Let me say at the outset, that I am a fan of Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in California. His book, The Purpose Driven Life, has encouraged tens of thousands of people, and his ministries have had a global impact. I am also pleased to see that Rick Warren is engaging the political process, but I do have a concern.
On Saturday, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barak Obama and presumptive Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain, will participate in a forum at Saddleback Church. Last week the Orange County Register ran a headline that said, “Rick Warren hopes to redefine presidential politics.” My concern is that there is much at stake in this election–national security issues, the War on Terror, the environment or poverty–all of these issues should be debated by candidates; but we should not ignore for a moment the impact that the next President of the United States has on the direction of the Supreme Court of the United States. In fact, I will be arguing a case before the Court in November. The next President of the United States may well appoint two Justices to the Supreme Court, which could well determine the direction of the Court for a generation.
I am concerned that ignoring the significance of Supreme Court appointments will be a real missed opportunity, and both candidates have very differing views on judicial philosophy. The fact of the matter is the Supreme Court of the United States engages in issues that impact religion, abortion, and national security, among others. To ignore the candidates’ views on the Supreme Court of the United States would be unfortunate. Pastor Warren acknowledged that both candidates are “friends of mine that happen to be very different in leadership style, philosophy and background.” I appreciate the fact that Rick Warren has reached out to the presumptive nominees of both parties; but in really trying to understand the leadership style, philosophy and background of the individual, to not discuss the Supreme Court of the United States would be a missed opportunity.
I know my friend Barry Lynn has concerns about this forum sponsored at Saddleback Church that are different from mine. We will certainly discuss those in the days ahead. I applaud the fact that Rick Warren and the members of Saddleback Church want to engage the political process; but in addition to discussions about the environment, poverty and AIDS, I hope that judicial philosophy will be discussed. Pastor Warren has stated that he wants to ask questions regarding the interpretation of the Constitution. That is one of the questions to ask; but the most important question to ask of the presidential nominees is, “How do you view the role of judges and how do you plan to implement your judicial philosophy through Court appointments?”
These questions will of course reach highly charged and controversial issues such as abortion, the definition of the family and religion in schools. These are questions that people of faith want the candidates to address. This is the perfect forum to address these issues. Pastor Warren has a great opportunity, let’s not see it squandered by avoiding the obvious questions on the minds of millions of Americans.
This will be an interesting week, indeed.
Why are we doing this again? Why another “forum” on the spiritual life and political consequences for would-be presidents? This Saturday evening both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama will sit down for separate hour-long chats with mega-preacher Rick Warren, whose aphorism-driven Purpose Driven Life has been selling in vast numbers since its publication in 2002.
During the primary season, CNN had two similar “values” forums and we learned as much as we probably needed to about what candidates’ prayed about, what their favorite Bible story was and how evolution meshed with the Genesis creation story. (With some irony, I point out that then-candidate John Edwards told Soledad O’Brien that he “sinned” multiple times every day but rejected answering her specific inquiry about his “greatest sin” noting that no one particular sin was greater than the other.)
Trust me, I love a good theological discussion as much as a good legal one. However, since we aren’t hiring a chief theologian for America, Pastor Warren should (and might) avoid direct inquiries about the Virgin Birth and the timetable for Armageddon. Nonetheless, the candidates will surely treat this appearance with the man often touted as “the new Billy Graham” as a golden opportunity to play whatever religion cards they hold.
Whether the questions are about abortion or poverty, how could they not throw in a few church-based anecdotes or biblical allusions to this crowd? But why? Surely they know that presidents don’t have religious functions (that’s what a secular government is all about). So those comments would probably be read as subtle “I’m really more religious than that other guy” winks and nods.
Perhaps this wouldn’t bother me so much if the candidates had had all (or any) of those ten issue forums Senator McCain asked for this summer. They didn’t happen. And what about the forum on science scheduled for Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute last March which no candidate was willing to attend? And, oh, remember the Democratic debate at the Constitution Center where our founding document actually received only minor attention?
We have a lot to learn from the candidates. My prediction: we won’t learn any of it at this Saturday Night At the Church.