Before I watched the Saddleback Civil Forum I was leery of the press attention that it was getting.  There has been a lot of hype among the MSM that we are entering a post-Christian right era of evangelicalism.  That is exactly what it is – hype. 

Admittedly evangelicals are broadening their agenda, and we should.  We should be concerned about poverty, AIDS, unjust war, and genocide along with the traditional concerns about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, choice in education, religious freedom, and the like.

I started watching this forum thinking that traditional concerns were going to largely be ignored and I was delightfully surprised.  This forum covered a wider scope of issues and Rick Warren asked a number of tough questions.  Some of the questions/issues:

Leadership – who would you go to for advice?

Obama listed his wife, grandmother and former Senator (and potential running mate) Sam Nunn as those who he considers wise and whose counsel he would rely on.

McCain listed General David Petraeus, Democratic Congressman John Lewis, and Meg Whitman, the CEO of Ebay.

While Obama’s comment will earn him brownie points at home, I’m not so sure how Americans will embrace the thought of Michelle Obama being a top advisor.  Granted we all understand that Presidents rely upon their spouses for support, but it is a different thing to consider them a top advisor which I think is what Rick Warren was probably getting at.

Character – What is your greatest moral failure?

Obama mentioned his experimenting with illicit drugs.  McCain said the failure of his first marriage.  I think that both could have been asked follow-up questions, in particular, Warren could have asked McCain about divorce, adultery and his current marriage.

Mainly it really wasn’t that productive of a question because both men had a canned response answer citing something that was already well known by the general public.  I wasn’t expecting any earth shattering confessions.

Bi-Partisanship – mention some times when you went against your party.

Obama mentioned ethics reform, which he worked on with John McCain, but ironically he pulled out and voted with his caucus.  How is that bi-partisanship exactly?

This was a home run question for John McCain who could cite several items like climate change, spending, torture, immigration reform, Gang of 14.  He even shared a time when he was against President Ronald Reagan sending Marines into Beirut. 

So basically McCain has a record of bi-partisanship… Obama none, so I’m thinking how is he going to bring about change in this area?

Flip-flopped?

Obama – Welfare reform

McCain – Offshore drilling

McCain scored some points with that issue since it is a burning issue.  Obama’s answer didn’t hurt or really help, it was pretty safe.

Gut-wrenching decision?

Obama – I didn’t hear Obama’s answer on this.

McCain – Talked about turning down an early release as a POW due to his father’s position and influence.

Worldview – What does it mean to be a Christian?

Obama – “I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins and I’ve been redeemed by him.”

McCain – “I’ve been saved and forgiven”

Obama certainly seemed more at ease with this question than McCain, but that was expected.  McCain later on mentioned his church – North Phoenix Baptist Church, and Barack Obama unsurprisingly did not.  I think there were follow-up questions that could have been asked of both men.  For instance for Obama – can people be saved outside of Jesus Christ?  McCain could have been asked, what does it mean to be saved?  I did enjoy McCain’s POW story of the Christian guard who showed him compassion.

Here is the rub for me.  This election cycle seems to be based on rhetoric, especially for the Democrats.  You can talk the talk, but if your personal beliefs doesn’t seem to translate into biblically consistent policies it really means nothing.  President Bill Clinton talked a good game too, and well I’ll leave it at that.

I think when it comes to faith in Christ, Martin Luther said it best, “I’d rather be governed by a wise Turk than a stupid Christian.”  My preference would be a godly leader (which is why I supported Mike Huckabee during the primaries), but I’d rather have a conservative who may not be Christian who will govern wisely than a “Christian” president who pushes through foolish policies.

Abortion – At what point does a baby get human rights?

Obama – he hemmed and hawed mentioning theological and scientific perspectives (which some would argue are not at odds), and eventually said, “that above my pay grade.”  What a cop out!

He went on to say he is pro-choice, and that it is a complex issue.  No I don’t think so, as I’ve said before it boils down to personhood.  He also said, “I don’t think women make these decisions casually.”  Really?  I don’t think all women, but you can’t say that as a blanket statement.  There are some women and men who view abortion simply as another form of birth control.

He said that he would like to reduce the number of abortions which he claims hasn’t happened under the Bush Administration.  I think statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute show that just isn’t true.  Warren should have followed up with questions about what legislation has he sponsored or voted for to limit late term abortions or reduce abortions.  He hasn’t done anything.  His record in the Illinois Senate, as well as, the U.S. Senate is pretty clear that this is just rhetoric.  Warren also missed a chance to ask about his opposition to the Illinois Born Alive Act which is also inconsistent with his answers.

McCain – “at the moment of conception”.  He pointed to his 25-year pro-life record.  “I will be a pro-life president and have pro-life policies.”  Basically knocked it out of the park for the venue he was in.

Gay Marriage – Define marriage

Obama – “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”  He believes that marriage law is a matter left up to the states, and wouldn’t support a federal amendment.  He does believe in civil unions.  No surprise there.  State law doesn’t mean much if there is a Federal court overturning them or if states that allow “gay marriage” also allow out-of-state couples to be married (like Massachusetts is now doing).

McCain – Also believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.  He also spoke out against the California Supreme Court.  He holds a federalist position (10th Amendment) with the exception he is in favor of a federal amendment if a federal court struck down state law.  That is a favorable development.  He also said that people should be allowed to enter into legal contracts.  That could have been followed up on more.  While I don’t fully agree with McCain’s position I am encouraged that there is a circumstance in which he would support a federal amendment protecting the definition of marriage.

Stem Cell Research – do we continue to fund?

Obama – supports embryonic stem cell research, but said if adult stem cells work just as well (which they do) we should avoid the moral dilemma (then why aren’t we?).

McCain – Also in favor of ESCR – he thinks the debate will become academic with skin cell research.  Can’t say I know of the development of that.  He said he has high hopes.

Quite frankly I think they are both wrong on this issue, and Warren missed an opportunity to ask McCain about how his position is consistent with human rights “beginning at conception.”

Evil – Does it exist and what to do with it?

Obama – Evil does exist and we must confront it.  He gives example of Darfur, in our own streets, and within ourselves.  He then went on to say we must confront with humility.

McCain – Defeat it – linked it with terrorism.  Discussed brining Osama Bin Laden to justice.

While I don’t disagree with Obama evil exists throughout the world and even within ourselves, (Ephesians 2).  I am surprised that he didn’t bring up terrorism at all.  Also the “with humility” shows a postmodern mind set which sees morality and ethics as situational.

Courts – Who would you not have appointed?

Here we definitely see a clear contrast.  Obama mentioned Clarence Thomas, saying that “he didn’t think he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker.”  I about busted out laughing at that comment.  He also listed Scalia and Roberts as those with whom he disagreed.  At least he didn’t blast their intellectual ability or knowledge of the law.  He pretty much answered the way I would expect.

McCain – listed Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer and Stevens – those who don’t hold to a strict constructionalist view.  He doesn’t want his appointments to have records of legislating from the bench.

Here is where the rubber meets the road with gay marriage and abortion.  This distinction between Obama and McCain is huge.  I obviously agree with McCain’s position – that decisions should be made based on what the Constitution says and the founding fathers intent.  I do not see the Constitution as a “living and breathing document” whose interpretation changes with the culture.

Faith-based Organizations

Warren brought up the 1964 Civil Rights Act which allows faith-based organizations to keep and hire based on like faith.  He asked, would federal funding change that?

Obama – Basically he answered yes.  “The devil’s in the details.”  He wanted to be sure that federal funding is not being used to discriminate.

McCain – A very forceful no.  He wouldn’t require FBOs to drop the right to hire those of like faith with federal funding.  He said if they did that they would cease to be effective as faith-based organizations.

Obama’s answer really troubles me since I work for an FBO that currently has one federal grant.  It funds our children of prisoners mentoring program.  We have walked the church-state line, and the money is not being used for evangelism.  Since our volunteers and staff do not talk about faith issues with our mentees unless they make the initiative to do so, we do want our volunteers and staff to model their faith – to be people of character.  If we had to hire atheists, Muslims or other non-Christians it would disrupt our purpose.  We would no longer be a faith-based organization.

So if Obama is elected I won’t support my organization excepting federal money under his rules.

Education

Obama is in favor of performance pay, and generally increasing teachers’ pay.  He focused on public education.  McCain said that, “we need to find bad teachers another line of work.”  He said that choice and competition is needed and is supportive of all education options – home education, charter schools, private schools, and vouchers.

One could argue that this discussion doesn’t belong in a presidential forum because education should remain with the states.  If these two candidates would prefer to leave the marriage question to the states, why not education?  As a home educator I was happy with McCain’s position, and not surprised by Obama’s not even discussing options.

Taxes – Define rich – how much?

Obama – I thought that Obama saying, “well if you sell 25 million copies of your book…” was funny (referencing Warren’s Purpose Driven Life).  He basically said $250,000.

McCain – here was a mistake saying $5 Million – he was joking, but said that it was likely going to end up in a commercial.  He said he doesn’t believe in class warfare or redistribution.  Keep taxes low, increase revenues.  He said the problem is that government spending is too high, not that taxes are too low.  He gave an example of $3 Million being spent to study the DNA of bears in Montana.

Obama’s position is really socialism.  It punishes productivity.  It also doesn’t take into account small businesses that file as individuals (not sure what the designation is).  So the $250,000 margin could hurt small businesses.  Also increasing taxes on businesses will likely cause a cut in jobs which will hurt the very people he says he wants to help.

War/National Security – What’s worth dying for?

Obama – America’s freedom, national interest, and forged alliances.  Would need international approval to involve military.  Not necessarily UN, but would need some level of international support.  Be “in concert with the international community” (in reference to using military in cases of genocide).

McCain – Freedom, national security.  He says military action does need to be tempered with outcome (which actually is a criteria in the Augustinian Just War outline).  Pointed out that American blood has been shed throughout the world for the freedom of others – no other nation could claim that.  He feels that we need to do more to stop genocide.  Regretted the lack of action in Rwanda.  We need to say never again, marshal international support and African support (with Darfur) and use the military if needed if it would be effective.  He spoke at length about the Georgian-Russian conflict as well.

I couldn’t help but think that Obama got schooled here.  McCain clearly has experience in this area and has a strong position.  I look at Obama and I just do not believe that he will keep us safe.

Orphans

Obama – focus on orphan prevention, Obama commended Bush on his AIDS policy.  He said he would look at Warren’s idea to help with funding to help families to adopt.

McCain – Need to make adoption a lot easier.  He has also personally adopted as well.

Religious Persecution

Obama – Bear witness and speak out.  Can’t ignore.  Need to model religious tolerance (a good follow-up question would have been – what does that mean?), and lead by example – that we don’t engage in torture.

McCain – Use the bully pulpit, he said that our Judeo-Christian principles dictate that we stand with and help out the oppressed.

I’m wondering how exactly torture fits with religious persecution?  Also, does Obama not believe that we have any moral authority compared to say China or some Muslim nations?

Why do you want to be President?

Obama – Because he feels the American dream is slipping away.  “I have the ability to build bridges across partisan lines.”

McCain – “I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve beyond their self interest.”  “I believe our best days are still ahead.”  He has put country first – in the military, in the Senate.  America wants hope.  He has experience reaching across the aisle.  He’ll be the President of every American.

Conclusion

I think Obama’s presence in this venue will disarm some Christians.  I don’t think that he hurt himself… this isn’t going to be his base anyway.  He seemed at ease talking about his faith.  Though it is clear that he does not share the values that most evangelicals hold and that will hurt him.

The surprise is with McCain.  Many thought he wouldn’t do very well in this setting, but he shined.  He was engaging.  His stories connected and with the exception of the faith question he seemed at ease.  His answers will resonate better with the evangelical community.  I myself feel more comfortable regarding his position on judges and faith-based organizations.  I already knew he was pro-life, but it was good to hear him reiterate it.  His position on gay marriage seems to have shifted to the right with now being open to the FMA in certain circumstances.

I think McCain was most helped by this forum, and it did serve to point out the differences in the two candidates.

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