Republican presidential candidate John McCain (left) and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (right) with Pastor Rick Warren (center) during the Compassion Forum at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., on Aug. 16, 2008. Copyrighted Associated Press photos by Mary Altaffer (above and McCain) and Alex Brandon (Obama).
I'm a little bit behind on my listening, so I'm going to pass on an album review this week. But there was a big event in Christian pop culture in the past few days worth mentioning.
Now, I don't call Saturday night's Saddleback Church forum for presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain part of Christian pop culture to diminish it. At le blog, we give popular culture very serious consideration, and with the runaway success of The Purpose-Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren is undeniably a major name in Christian popular culture. And it was undoubtedly that big name that persuaded McCain and Obama to make Warren's church their first venue for a joint appearance since becoming their parties' presumptive nominees for president.
Sometimes I feel like I'm the only guy who hasn't read Purpose-Driven Life and does not have tremendous familiarity with Warren, beyond the fact that his Orange County, Calif., church is one of the mega, mega churches in America.
But I came away from watching the forum fairly happy with Warren's choice of topics and selection of questions. After spending the first half of the year hearing TV anchor and political pundit after TV anchor and political pundit launching pointless, gotcha and inside baseball questions at the candidates, it was refreshing to see Warren ask some basic questions and hear how the candidates answered them.The forum probably didn't change the way many viewers would vote. But if, say, you came in thinking Obama was just an empty suit full of rhetoric, you maybe saw a more thoughtful and aware man than you believed he was. And if you thought McCain would just be a third term of Bush, maybe you saw someone who was more his own man.
In a way, Warren kind of sabotaged himself, because his approach didn't really produce any nuclear moments or break any news. (That said, the forum was all over the Sunday talk shows, and Warren was featured on Larry King Live and Nightline Monday.) The biggest news from the event was suspicion that McCain, who went second in Warren's parallel interviews, was apprised of the questions before he took the stage and not in a "cone of silence," during Obama's appearance, as Warren had asserted. McCain did indeed seem more precise and prepared than Obama, though that could also be because he was possibly better prepped by his staff or he was comfortable playing to an audience predisposed to favor him.
That showed most in Warren's question about abortion, which was phrased as, at what point does a baby have human rights? Obama had to tread lightly through a desire to see abortion reduced but support for Roe vs. Wade because he doesn't think women take abortion lightly. McCain comfortably took the applause line, "At conception." In person, this was an easier crowd for McCain, because evangelical Christians have been a core constituency for the Republican Party for decades. And it was probably even easier on TV, because a lot of progressives were not interested in this forum because they see it as another blow to the separation of church and state.
I am happy religion has not been a centerpiece of the 2008 presidential campaign thus far because, as a Christian, I'm sick and tired of seeing Christianity prostituted for political gain.
But I didn't mind this forum.
Like any minister, Warren deals with real people and tough issues every day. He oversees ministries local and international and has a broad world view. It actually got me wondering who else could question the candidates who would come at it from outside the Washington political-and-news communities. Yes, there were a few slanted questions, like the phrasing of the abortion question. And I would have liked to have heard him work in a few more global issues, which he told Larry King he wanted to do, rather than revisit the gay marriage thing, again. But the candidates knew they were coming into a venue with a point of view, and should have been prepared for that.
Warren succeeded overall because he asked questions real people think about. He wasn't trying to extend the bloodsport game of politics. He was trying to get the viewers and candidates to think, which in 21st Century politics, people don't do enough.
Despite no reviews . . . there are some marquee releases today that we're listening to: Charlie Hall's The Bright Sadness, Brandon Heath's What if We?, Bart Millard's Hymned Again, Jimmy Needham's Not Without Love, and This Beautiful Republic's Perceptions.
In the next week or so, watch out for coverage here and in the paper of Labor Day weekend's Christian music events here in Lexington: Lexington Christian Academy's back to school bash, featuring Jars of Clay, and Questapalooza, featuring Kirk Franklin.