Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama appeared at a forum on faith and values at a California mega-church Aug. 16.
The event, held by Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, attracted a good deal of attention because it is the only time the two candidates are scheduled to appear in the same forum aside from the presidential debates.
Although McCain and Obama briefly shared the stage with Warren, the event, sponsored by the “Saddleback Civil Forum,” was not a debate. Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, spent an hour asking Obama questions and then asked McCain the same ones.
Asked about “faith-based” initiatives, Obama reiterated his view that religious organizations that accept federal funds should not be permitted to engage in hiring discrimination.
Although he lauded faith-based initiatives, Obama added, “We do have to be careful to make sure that we are not creating a situation where people are being discriminated against using federal money. That’s not new. That’s a concept that was true under the Clinton administration, that was true under the Bush administration.”
Asked the same question, McCain said he would “absolutely not” require faith-based group to drop discriminatory hiring policies. “And if you did, it would mean a severe crippling of faith-based organizations and their ability to do things so successfully,” he said.
The two also clashed over education policy. Obama endorsed merit pay for public school teachers, while McCain called for vouchers and school choice.
“Look,” said McCain, “I want every American family to have the same choice that Cindy and I made and Sen. Obama and Mrs. Obama made as well and that was we wanted to send our children to the school of our choice. And charter schools work, my friends, home-schooling works, vouchers in our nation’s capital works.” (Actually, independent evaluation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program has shown no academic improvement for participating students.)
The candidates also discussed abortion, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, Supreme Court nominees and their personal religious views.
The same day as the Saddleback event, thousands of conservative, young evangelicals rallied on the National Mall in Washington. The event, dubbed “TheCall,” was organized by Lou Engle, a California Pentecostal preacher. It was described as a 12-hour “solemn assembly” of prayer and fasting, but also featured a strong undercurrent of politics.
Engle said he was inspired to put on the event after God sent him the task in a dream. The 49-year-old pastor holds the view that America is a battleground between God and Satan.
He once told Charisma magazine, “I believe that there are spiritual powers contending for the soul of our nation and that all the false ideologies that affect our nation spring from the powers of darkness.” Engle claims prayers by his young followers led the Supreme Court to put George W. Bush in office.
“We have entered a season of time in a massive [spiritual] war,” he said. “It’s Pearl Harbor. It’s Nazirites or Nazism. We are in a war, and if we don’t win, we lose everything.”
According to an article in The Hill newspaper, Engle is a vehement opponent of abortion rights who said the goal of the rally was to “drive the issue of abortion like a wedge into the soul of the nation.”
Engle told The Christian Post, “We don’t purposely hold gatherings before elections, but this one I felt was so critical because the ideologies that are being promoted through different candidates have the implications just like in 2000. The implications are huge for the issues of abortion, issue of marriage, or the kind of judges that don’t keep opening the door to the legality of every kind [of] supposed freedom – which is really no freedom. It is really licensing to break away from the foundational moral principle upon which society will really flourish.”
The event featured appearances by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and failed Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor’s endorsement of the event fueled speculation that he may be attempting to assume leadership of the Religious Right.
Huckabee offered the gathering a prayer of repentance about abortion.
“This nation has sinned,” he said. “We have killed 50 million unborn children. Lord, forgive this country.”