Senators McCain and Obama will make their first joint appearance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California on August 16, according to a statement released by the church and reported in The New York Times. The two-hour event will be in a non-debate format with questions posed exclusively by Warren. Each candidate will talk with Warren separately for about an hour (starting with Obama, as determined by a coin flip).
In the statement, Warren said that he is close with both candidates, and so does not plan to ask any “gotcha” questions. In other words, since he is buddy-buddy with both McCain and Obama, it’s not like he’s going to ask them hard, or probably even very meaningful questions. He’ll most likely serve up softball questions on a tee and receive the standard, boring politician answer. Questions will apparently focus on their leadership skills, decision making, and “on some of Warren’s main areas of focus, like AIDS, poverty, and the environment.”
I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I won’t be watching (since I don’t watch anything). My gut instinct is to ignore it because the hard questions that are meaningful to the “evangelical” audience most likely won’t be asked (i.e. sanctity of life, exclusivity of Christ, etc.). Obama is a flaky universalist (see the “inspirational” cover story in Newsweek of Obama and his faith), and McCain avoids talking publicly about his faith (read: uncommitted, much like most of evangelical America according to dozens of research studies). I really hope Warren asks tough questions, and if he does, he shouldn’t be criticized for what most likely will be less-than-satisfactory answers by the candidates. But will he ask those questions?
The bottom line for me is that this event seems to be blurring and perhaps even crossing the line between the two kingdoms. I don’t like mixing faith with politics (especially from a pulpit), and no presidential candidate can save our country’s ills. Our country has only one possible Savior. One commentator wrote that “It looks to me to essentially be Obama and McCain coming to the bully pulpit of the American pop-evangelical pope’s place for an event that will shine the spotlight on all three of them. Is this a legitimate thing for a church to be doing?” I’m not sure, but my gut says no. Another wrote that “The confusion of the two kingdoms comes when Rick Warren’s church becomes a political venue…I think it would serve both candidates well, in the house of God, to say something which indicates – since they claim to be Christians, and are speaking to Christians – that our worst problem isn’t something you can fix with a new law, and that the president is not a savior” (emphasis his).
I want this to be a good, beneficial event that ultimately doesn’t focus on the candidates’ policies or Rick Warren’s “life goals” (he said that this event furthers these goals), but instead furthers the gospel of Christ. It’s admittedly hard to be optimistic about it, but I need to pray that it will happen.