McCain Opens Up Before Heading to Saddleback

As John McCain and Barack Obama prepare for their joint appearance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, the current narrative is that it’s Obama who will be more at ease in the venue — he has been very comfortable talking about his faith and the role that it plays in public life whereas McCain has been notoriously reluctant to do so:

The event will play to one of Obama’s strengths, talking about his Christian faith, but it will also underscore the gulf between his views and those of the most conservative Christian voters.

Many of McCain’s positions are more in line with the evangelical worldview, but he is uncomfortable – and some critics say unconvincing – while talking about his personal beliefs.

Given the importance of this issue to the Religious Right, McCain has been working hard to appease them, so it is not surprising that he agreed to attend the forum despite his discomfort with the format. As so, perhaps in preparation, McCain sat down with The Chicago Tribune for an “extended interview [in which he] talked about how his faith was tested during his years as a prisoner of war from 1967 to 1973, said God must have had a plan for him to have kept him alive, and reminisced about his appointment as informal chaplain to his cellmates”

“There were many times I didn’t pray for another day and I didn’t pray for another hour — I prayed for another minute to keep going,” said McCain, who was brought up Episcopalian but now worships at North Phoenix Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church. “There’s no doubt that my faith was strengthened and reinforced and tested, because sometimes you have a tendency to say, ‘Why am I here?’ “

McCain said his faith in God informs his decisions on issues of public policy. Christian conservatives are skeptical of McCain’s commitment to many of the issues they care about, such as abortion and marriage. They have also been disappointed in his embrace of embryonic stem cell research. But McCain said he wrestled with that decision and hopes technology soon renders it obsolete.

Although polling suggests voters view faith as an essential ingredient in a president, McCain has never been a candidate to invoke God or dwell on religion. “In our case, faith is private,” said his wife, Cindy, adding that once voters get to know him, “they will know he is a man of faith.”

McCain’s friends say they believe God had a plan for him, allowing him to survive to put him on the cusp of the presidency. He, too, acknowledges that idea, though cautiously.

“I can’t help but feel like that to some extent, and I’m not a fatalist,” said McCain. “I think it’s remarkable that I’ve been able to survive so much and to have the opportunity to do the right thing. I do think we make our own choices, but certainly I think I was meant to serve a cause greater than my self-interest.”