McCain gets 'gold' at Saddleback, Obama gets 'bronze,'
Warren sets record
The Strang Report - by Steve Strang
August 16, the same day that Michael Phelps set a world record at the
Olympics by winning his eighth gold medal, Sen. John McCain went for
gold at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., while Pastor Rick
Warren set his own world record. That was my view from the back of the
church as I watched them participate in a forum Warren hosted to give
the 2008 presidential candidates, McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, an
opportunity to answer questions of interest to evangelicals.
was the first time both candidates had shared a stage, and the only
time they'll meet before the debates in October. The fact that they
agreed to talk about faith and other issues with a pastor in a church
setting is remarkable!
Of course it wasn't just any
was Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book of all time other than
the Bible—The Purpose Driven Life. He's a man who is trying to mobilize
churches around the world to solve tough global problems such as
eradicating AIDS and caring for 148 million orphans.
called the event a “Civil Forum on the Presidency,” and thankfully it
was indeed “civil”—a blessing because conservative Christians are often
portrayed by the media as being uncivil when it comes to politics.
you know if you watched the event or read the press reports, Warren
interviewed Obama for an hour and then asked McCain the same questions
he had posed to Obama. He avoided the “gotcha” questions, so Obama did
not have to comment about his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or
about his father’s being a Muslim.
Yet Warren asked tough
questions, some of them in a very creative way. For example, he asked
each candidate which Supreme Court justices he would not have
appointed. The answers from McCain and Obama were polar opposites.
Their responses made it easy to see that although each candidate is
eager to get the evangelical vote, there are major differences in their
positions on the big issues--with McCain lining up closest to what
To me, Obama performed
adequately in the
question-and-answer session. I'll give him a bronze. But McCain was the
big winner at Saddleback. His performance was pure gold.
media has been stating that more “moderate” evangelicals might be
considering Obama because he says the “right things” about caring for
the poor--something Jesus said a lot about and every evangelical
acknowledges is important. But Obama is strongly pro-abortion, as his
voting record shows. And though he told the Saddleback crowd he favors
marriage between one man and one woman, he also said he favors “civil
unions”—essentially the same thing as gay marriage. He is known to be a
big backer of the so-called “gay agenda”—a fact that didn't come out at
this civil forum.
When asked by Warren, “At
what point does a
baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama replied, “Whether you are
looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific
perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is
above my pay grade.” My comment: It’s funny that it's not above his pay
grade to strongly back a woman's right for an abortion or to support
the Freedom of Choice Act, a law which, if passed, would annihilate
every state law limiting or regulating abortion, including the federal
ban on partial birth abortion.
Obama obviously wants and
probably needs evangelical votes in November, so he said at Saddleback
that he respects those who believe life begins at conception. At least
he isn't trying to argue he's right! But from my viewpoint, he probably
didn't win anyone over who didn't also vote for John Kerry in 2004 or
Al Gore in 2000.
If Obama respects anyone who
begins at conception, then he must respect McCain, who didn’t hesitate
when asked the same question an hour later. The Republican candidate
responded definitively, “At the moment of conception.”
thundered its approval. McCain went on to say, “I will be a pro-life
president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.”
quipped, “OK. We don't have to go longer on that one.” McCain was so
strong in his answer and quick to reply that Warren was able to ask him
a few extra questions he had no time to ask Obama.
You can click here to read a news report of the forum or here
to read an actual transcript, so I don't need to give a detailed
report. Instead I want to give my own observations of why I say Obama
got bronze, McCain got gold and Warren set the world record.
was charming, as everyone knows he can be. He was funny, and on some
things, such as his own faith, he said the right things about following
Jesus. However, at Saddleback he left out a little detail that he
mentions in one of his books and that he declared at the meeting where
I met him in June in Chicago--that he basically believes all roads lead
to heaven. What he described is universalism, which to evangelicals is
I suspect there were those in
the audience who wanted to
find a reason to rationalize voting for Obama. But unless they were
blind and deaf and their minds were totally made up, they didn't hear
reasons at Saddleback why a Bible-believer can in good conscious vote
On the other hand, many
expected McCain to be wooden
and inarticulate on matters of faith and seemingly uncaring about the
evangelical vote. However, McCain connected with the evangelicals at
Saddleback. He was strong, decisive and honest about himself in a way
that caught everyone by surprise, especially when Warren asked McCain
what his greatest moral shortcoming had been. Obama answered the
question by saying it was teenage drug and alcohol use.
McCain very humbly admitted that his greatest moral failure was the
failure of his first marriage. When he said that, it was as if everyone
in the audience collectively held their breath and began breathing
again at the same time. We were stunned by his honesty and humility.
my view, McCain’s answer to this question was the turning point in the
forum. It was similar to the lap in a relay race in which Michael
Phelps pulled ahead and led until he set a new world record.
asked about evil, Obama mentioned Darfur and child abuse--both standard
liberal answers. But McCain didn't hedge about evil in the world. He
said he'd stop at nothing to get Osama bin Laden.
answers were equally decisive. He said he'd allow off-shore drilling to
solve the dependence on Middle Eastern oil. And he earned a round of
applause when he said the educational system should be revamped and bad
teachers should go into a different line of work.
But the big
winner of the night to me was Rick Warren, who had the panache and
clout to not only pull off the event but also get three cable networks
to carry it live.
Warren was featured on the
August 18 cover of Time magazine and was pictured in the article (click
here to read it)
holding hands with Obama in prayer. Some of my more conservative
friends claim the photo made Obama look like a “reasonable”
consideration for president.
I don’t know whether the
possibility that the photo could be seen that way bothered Warren. In
the forum, he appeared not to take sides. He asked both candidates
tough questions. He was polite to both and seemed impartial. But his
reactions to some of McCain's strong answers and Obama's weak ones let
me know what he truly believes about abortion and traditional marriage.
I realized he wasn't trying to give “a wink and a nod” that it was OK
this year to vote for the pro-choice candidate.
What he did was
show that Christians can be involved in the national debate without
looking like narrow-minded theocrats. And when's the last time so much
focus has been on faith in the political dialogue?
Let me close
by mentioning that some of the questions Warren asked were similar to
the ones I asked Sen. McCain last Wednesday in a 15-minute telephone
interview that we'll run in the October issue of Charisma. In that interview, also, McCain came
across as very personable and decisive.
was one major difference other than the venue and the length of the
interview. In my interview he called me “my friend” only three times.
If I counted right at Saddleback, he used his trademark phrase 11 times!
This week we expect to get an
interview with Sen. Obama. Stay tuned.