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Pastor Rick Warren Brings McCain, Obama Together

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Pastor Rick Warren Brings McCain, Obama Together

Election 2008

Pastor Rick Warren Brings McCain, Obama Together

Pastor Rick Warren Brings McCain, Obama Together

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion marks the first joint appearance by John McCain and Barack Obama this campaign season. It's moderated by pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR news. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the presidential candidates and the "Chairman of the Board." But first, later today Barack Obama and John McCain will be on stage together for the first time in this general election campaign. They'll be at Saddleback Church in Southern California, participating in the Civil Forum on National Leadership. The man asking the questions will be Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life." NPR's Ina Jaffe will also be there and joins us from NPR West. Ina, thanks for being with us.

INA JAFFE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: So how did Pastor Warren manage to pull off what no civic organization or TV network has been able to do?

JAFFE: Well, the candidates know that he's a conduit to evangelical voters. He's a fourth-generation southern Baptist pastor, he built Saddleback Church from literally nothing to a congregation of 22,000 people. "The Purpose Driven Life," the book that he wrote, has sold tens of millions of copies, and he says he has trained half a million other pastors in building churches just like Saddleback.

SIMON: Somebody that well known, successful, big, does inspire controversy, too, doesn't he?

JAFFE: Well, yes, especially since he was one of the leading pastors who recently said that social issues like abortion and gay marriage shouldn't be their sole focus. He's embraced issues like poverty, global warming and fighting HIV/AIDS, which he says should be part of the evangelical agenda, and he's gotten some criticism for that.

SIMON: What's going to happen at this forum?

JAFFE: Well, despite all the hoopla from McCain and Obama being on the stage at the same time, that part isn't going to last long. Warren's going to interview each of them separately for about an hour, and Obama will go first, then McCain will come out and join the two of them on stage for one minute, then they break for commercial, and then in the second half he will talk to John McCain. ..TEXT: Warren says he wants to get their views on some traditional concerns of evangelicals like abortion and same sex-marriage, but he also wants to talk about poverty and global warming and the other issues he's recently taken on, and also ask them about the Constitution and how their faith will guide the way they would govern.

SIMON: Now, in addition to what I'm sure both Senators Obama and McCain see as an opportunity for spiritual refreshment, they may be interested in winning some votes, too. Right?

JAFFE: Absolutely. You know, in the last election, President Bush won nearly 80 percent of evangelical votes, but those votes aren't going to be automatically inherited by John McCain. Evangelicals have had some problems with him. He doesn't talk very easily or openly about his faith. He has advocated allowing abortions for victims of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother. And back in 2000 when he ran for president the first time, he called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance."

SIMON: Now Senator Obama, by contrast, talks rather more about his faith, doesn't he?

JAFFE: He absolutely does, and any day that he does talk about his Christian faith in public, it's a chance for him to convince more people that he's not a Muslim. So that's a positive for him. And he'll be sure to talk about his plans to expand the White House office with faith-based initiatives which funnels federal money to social programs run by religious institutions, and he'll probably also talk about the meetings that he's been holding around the country with evangelical pastors.

SIMON: NPR's Ina Jaffe at NPR West. Thanks very much.

JAFFE: You're welcome.

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McCain, Obama Seek Converts At Church Forum

About The Forum

When: Saturday, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. EDT


Where: Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.


Details At The Saddleback Civil Forum Web Site

Pastor Rick Warren speaks at a summit on AIDS held last fall at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Warren will host a forum at the church Saturday with presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Pastor Rick Warren speaks at a summit on AIDS held last fall at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Warren will host a forum at the church Saturday with presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain will make their first joint appearance as their parties' presumptive presidential nominees on Saturday. But it won't take place at a town hall meeting or during a televised debate.

Instead, the two candidates will take turns speaking at the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif. — home to 22,000 evangelical voters and their pastor, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life. Warren has not endorsed either candidate.

Warren has said that the conversations will focus on issues such as poverty, AIDS, climate change and human rights. The forum also gives the politicians the chance to appeal to religious voters. The most recent poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that white evangelicals are more undecided now than they were at this point during the last two election cycles.

John Green, a senior fellow at Pew, talked to NPR about what to expect from the upcoming forum.

What does it mean that the candidates' first joint appearance is at Saddleback Church?

Beyond what it may say about the role of religion and the campaign, the event seems to serve the purposes of both the Obama and McCain campaigns. As you know, there has been a lot of back-and-forth between the campaigns about joint appearances. This is the first one that's happened. It could also be that some of the people who put this together, including Rick Warren himself, were a particular draw.

Why would Warren be a draw? How was he able to persuade the candidates to appear at his church?

One of the reasons Warren has the kind of attraction to Obama and McCain is that he is not as political as some pastors are. He cares very much about issues like AIDS in Africa. The better parallel is between him and [Billy] Graham. Graham was friends with many presidents and close to the Bush family. Graham did this in a very bipartisan way but always managed to stay above the rough and tumble, because he always talked about issues, and he based his appeal on personal relationships.

What types of issues could the candidates talk about in front of this evangelical audience?

There are a number of issues that evangelicals are likely to respond to quite positively. They are very interested in candidates talking about their faith, and how they understand their personal relationship to God and how that fits into their political platform. Sen. Obama has done a lot of that already. But Sen. McCain really hasn't, so I think a lot of attention may be focused on how he addresses those issues when they come up.

Rick Warren has said he will try to focus the discussion on AIDS in Africa, the environment and poverty. There has been a broadening of the evangelical agenda over the last four years. It's not that evangelical have abandoned the social issues; it's just that they now care about more things.

But the old agenda items haven't gone away. Evangelicals may be interested in hearing where the candidates stand on same-sex marriage and abortion. Rick Warren, in some of his public statements, has said that he doesn't really want to focus on those issues, but it will be interesting to see if the candidates address them anyway in that context.

How have the candidates, up to this point, dealt with religion? And how could it surface on Saturday?

Obama spoke very regularly and openly about his faith and about how it relates to his political values. His campaign has also been organized to reach out to religious voters. Although Barack Obama is very different from George W. Bush, there is a certain similarity between the Obama campaign this time and the Bush campaign in 2004. The approach to religious voters is central to both campaigns.

Sen. McCain has approached it a different way. He seems less comfortable talking about it, and this has not been as prominent in his speeches and in public appearances. There is reason to believe that his campaign is also reaching out to religious voters, but in a less public way. In that sense, the McCain campaign resembles Sen. John Kerry's campaign back in 2004. Sen. Kerry, at least at that point, was also somewhat uncomfortable talking about his faith.

So, it's interesting. There is a little bit of a role reversal [in terms of religion] in the major parties.