Rick Warren on His Saddleback Summit with McCain and Obama
The Purpose-Driven pastor assesses the nominees' performances, knocks Democratic faith outreach, and denies McCain had a leg up.
BY: Dan Gilgoff
A source at the debate tells me McCain had access to some communications devices in the minutes before he went on stage with you and that there was a monitor in his green room, in violation of the debate rules.
That's absolutely a lie, absolutely a lie. That room was totally free, with no monitors--a flat-out lie.
[Editor's note: The New York Times reported after this interview that Senator McCain was in a motorcade en route to the Saddleback Civil Forum during some of Senator Obama's interview. Warren had previously asserted that McCain was in a "cone of silence."]
Obama has done more to reach out to evangelicals than any Democratic presidential nominee since Jimmy Carter. If he fails to make inroads among evangelicals on Election Day, do you worry that future Democratic candidates will see evangelical outreach as an exercise in futility?
Again, I'm a pastor, not a prophet. So I don't know what they would do. But I would say that it will take more than simply inviting people to come pray at the convention to take a lot of people of faith, while saying, "We're going to ignore whatever you believe about three or four hot button issues that there's the major conflicts on."
Have you decided who you're supporting yet?
I never take sides, and I don't even talk about who or what I might vote for because it's pretty presumptuous of me to tell anybody what I think they should vote for. If I told them, it might influence them. And I think people are smart enough to listen to people on both sides and make a rational decision based on their worldview.
Many evangelicals have grown disillusioned with the Bush administration, particularly on the lack of progress on what you call "nonnegotiable issues" like life and marriage. What's your level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with Bush as his tenure winds down?
Evangelicals' dissatisfaction goes a lot further than this current administration. A lot of evangelicals are saying "Now, wait a minute—since Reagan, except during the Clinton term, there have been quote champions of the social agenda of people of faith or Christian evangelicals." And if there's been so little progress I think there might be some fatigue, not so much in "Well, we don't want McCain," as much as "It doesn't seem to matter anyway who gets elected because nothing changes." Another administration comes in, and it seems like [evangelicals] are putting less faith in the power of the presidency.
Do those disillusioned evangelicals have a point?
I think they do. The president's power is vastly overestimated. There are so many things that the candidates promise to change in the campaigns that they have no ability to change by themselves. They can't just wave their wand--they also have two other branches to deal with.
Was there a discrete moment when, given the issues you've been focused on lately, you said to yourself, "I'm no longer part of the Christian Right?"
I never was a part of it. I'm trying to stake out what I call a common ground for the common good ,and that for all these people who are disenfranchised by both sides, disaffected. A lot of people would say, "I'm not blue or red. I'm not secular left and I'm not Religious Left. I'm not secular right and I'm not Religious Right. I'm somewhere in the middle. I happen to like some of the things from that platform and some from the other platform, and I like some about that candidate and some about that. But there are some things I don't like about this guy and some about that guy." That's healthy. We're trying to create a new area of people who are not going to get polarized either way. All the polls say that young evangelicals are more committed to pro-life than their parents, but what they're against is the Religious Right. They don't want to be part of the Religious Right, and they're not going to automatically pull the Republican lever….
Has the Christian Right tarnished the image of the evangelical movement?
Without a doubt. In some ways it got co-opted. Part of it was the press's misunderstanding between the term Religious Right, fundamentalist, and evangelical. They are not the same, and they are not synonymous. I'm not and never have been Religious Right, and I'm not and never have been a fundamentalist. I'm an evangelical. A vast majority of the evangelicals never were Religious Right, never were fundamentalists. They were just simply evangelicals.