In an interview with God-o-Meter on the day after his Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama, Rev. Rick Warren sounded pretty dubious about Barack Obama’s and the Democrats’ chances of making inroads among evangelicals. The full interview will run Monday on Beliefnet. Here’s a preview:
Before last night, McCain had been widely criticized by Christian activists for keeping mum about his faith and about values issues like abortion and marriage Last night seemed to change that. How much headway did McCain make among skeptical evangelicals?
I’m a pastor, I’m not a prophet, so I would not predict how evangelicals are going to vote. I will tell you they’re not monolith. That’s a big myth. They’re going to make up their minds based on the hierarchy of their values. For many evangelicals, of course, if they believe that life begins at conception, that’s a deal breaker for a lot of people. If they think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust and for them it would like if I’m Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. I don’t care how right he is on everything else, it’s a deal breaker for me. I’m not going to vote for a Holocaust denier…
It all depends on the hierarchy of their worldview of what matters most to them. My gut reaction when it was over was that Obama will pick up probably some younger votes and McCain will probably pick up some older votes and it might come down to which group winds up showing up that the polls.
The Democrats recently added language to their party platform that they say is aimed at reducing demand for abortion. Do you think it represents a significant step toward a pro-life position?
It is a step, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on it. I was out of the country and people starting writing me about it. The general perception was ‘Too little too late–window dressing”. I’m not saying I would say this, because I haven’t even read it, but what I was hearing form people was that [Democrats] were saying ‘It’s OK to be pro-life and be a Democrat now. In other words, ‘You can join us. We’re not changing our firm commitment to Roe v. Wade, but you can now join us.’ Well, for a person who thinks that abortion is taking a life, I’m sure that’s not going to be very satisfactory to most of those people. And to put it in right at the last minute at the end of a campaign, there was some question about that: Why are they doing this?
When you asked Obama about when life begins, he punted, saying ‘it’s above my pay grade.’ Should someone running for the highest office in the land have a clear answer to that, or is that kind of ambivalence acceptable?
No. I think he needed to be more specific on that. I happen to disagree with Barack on that. Like I said, he’s a friend. But to me, I would not want to die and get before God one day and go, ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t take the time to figure out’ because if I was wrong then it had severe implications to my leadership if I had the ability to do something about it. He should either say, ‘No scientifically, I do not believe it’s a human being until X’ or whatever it is or to say, ‘Yes, I believe it is a human being at X point,’ whether it’s conception or anything else. But to just say ‘I don’t know’ on the most divisive issue in America is not a clear enough answer for me.
That’s why to say that evangelicals are a monolith is a myth, but the other thing is that you’ve been hearing a lot of the press talk about ‘Well, evangelicals are changing, they’re now interested in poverty and disease and illiteracy, and all the stuff I’ve been talking about for five years now. And I have been seeding that into the evangelical movement and it’s getting picked up and a lot of people are talking about doing humanitarian efforts. But I really think it’s wishful thinking on a lot of people who think they’re going to drop the other issues. They’re not leaving pro-life, I’m just trying to expand the agenda….
If an evangelical really believes that the Bible is literal–in other word in Psalm 139 God says ‘I formed you in your mother’s womb and before you were born I planned every day of your life,’ if they believe that’s literally true, then they can’t just walk away from that. They can add other issues, but they can’t walk away from the belief that at conception God planned that child and to abort it would be to short circuit the purpose.
Then it sounds like it would be unconscionable for an evangelical to vote for a pro-choice candidate like Obama.
Well, we’re going to see what happens. All I can say is you’ll see what happens. This is why there’s a difference between simply talking the lingo… after the 2004 election the Democratic pundits were saying ‘The Democrats lost in ’04 because they didn’t talk the language of faith.’ And actually that’s kind of, not paternalistic, but it’s talking down. It’s basically saying ‘If you just get the right words, then they’ll think you’ve got the lingo.’ And just because a person can say ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘salvation’ and whatever doesn’t mean they have a worldview. And people want to know what do they believe, not just their personal faith. It’s just like how many different beliefs do Jews and Christians have and still call themselves Christians or Jews? It’s all over the spectrum.
Some Obama supporters are claiming that McCain saw the questions before the forum began, giving him a leg up on Obama.
They’re dead wrong. That’s just sour grapes. They both did fantastically well. The only question he knew, I gave them the first question and I was changing the questions within an hour [before the forum began.] I talked to both of them a week before the debate and told them all the themes. I talked personally to John McCain and I talked personally to Barack Obama. I said, ‘We’ll talk about leadership, talk about the roles of government,’ I said I’d probably have a question about climate change, probably a question on the courts. I didn’t say, ‘I’m going to ask which Supreme Court justice would you not [nominate]. They were clearly not prepared for that.
A source at the debate tells me that McCain had access to some communications devices in the few 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.
UPDATE: The full interview is now live on Beliefnet.