The Hansen Report: Warren, Obama, and McCain
Reflections on the Saddleback Civil Forum.

I'm not Rick Warren's biggest fan. Don't get me wrong; I admire his godly character and zeal to claim this world for Christ. But I could live without the hokey acronyms and, especially, his "felt needs" approach to evangelism.

That said, I was impressed with Warren's hosting skills at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Saturday night. Warren is the only Christian leader in America who could pull off this event. Sen. Barack Obama wants to peel away more of the evangelical vote, and he trusts Warren not to play gotcha with him on the issues where he disagrees with evangelicals. Sen. John McCain needs to bolster his credibility with evangelicals, and he knows Warren harbors no long-standing vendetta against him for sometimes bucking conservative political orthodoxy.

Moreover, Warren gave conservatives what they wanted out of the event. He coaxed both candidates into sharing how they would compose the Supreme Court. He asked questions about personal morality, and both candidates shared their views on same-sex marriage and abortion. Obama certainly didn't impress by dodging Warren's question about when life begins. Granted, we can't expect our presidents to be experts on science or theology. But in formulating their policy positions on such a crucial issue as abortion, politicians necessarily draw on theology and science. They can't pretend to avoid the problem.

At the same time that he addressed standard conservative issues, Warren broached other topics important to evangelicals and nonbelievers alike. He asked about education, taxes, foreign military interventions, and so on. Rarely did the candidates break new ground. And yet this event somehow did.

For example, Warren introduced the forum saying, "We've got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other, and we need to restore civility?in our civil discourse, and that's the goal of the Saddleback Civil Forum." With this standard as his goal, Warren succeeded magnificently. The candidates' personalities emerged clearly as they responded specifically to an impressive array of questions. Anyone who watched the event got a real sense for the candidates' comparative strengths and weaknesses. Though Warren's event lacked the side-to-side comparison of presidential debates, it also avoided the stage theatrics that sidetrack them.

Let's give the pastor credit. Journalists are trained to distrust their interview subjects and try to outwit them into revealing something they didn't want to share. Pastors likewise harbor no illusions about human nature. But they also must navigate the choppy waters of church life where they try and convince clashing personalities to work together for the common good, a task they share with politicians. As a result, Warren shared evident rapport with the candidates, which put them at ease and made for a more substantial discourse. For so long, evangelicals have contributed to America's poisonous political climate. It's about time we became part of the solution.

August 19, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments

lester finkbeiner

August 25, 2008  6:11pm

About Obama and Matthew 25:30-46 When is someone going to call O. on his out-of-context interpretation of the sheep-and-goats parable? Mt.25:32, Jesus is speaking of the judgment of the nations, and NOT about individuals, if they feed, visit and comfort the poor, prisioners and the sick. Mt.25:40, The object of the help is "these brothers of mine", and in the context of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' brothers are those who do the will of his Father (God). See Mt. 12:50, Mt.28:10. This is not the tribunal of Christ, as per Rom.14:10-12 and 2 Cor.5:10. It is not the Great White Throne judgment of Rev.20:11-15, but "the judgment of the nations" for their helping or ignoring "the brothers of Christ" – his servants, disciples, followers who do the will of God. Obama's error is all too common among evangelicals in general.

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Keith Schooley

August 25, 2008  11:02am

Collin, I find your comments regarding Billy Graham to be incoherent. You first note Graham's friendship with Presidents Johnson and Nixon–which is not, necessarily, the same thing as "intervening in politics." Indeed, you write that Graham didn't allow his own policy convictions to "get in the way of personal spiritual counsel." But then, you move into an aside on the "spotty" record of evangelicals during the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s, none of which has anything to do with Graham, although you attribute this record to be the "result" of Graham's relationship with these two presidents. Graham was not an evangelical leader, in the same sense that we have such leaders today. His message was not to the church; it was, for a lifetime, to the lost. I see no connection–and you make none–between Graham's ministry to two presidents and the evangelical reaction to a period of overwhelming social change. Then, in your penultimate paragraph, you make reference to "the awe of political power that seduced Graham," something completely undemonstrated by your essay. If you were to push your point forward to Graham's near-endorsement of GWB, then maybe I'd see some relevance. But you don't, and I don't understand what it is you think Graham should have done instead. Perhaps you think that Graham should have pushed both presidents toward more biblical stances on issues? But we have no idea what may have been said behind closed doors, and Graham may have seen his role more in terms of someone who could reach these two human beings for Christ than as someone who could influence the levers of power. Certainly, taking a hard-line stance and getting himself excluded from them would have done nothing positive. It appears that you are assuming a view of Graham that you take for granted and think doesn't need to be argued. For those who don't share this view of Graham, it minimizes your critique of Warren.

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Darren King

August 21, 2008  7:56pm

My wife and I took in the so-called Saddleback Civil Forum. The entire event was interesting, on a number of levels. I found the venue, the interviewer, the forum style, and the candidates themselves, all intriguing aspects of what was a decidely American-style event. Believe me, you'd never see a forum from a conservative church become a nationally-televised event in secular Europe, or for that matter, in Canada. First of all, it was interesting to me, despite our recent discussion here at Precipice on the decline (and overstated nature) of evangelical influence in America, that the candidates and their respective parties would agree to such a forum. After all, there are only a handful of these between now and election day in November. That definitely says something about influence, or at least, of the continuing perception of influence. Before I get to the responses of the candidates themselves, a couple of other notes: 1.) I think the format was a good one. Having the candidates go one-on-one with the same interviewer, asking the same questions of each, for an hour each, offered a better snapshot of the candidates and their beliefs that other forums we've seen in recent elections. 2.) Rick Warren, who's very familiar with being on the other side of the interview table, did quite well as political interviewer. Some of his questions were predictable, and others, not so much. And this is always a good approach. Let the candidates tackle the big questions. But let us also see them in a more conversational manner, when they can't simply regurgitate preconceived speeches. I think Warren's questions also helped to demonstrate that evangelicals aren't as obsessed with one or two hot-button moral issues as the media, and some evangelicals themselves, would have us believe. Asking about orphans, education and economics – in addition to predictable questions regarding gay unions/marriages and abortion – was a welcome shift. And like I said, I think this probably scored evangelicals some points on the diversity scale with other Americans. So good on 'ya, Rick. Now, regarding the candidates' responses themselves, this was an interesting contrast in worldview and generations. It was very clear, starkly so, I would argue, that Obama stands firmly in a postmodern milieu, whereas McCain clearly doesn't. I, like many other people 40 and under I'm sure, couldn't help but cringe at the presumptuous certainty around some of McCain's responses. As a Christian, let alone a postmodernly-informed one, I appreciated Obama's call for humility in our assessment of evil in the world. I also noticed, and honestly, found frustrating, McCain's tendency to offer answers before he'd even finished hearing the question. Sometimes, it seemed to me, this even caused him to answer questions that weren't actually asked. Personally, I think this is a dangerous tendency. The world is complex and multi-faceted, now more so than even before. We can't have the leader of the free world shooting from the hip, as it were. We need someone who listens closely, who listens with an astute ability to understand the nuances of every situation. Decisive action alone is not the end goal. One must be well-informed first. Still, all in all, I found both candidates to be approachable, personable, and men of character. I think both of these candidates offer more hope for America's leadership than recent predecessors, in either party. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to any of you that my personal leaning is heavily towards Obama, namely for the reasons I just stated above. I think of Francis of Assisi's wisdom: "Seek first to understand". This is the kind of approach that is sorely needed in the 21st century, when so many worldviews compete and collide, and sometimes seek to co-exist, in our increasingly global village.

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Michele

August 21, 2008  10:08am

"...the God who has given Warren such influence with presidential candidates" is your God. Remember there is just One.

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Teresa C

August 21, 2008  8:35am

That quote from Time magazine was unnecessary, especially without any substantive evidence. I am not Rick Warren's biggest fan either, but to make an inference that someone is power hungry without giving any reasons for this statement is completely out of line, and very disappointing from a Christian blog.

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George

August 20, 2008  2:41pm

What Rick Warren taught us as Christians in America is that no political issue is solved with simple 30 second sound bytes and that we can talk about those issues without being hostile. Maybe if we learn to talk with one another without seeing the other side as 'evil' we can make some progress on the issues that Jesus thought were most important in Matthew 25:31-46

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Todd Burus

August 20, 2008  9:26am

Mike, buddy, why can't we ever agree? First off, "theocracy"? Come on. That sounds scary, but no body in their right mind would ever call America a theocracy, no matter how much the President's views are informed by his faith. You want a theocracy look at the Islamic nations or ancient Israel, not America. As for compromise, that is another word I here batted around a lot, but it just doesn't make much sense to me. Compromise as a general means to avoid disagreement is rarely a good thing. Take abortion. A Christian who is against abortion because they think it's murder may be willing to compromise and allow for abortions in the case of rape or incest. But then what have they done? They have completely undermined their whole reason for opposing the procedure in the first place. That's not compromise, that's inconsistency. Or look at Georgia and Russia (similar with Germany and Poland, eh?). The world keeps trying to compromise with Russia and what do they do? They just keep on doing what they want. How many times have they said they would leave Georgia now? In this case "compromise" is actually appeasement. And lastly, as for legislating against abortion, that is the purpose of overturning Roe v. Wade. What would that decision do? It would allow the states to decide whether they wanted abortion to be legal or not. I, like John McCain, am a Federalist and I believe the Federal government should regulate as little as possible. Besides, every time Congress does do something about it, some activist judge in California overturns their law (like the partial birth abortion ban). I'm glad once were in heaven together that God will be able to set all of your views straight, Mike, or at least all the ones I didn't correct just now (j/k) : )

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Rob Borkowitz

August 20, 2008  8:35am

It was so refreshing to see Rick Warren - an evangelical pastor - call people back to civility and away from demonizing those on the other side of the political fence. This is so lacking in our current environment where the deeply polarizing effect of politics in America has crept into our churches. As a pastor, I've watched far more people than I care to admit get angry over things I've said that they deemed "liberal" because it didn't fit into their preconceived notions of the "Christian view" (read "Conservative Republican") on such-and-such an issue. Sadly, I fear many evangelicals have their political views informed more by Rush Limbaugh than by Jesus Christ, and thus they not only adopt their favorite talk-show host's political position but also their demonizing attitude as well. So hats off to Rick Warren for being willing to model for us what we ought to be doing to begin with: showing respect and civility to those on both side of the political fence, even when we might strongly disagree with them.

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mike rucker

August 20, 2008  8:33am

"We've got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other, and we need to restore civility…in our civil discourse, and that's the goal of the Saddleback Civil Forum." unfortunately, we got civil discourse in this forum by not allowing the candidates to discourse anything! how ironic is that?... but i disagree with warren - and, i guess, with collin, too: i think what's missing in America isn't the presence of disagreement - we've got that in spades. what we DON'T have is any understanding anymore of compromise - a lot of the people commenting on this blog (ok - me, too, occasionally) feeling that ANY movement away from their own interpreted positions is nothing less than abandoning their Christianity, if not forsaking Jesus. America is not, and should not be morphed into, a theocrary of OT prohibitions or NT doctrines. it is what it is: a pluralist nation with many faiths. too many evangelical solutions are simply OT-esque laws that do nothing to change human nature or behavior - and you need look no further than Paul to realize what laws can do and what they can NEVER do. as far as abortion goes, America has built into its system of government a way to make abortion explicitly constitutional or unconstitutional. it is not one president or one justice who is the focal point of legislation: it is - surprise - the LEGISLATURE. if that body, (supposedly) representative of the people, decides not to act on it, complain to them. don't base your entire decision for president on one issue. abortion is simply one issue on which evangelicals resist compromise, and, in so doing, ensure the situation never improves. mike rucker fairburn, ga, usa

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Drew Hill

August 19, 2008  3:11pm

I too was struck by how personable and fair-minded Rick Warren was in the forum. He seemed real, sensible, and articulate. I can't tell you how good it felt just to see any minister on television who didn't look and sound like a salesman, a pharisee, a pervert, or an idiot. God bless him for that. And yet, your word of caution is appropriate. Power and influence have an almost natural corrupting effect. May God keep Warren's feet glued to the ground and his heart impervious to the subtle temptations of self-importance.

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