Billed as a "non-debate," presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama and John McCain, will be questioned by mega-pastor, Rick Warren, tomorrow night (Saturday, August 16, 2008) at Warren's Saddleback Church.
From the news release, here is the 411 on the event:
The two hour event, held from 5-7 p.m. (PDT), will be uplinked in both HD and SD formats, and broadcast live – in real time across all zones starting 8 p.m. (EDT) – on CNN, FOX News Channel and Daystar Television Network, as well as Southern California's KDOC-TV. America can also watch the event via live streaming at SaddlebackCivilForum.com, ReadersDigest.com and MySpace.com/Impact or listen on the FamilyLife, Moody and Pilgrim Radio Networks and select Salem Radio Network stations through Southern California affiliate, KKLA-Radio.
The Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency will be conducted in a non-debate format to provide opportunity for the candidates to engage in a long-form conversation about critical issues of interest to the faith community and the general public. At the candidates' request, the questions will only be posed by Warren – not a panel or from the audience – and open to all media, rather than co-sponsored by one network or news outlet, as with many of the earlier primary events. As a result, more than 550 media representatives have requested credentials to cover the event as news.
Warren will question each candidate, beginning with Sen. Obama as determined by a coin toss, for approximately one hour on four different topics: stewardship, leadership, worldview and America's role in the world.
I suspect the non-religious among us will object to the mainstream media attention given to this event. However, I believe the 60+ million Evangelical voting bloc is the reason for the meeting. The candidates are running in a dead heat as their respective conventions draw near. McCain needs to keep Evangelicals in the fold and Obama needs to woo enough of them away to keep the faith factor from undoing him, as it has other democratic politicians.
Rick Warren is not running for anything but may be the biggest winner when the evening concludes. This event clearly enhances an already shiny image but there are potential pitfalls for him as well. Will he ask the tough questions about the hot-button issue of abortion? If not, will he seem to compromise a clear Evangelical stance on social and religious matters? The news release says he will ask those tough questions, but will he press for specifics? Obama has not yet had to tell Evangelicals how he can aspire to be the most pro-abortion president in history while at the same time he solicits their energy and votes. If Warren can succeed in eliciting a direct and coherent response from Obama on this topic, he will do his religiously conservative brethren a service. On the other hand, if Warren can help John McCain articulate his inner-Evangelical, he may provoke some enthusiasm among religious conservatives for the McCain campaign.
My view is that the election may hinge on how many Evangelicals decide abortion is not an issue about which to decide one's vote. Obama needs to make a case that other issues are paramount and McCain needs to reinforce and invigorate the Evangelical intuition that respect for human life is a defining value for the president of the United States.
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