McCain gets gold, Obama bronze
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McCain gets 'gold' at Saddleback, Obama gets 'bronze,'

 but Warren sets record

The Strang Report - by Steve Strang

On 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.

This 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 pastor. It 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.

Warren 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.

As 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 evangelicals believe.

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.

The 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 believes life 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.”

The crowd thundered its approval. McCain went on to say, “I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.”

Warren 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.

Obama 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 heresy.

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 for Obama.

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.

But 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.

In 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.

When 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.

All McCain's 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.

There 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.

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