Reviewing Rick Warren’s performance

The editors of The Christian Century were uncomfortable with the way Rick Warren handled himself in questioning Barack Obama and John McCain about issues of faith:

It’s the clout factor that makes us uneasy about the Saddleback event—uneasy both about the integrity of Christianity when it gets a lot of political clout, and especially uneasy about a political culture in which trumpeting one’s Christian faith is a way to gain some more clout.

Warren certainly succeeded in provoking some revealing answers. Unfortunately, despite his concern for addressing climate change, poverty and AIDS, which has helped legitimate a broader political agenda among evangelicals, in the forum he never asked questions about those issues. He used the occasion to press issues that the religious right has long focused on: opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.

The questions were also phrased so as to suggest what the appropriate answer would be for Warren and most of his constituency. “At what point does a baby get human rights?” “Define marriage.” “Would you insist that faith-based organizations forfeit [the right to hire people who share their beliefs] to access federal funds?” A discussion more illuminating for political life would have emerged if the questions had been phrased this way: “What’s the best way to reduce the number of abortions?” “Should homosexual couples be able to have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples?” “Should government funds be used for religious purposes?”

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