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Tonight’s presidential candidate forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback church has political pundits and in-the-pews religious voters wondering whether John McCain will finally open up about his personal faith, something his Democratic opponent has been doing for years. But some of the nation’s top conservative Christian activists have already seen a glimpse of McCain discussing the influence of his religion in his life in deeply personal terms, in the form of a Christian television interview with McCain that his campaign has been screening for religious audiences.”This was groundbreaking,” says Bishop Harry Jackson, a conservative evangelical pastor and activist who attended a meeting with the McCain aides in Washington, DC earlier this summer at which they screened a video of the interview, first broadcast on Trinity Broadcasting Network in March 2007. “He talked about what it was like as a prisoner of war and what his faith meant to him and how his faith sustained him. It was very clear in the TBN interview that he was saying he was one of us, one of the evangelical fold. And for whatever reason, he’s been avoiding that kind of assertion nationally.”McCain was raised in the Episcopal Church, though he’s attended a Baptist church in Arizona for more than 15 years and said on the campaign trail last year that he was a Baptist, though he’s since referred to himself simply as a Christian.McCain’s “faith interview” originally ran on “First to Know,” a program on TBN, which describes itself as “the world’s largest religious network and America’s most watched faith channel.” TBN does not offer a video or DVD versions of its programs for purchase, and the full video is not available online. A McCain aide says it will likely to be posted to a new evangelical section of the campaign’s web site that is scheduled to launch in the next week or two.Watch clips of the video here:A McCain aide says the campaign began screening the video for Christian audiences in Iowa in advance of this year’s caucuses there, and that it had begun showing it to national evangelical leaders in late spring or early summer. “The exciting thing about the piece is that it wasn’t generated after Obama started talking about faith–it was a piece that showed he was engaged [on faith issues] before the Iowa caucuses,” the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “It will be used more often… we have plans for using it in a larger arena.”The aide said McCain is likely to echo some of the themes from the video in tonight’s Saddleback forum. That’s exactly what many Christian activists want to hear. “I’m hoping that the Rick Warren interview will have McCain sharing [his faith] with the same sincerity and even charisma of that interview,” says Harry Jackson, who is close to the national leadership of the Christian Right. “This guy is not avoiding a discussion about his faith because he doesn’t have faith. It’s because he doesn’t want to merchandize his faith. That’s a huge distinction as far as why he’s not talking.”3

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