - and whether or not Sen. McCain actually did learn the questions ahead of time, it gave those who are already suspicious of the church even more reason for doubt, and brought into question Pastor Warren's credibility. I was also very troubled by the selection of the questions - heavily slanted toward traditional evangelical issues - abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research - with no questions asked about the economy, poverty, health care, or environmental issues. I heard Pastor Warren's explanation that he ran out of time, but yet he managed to get to those core evangelical issues.

I had an interesting dialog with 2 of my twenty-something sons. They saw McCain as talking to the camera and giving routine militaristic answers and stump speech soundbites (and 'old' looking' - being now 58 myself - I wasn't tuned into that!) while OBama was more personal and nuanced. I respect Rick Warren for attempting to use his influence to attempt a better dialog but sensed he fell into a standard line of quesitioning that somewhat appeased the more traditional 'religious right'. Even at that he gets criticism from some because he's gotten BACK to a more wholisic gospel that includes more than 2 issues. Someone like BilI Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Chicago would have done a better interviewing job. I agree that much of the press is still clueless about the breadth of the evangelical church and acts like it's a new thing that we care about the poor and oppressed. Evangelicals lead the way in compassionate ACTION and GIVING. And there IS a rapidly emerging part of the church today - especially younger evangelicals - that is very comfortable rejecting the old labels (even to the point of throwing off the corrupted word, 'evangelical') and care more about getting back to Jesus' simple and profound mission of "Love God...Love your neighbor." The Forum was I believe a positive sign that the "Public Square" is less "naked" of spiritual life than a few decades ago. And for that I say, 'Amen!'

I don't agree that the Warrens are an indication of a positive shift in evangelical priorities - if such a shift is, in fact, occurring. They're slightly updated versions of the old guard - Falwell, Robertson, etc. They're still salvific exclusivists; they still believe that most of humanity will spend eternity in hell, and the prospect doesn't bother them very much. Addicts and ignoramuses, the pair of them. I have no use for them.

Perhaps the lack of thoughtful reflection on the part of secular journalists says more about thier struggle to connect spirituality with reason and their definition of "reality". If one does not want to believe a group of people can be thoughtful, three dimensional individuals, one places them into categories or assigns them to a particular status. That is, in fact, predudice. It is a human trait to try to contain what one would rather not understand or what one finds difficult. Evangelicals have done their fair share of such categorization in the past, but have also been dismissed and marginalized by the the Foruth Estate as well. It is wonderful to have people like Warren attempt to bridge the gap.

Let me tell you why I dismissed the Warren forum, reinforced by your replaying your discussions with the Warrens. In my youth, (born 1947 to Quaker parents and pastors), religion and war were frequently discussed. No one could speak of morality for long without also discussing war and peace. No one could speak of evil without speaking of war. And I googled your web for war and peace and found you have covered in the past seven years the various frameworks for the discussion on war and peace that took place in the 50s and 60s, and then seem to have faded in the 70s.

With the demise of "liberal" religious influence, eg., the Catholic internal debate and external witness, the "peace" churches, as well as the "Eastern" faith expressions of monks, the "conservative" religious influence came to dominate the debate, almost ratifying a US vs Evil for Jesus foreign policy, and then turning on the internal evils eating away at the core of the US by tolerating gays and abortion.

Unlike the war and peace and religion and government debate of the "liberal" religious era in which few held to black and white positions: much of the debate centered on what is the line between just and unjust war, the past three decades have been black or white: if you don't believe "this" and seek to impose "this" view on others, you are evil.

Like Billy Graham (except with Nixon), the Warrens have distanced themselves from the issue of war, and each person of faith's moral responsibility in regard to war and peace.

So, Rick Warren is getting to know John McCain and Barrak Obama in the context of the presidential election this fall, and with war being front and center in the foreign policy arena, not a single question about war and peace.

We did have the question about abortion, an issue for which neither president can make any decision for the nation (though some argue that judicial appointments can some how create the necessary legislative change in law). What was the point of the question? Was it to see if either candidate would say, "I believe that mother's should abort if they don't have enough income to support the child" or some other "have you stopped beating your wife?" catch 22 fallacy?

President Bush suggested that God guided him in deciding to send men and women to kill and die in Iraq. Evangelicals that have thankfully faded from prominence cheered for war, and it seems the Warrens haven't gone down that path.

In your discussion, the Warrens talked of challenging each other in the demands of their faith, and talked of the demands they place on the members of the church they lead. And as was evident in the discussion of ABC and the more nuanced position on sex and AIDS prevention they have developed. Yet, more people think that war is an evil than believe homosexuality or abortion or a number of the other evangelical articles of division.

Granted, the evil of war is viewed as relative. The evangelicals would all claim that war by commies or islamists that kills the innocent is evil, but when the US war kills the innocent, that is merely collateral damage, as if institutional killing can somehow be religiously righteous and moral.

Charlie Rose talked with Iran's president this past week, and one of the points that he seemed to make, (the need for a translator in both directions made the conversation difficult, and I don't think the nuance of either Rose or the president was well translated) was that nuclear weapons are evil for every nation to have. He also made the point that Iran has harmed or insulted the US far less than the US has harmed or insulted Iran, yet Iran wants open relations with every nation including the US. I agree with him on both points, and disagree with Bush on his position that the US needs more WMDs and more capability to incinerate the world, but it is Iran that poses the greater threat because it must want to have nuclear weapons so it can trigger the incineration of the world because Iranian leaders are nuts and suicidal.

The reason I dwell on this relationship with Iran is the clear "faith" perspective that forms the US foreign policy interpretation of Iran and a number of other nations politics. And it is a "faith" perspective that underlies the so called American Exceptionalism and the US Manifest Destiny which justifies the US policies of so many administrations and Congressional actions from the large number of warheads, the large secret budget to fund espionage and covert operations seeking to control politics in other nations, and so on.

War is said to be diplomacy by other means, but in between there are many gradations. If as a matter of faith, we follow the teachings of Jesus, and in particular, Do unto others as we would have them do unto us, than does a person who follows Jesus leave his faith behind when he takes the oath of office and become president or other government official? Why is it ok for the US to have nuclear weapons and Iran not, or for the US to destabilize a democracy in another nation, but other nations not? Why is it ok for the US to torture people and deny them their inalienable rights but not other nations?

If Rick Warren believes that faith and other personal views are relevant to the choice people make for president, then he has avoided the clearest intersection between faith, religious belief, ethics, morality, or philosophy and the judgements and decisions of leaders such as the President of the United States.

The absence of a discussion of faith, peace, and war from today's dialog is curious if the US is more religious than ever. I suggest that you might explore this question: is the faith in the US really more important today, or in recent years, than it was in the 50s and 60s? After all, the civil rights movement was intertwined with faith, and the debate on war was intertwined with faith, the action on poverty was intertwined with faith.

I think you could make a good case for the past quarter century being a period where faith was diminished and marginalized in the US, replaced by a political strategy designed to gain votes by advancing fallacious definitions of evil, and no expression of righteousness. Merely condemning evil is not righteousness.

I would be interested in your exploration of the roles of faith in the pre-70s vs post-80s periods.

agree with you.
"Progressive" NE and California media is disconnected from American history and a large majority of the American population.
1. the media is ignorant of American history, and
2. media, particularly PBS, belittles the religious values of most Americans, which includes Evangelicals and Catholics, unless it is a denominational wing that is a forum for the same-sex agenda - while at the same time paternally smiling down upon African American spiritualism, which certainly is no forum for the same-sex agenda - and media hubris believes that it defines what is right. Hispanic emigration is largely Catholic or Evangelical. America is becoming as polorized as in the 60s and the media is greatly contributing to it.

I do not agree with the press or Rev. Warren asking personal faith questions of each of the candidates. Too much attention has been given so far to the candidates faith, This is a highly personal matter and candidates should not be foreced to display beliefs publicly. When asked, the candidates have a tendendcy to answer to please the moderator or the Evangelicals in order to get votes. Many of the Evangelicals are changing, placing more emphasis on poverty and the environment rather than stressing abortion and gay rights. The moderator's questions causes tcauses the Evangelicals to again focus on abortion and gay rights.

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 -


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.


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.



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.