Will John McCain and Barack Obama’s joint appearance next month at Saddleback Church be a friendly forum or a firing line? “Purpose Driven” megachurch pastor Rick Warren is a superstar among evangelicals, but he still drew heavy criticism from some Religious Right activists when he invited Obama (along with right-wing stalwart Sen. Sam Brownback) to a global AIDS conference at his church back in 2006.
“Why would Warren marry the moral equivalency of his pulpit – a sacred place of honor in evangelical tradition – to the inhumane, sick, and sinister evil that Obama has worked for as a legislator?” wrote Kevin McCullough, a radio talker now affiliated with the Family Research Council. “Obama’s policies represent the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality,” complained Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council. “Having Senator Barack Obama speak on issues of social justice is like having a segregationist speak on civil rights,” said Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who added that Warren “should realize the terrible signal he is sending by inviting a speaker who tramples on the historic teachings of Christianity and the Bible.”
But Saddleback Church defended that 2006 invitation, saying that the goal of the conference was “to put people together who normally won’t even speak to each other” towards the goal of fighting AIDS. Although Warren retains positions against abortion and homosexuality, his emphasis on compassion and comity has been touted by some as a sign of a new evangelical politics.
As for the upcoming presidential forum, Warren seemed to suggest it will follow along the same lines. From the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow:
The author of The Purpose Driven Life says he does not believe the biblical gospel is compromised when he teams up with non-Christians in efforts to promote the “common good.”
“Now, I don’t happen to agree with Muslims and I don’t happen to agree with Jewish people,” states Warren, “and I don’t even agree with all of the things Catholics believe. But I…can work with them on doing something like stopping AIDS because we all believe sex is for marriage only.”
But what about issues where he doesn’t agree? Warren will be asking Obama and McCain questions about domestic policy, too, and the example he cited in OneNewsNow comes straight from right-wing talking points:
Warren says he plans to focus on issues that political reporters often ignore, including how the candidates view the Constitution. He suggests questions on that topic: “Is it a quote ‘living document’ that can be changed, that can be reinterpreted with each generation as things change? Or is it a truth written in granite that is a standard by which we evaluate everything else, and you don’t change it unless we amend it?”