Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama will make their first joint public appearance Saturday at Saddleback Church, a mega-church led by evangelical pastor Rick Warren, best known for his bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life. The Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency is billed as an event in which the candidates will individually take questions from Warren about "faith, values, character and leadership".
Four years ago, few people would have expected presidential candidates at such an appearance at a church especially when John Kerry was under heavy fire from people of faith for his pro-choice stance.
This election Obama has made his faith a cornerstone of his campaign, aggressively courted the Christian vote and managing to do so without sounding fake. Such a plan might raise a few eyebrows, but it certainly does not surprise.
What does come as a surprise is the presumptive content of the forum, since A) it is co-sponsored by Faith in Public Life, an organization that focuses on faith issues that dont get much coverage such as fair trade, healthcare and torture, just to name a few, and B) Warren told Time thathe wants to focus on issues that unite and civic issues -- not sin issues like abortion and gay marriage. Hes also said that he no longer calls himself merely pro-life, having expanded his stance to "whole-life".
The unfortunate thing is that by ignoring those sin issues, Warren is being not only divisive, but also dismissive of those people who think those sin issues matter.
Moreover, what he and others, in their genuinely good-intentioned enthusiasm for unity forget, is that all outpourings of building for a better tomorrow are all based on the fundamental principle that life is a beautiful gift from God, not man, and should be treasured and protected as such.
Take any issue, any at all, and you can best understand it from that perspective.
Want fair trade? Teach Americans to understand that the inherent dignity of the human being is violated by treating workers as cogs in a machine. Point out to Christians in particular how Scripture teaches not to deprive the worker of his wages (Deut. 24:14, Sir. 34:22 and 1 Tim. 5:18 are good examples).
Want healthcare reform? Show Americans that healthcare is not a luxury to be reserved for the rich, but a necessity that should never be denied to the poor if were truly a nation that believes all men were created equal. Point out to Christians in particular that Jesus healed people without regard for their net worth.
Want an end to torture? Explain to Americans that justifying torture in our self-defense makes us like Saddams Iraq, Stalins Soviet Union and Maos China. Point out to Christians in particular that they cried watching Jesus being tortured in The Passion of the Christ.
Unfortunately, it looks like Warren wont take advantage this opportunity to create unity by asking about abortion and gay marriage not as simply "partisan 'gotcha' questions", but as building blocks for the rest of the societal good we as American voters of all parties hope to create.
Its too bad, because that, Dr. Warren, is what it means to be truly whole-life.