Planning A Purpose-Driven Talk With McCain, Obama John McCain and Barack Obama will make their first joint appearance of the post-primary season on Aug. 16 at a forum moderated by Rick Warren, the megachurch pastor and best-selling author. Warren talks to NPR about what he'll ask the candidates, both of whom he considers friends.

Planning A Purpose-Driven Talk With McCain, Obama

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Well, Pastor Rick Warren has different topics in mind for the upcoming forum at his megachurch in California. Both presidential candidates will be introduced together and then take questions, the same questions, separately, for one hour each.

While the Obama and McCain campaigns have sparred over what style of debates to hold, Warren says both candidates agreed to appear at his forum after he called them up personally.

I spoke with Warren earlier today. He was in Mexico City, where he's attending the International AIDS Conference. He explained how he got to know each of the candidates.

RICK WARREN: There was never an intentional meeting, just you end up showing up at different spots, and both of them had read "The Purpose-Driven Life." They are exact opposite in so many of their personality traits, in their view of government, in their philosophies of leadership, but I happen to like them both. They're both friends.

BLOCK: We've heard both John McCain and Barack Obama speak many, many times before. What are you hoping to learn, and as you think about your questions, what are you hoping to ask that might elicit some new information or some side of the candidates we haven't seen before?

WARREN: What I'm going to do is ask some questions that typically don't get answered. In a lot of the debates and town halls, the questions deal with hot-button short-term issues like the war, the border, oil.

The role of the presidency is far more important than simply managing the short-term problems. The role of the president, for instance, is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and yet I have never heard anybody ask a candidate, what is your view of the Constitution? That will have far more impact on America's direction and future than what do you think the price of oil should be.

BLOCK: Rick Warren, back in the 2004 election you sent out a letter to thousands of pastors in which you listed what you considered to be five non- negotiable issues, and they were abortion, gay marriage, human cloning, stem- cell research and euthanasia.

WARREN: Right.

BLOCK: Are those still non-negotiable issues for you?

WARREN: Well, they might be for me. It doesn't necessarily mean they're for everybody in the nation. I have my own convictions. I also believe in the common good, but I think that's part of democracy, is you have a right to promote whatever view you hold, and you have a right to try to convince me that I ought to change my mind.

BLOCK: But would you be sending out that same list now in 2008?

WARREN: I'm not going to send out any list this year because I'm obviously maintaining neutrality in order to do what I think is best for America, and that is get these two guys to speak up in their own words.

On a personal level, if I were sending out a letter today, my view hasn't changed one bit on any of those particular subjects, but my agenda has expanded dramatically over the last four years, and I think one of the things I've tried to do with evangelicals is to get them to not deny their pre-existing agenda but to expand it.

You know, I'm still pro-life, but I don't call myself pro-life anymore. What I do is call myself whole-life. And whole life means I'm not just in favor of the unborn baby. I'm in favor of her when she's born. Is she a crack baby? Is she an AIDS baby? Is she a baby living in poverty? Is she going to get an education? It's not just concern for protection of the unborn but for protection of the born too.

BLOCK: It's interesting because we've been hearing a lot this election cycle about evangelical voters who are not galvanizing around a Republican candidate, who are looking for an alternative. Can you imagine Barack Obama cutting into the evangelical vote in a way that John Kerry, Al Gore did not? Do you see him doing something different?

WARREN: Well, one thing about Barack is he is very comfortable in using, quote, "the language of faith." I see even a lot of people who disagree with Obama on issues who just say, wouldn't it be great to have an African-American president? But I don't think you can really tell where people are going to vote when they get into the polls and they think, okay, what are the issues that matter most to me?

BLOCK: You said that Barack Obama is comfortable with the language of faith. Do you think John McCain is also comfortable with that language of faith?

WARREN: John is a Christian in the light of maybe a Gerry Ford, where he is not so comfortable talking about his faith. It's actually easier for his wife to talk about it than him.

BLOCK: Is that a problem, do you think, for evangelical voters?

WARREN: I don't think so. I think that everybody has a father, an uncle or a brother who is kind of the silent type who says. I have a personal relationship with Christ but I just don't wear it out on my sleeve, I don't talk about it that much. And I think a lot of people understand that.

BLOCK: Do you see any sort of split or division between older evangelical voters and the younger generation coming up and the issues that are of concern to them, the issues that they'll vote on?

WARREN: I don't see a split; I see an evolution. I'm spending almost all my time with the next generation of evangelicals, and what I've seen is they are broadening the agenda, but they're not dropping the agenda. That is the biggest myth and wish that some people would like to see happen, but it isn't happening.

BLOCK: And do you think that ultimately would translate to a shift at the ballot box?

WARREN: You know what? I really don't know. If this were President Bush running for re-election against Obama, there might be people saying, oh well, we need something new because I think all of America is ready for change. But John McCain is not George Bush, so it's - the crystal ball is just not clear.

BLOCK: Well, Rick Warren, thanks very much for talking with us.

WARREN: It's nice, and thanks for the opportunity.

BLOCK: That's Pastor Rick Warren, who will be hosting a forum on leadership and compassion with Senators Barack Obama and John McCain at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California on August 16th.

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