Let me the last in the blogosphere to comment on Saturday evening’s Saddleback Civil Forum.
First, Leadership Network is fiercely non political. We don’t want anything to do with any campaign beginning with dogcatcher and moving higher. It’s not that we object to politics, it’s just not our role and mission. We have staff members who will vote for all kinds of candidates this year, including some lesser known parties.
In my mind, our hope is not in our political systems, wealth or any other human creation but rather in God alone.
That being said, I had lots of calls the two weeks prior to the event from metro and religious reporters around the country asking about the event. The base question was sort of: How political are megachurches? Based on my experience and our extensive surveys the answer is “Not Very.” I then went onto explain.
Since the event, I guess those same reporters have now formed their own opinions because none have called to ask my opinion.
Here are my observations:
- I watched it. I think the audience that actually did watch it was smaller than you think. I asked my Sunday School class on Sunday how many had seen it. The answer was a question: “Was that on opposite the Olympics?” So my guess is that those that actually saw it included political junkies, passionate supporters of either candidate, or were like me, friends of Rick Warren. I think a lot more people have heard, read, seen clips and the like since the forum than actually saw it.
Having said that, I think there were three big wins in the program.
- I think it was a win for Senator Obama in that he had a chance to explain his views thoughtfully and carefully without being hurried under the pressure of a debate clock. He was comfortable with the language of faith and was clearly thinking about his answers as he went. In my mind, it would be a win for him if he was able to convince a few swing voters to vote for him.
- I think it was a win for Senator McCain in that he was able to be comfortable with his own answers. He used some of his campaign themes in strategic places that were sort of fall back punch lines, but I think those worked for him. In my mind, it would be a win for him if he was able to solidify some of those that wanted to vote for him but wanted to hear certain key things from him.
- I think it was a big win for civil discussion and discourse in our country and I think Rick Warren for setting the stage and the format to do that. I think we will always have disagreement on big political issues in our country. I think the format and the tone of the discussions on these hot button issues was the right way to deal with them. Stump speeches are designed to rally a base. Formal debates are now constructed with strict time limits which leave candidates to hit punch lines and not careful answers. This was a good chance to hear from both men and see what they are like.
Some words for the critics:
As to the complaint from some that this type of thing shouldn’t be in churches. It was a privately organized event, not government sponsored. And I know of very few people in the country neutral enough and trusted enough who could have organized and done the questions. Rick’s friendship with both men led to the trust that this could take place. The fact that he is the pastor of a large church is beside the point. Plus you must remember that Rick was trying to help inform his own congregation and interview both men so they could make up their mind. My guess is that almost any pastor would like to do that, but Rick is one of the few that could pull it off.
A few have complained that an open mic caught Rick saying to Senator Obama “home run.” They have read more into that comment than is there. Some felt it was an endorsement.
Every large church pastor I know will tell a guest after their message, sermon or speech that they did a good job, even when they didn’t. “Home run” just means, I appreciate what you did. Even if Rick or another large church pastor hears a bad sermon or speech, they don’t tell that to the speaker right afterwards, they wait until the person is in a better frame of mind. We all know how tough it is to speak before a large crowd. In my mind Rick was just affirming that Senator Obama had delivered his messages well.
My guess is that Rick had a similar affirmation for Senator McCain at the end of the program but it was not caught by the audio/video folks. That’s a courtesy I think every pastor gives to guests that speak. I would not read any endorsement from any of those comments.
Some have said that Rick should have asked some follow up questions. I am sure Rick wanted to in some cases but his agreement with the parties was to ask both Senators the same questions in the same order. I think it is better to honor your word there and Rick did.
In my estimation, those that were passionate for Senator Obama remained so after the event. For those that were passionate for Senator McCain remained so. Some swing voters may have heard things from either candidate and will use the forum to incorporate that input into their final decision.
We are entering into a charged season and my call is for us to pray for both men and their families. Whoever wins, the other will remain a national leader in the Senate. One of our tasks is to pray for those in authority, and that is what I will do for both men.