One of the most interesting events of the current campaign cycle occurred two nights ago. An evangelical pastor hosted a forum, held at an evangelical church, to discuss faith and politics with the two presidential candidates. And, from all accounts, it was a great success and a helpful experience for America.
As I look at it, several things allowed this to happen. First, Rick Warren’s stature as a vocal leader in the evangelical movement was key. Even more key, I believe, is the very impressive move that he has made toward justice and global issues. Second, it seems that Barack Obama is more willing to talk about his faith than most of his Democratic brethren. Being in an evangelical church did not seem to bother him one bit. Third, for some reason, networks were compliant. It was quite a coup for the forum to be broadcast, especially by CNN. Congratulations to everyone who stepped outside of the comfort zone to help this happen.
Now, here are a few of my observations:
- We seemed to have lucked out here. Both candidates seem to have some great strengths and abilities. Both appear to care more about people than their place. Both are thoughtful and not wholly tied to a particular voting base.
- There was a striking difference in the candidates’ willingness and ability to speak articulately about their faith. Obama seemed to be pretty skilled at thinking through things from a theological framework. He cited biblical references. He used Christian values as a backdrop for helping others. He talked about his relationship with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, McCain seemed to have difficulty weaving his faith into his discussion of policies. His only biblical reference was a secondary reference (when he quoted Reagan quoting Jesus). There were only two references to Jesus (never by name). First, he said that he was saved. Then, he told a very moving and powerful story of a Christian Vietnamese soldier who communicated his faith through drawing a cross on the ground.
- Rick Warren did very well on a stage that is quite different from what he is used to. He surely didn’t seem like the goofy, hawaiian shirt wearing guy who laughs at his own jokes that we got to know on the Purpose Driven Life DVDs. Although, he was so much more at ease when talking with Obama. They seemd to be engaged in a conversation. Perhaps, it was Obama’s comfort in communicating. Or, maybe, Warren really like Obama. Whatever the reason, I don’t believe that it was purposeful or diminishing of the overall affect.
- The questions asked were quite good. First, Warren’s ventures into the political realm dealt less with policy than motivation, which was extremely helpful. Also, Warren took the opportunity to ask questions of the candidate that would not be asked in another setting. For example, the question about evil would never come up in an official debate.
The 2004 Election got a bit more exciting because of the forum. I believe that the important conversation that was begun two nights ago will carry on to November.