I want to publicly thank Pastor Rick Warren for taking the risk to be voice to this generation. He will undoubtedly go down in this age as the Billy Graham of the 21st century. Criticized for his stances and accused of compromise, he has taken the role of being America’s pastor to a new level. Warren served the nation by bringing Senator Obama and Senator McCain into the same room, while allowing them to show who they are. The concept was excellent and it was brilliantly executed.
Surprisingly, Warren restored a sense of impartiality to the faith discussion; he did not come off like a biased Democrat or Republican. Despite the Time Magazine picture, which showed him holding hands with Senator Obama, he acted like America’s pastor. Although, he did not take sides, he exposed what “side” the candidates were really on - by asking truly tough questions.
Last weekend John McCain won the religious “discussion” at Saddleback, hands down. All the pundits reluctantly admitted that McCain found his environment [the town hall forum) and his message (pro-life and pro-family). While on the surface many people thought that Obama had the most to win from the discussion with Rick Warren, McCain emerged with the “gold medal.”
Both candidates should adjust their campaign strategies based upon their desire to reach the ultimate swing vote – 60 million evangelical voters. Obama lost the discussion because his nuance answers seemed “too careful” and in some cases dishonest. He of all people should have recognized that we live in a sound bite generation that cannot evaluate subtleties in theology or public policy. If I were advising the Obama campaign, I would tell him to emphasize the true common ground that he has with all believers. Although Pastor Warren would not let him sidestep abortion and gay marriage issues, Obama did not sell the passion of his beliefs or the inherent “goodness and correctness” of his worldview. His appearance seemed more like a very smooth version of damage control than a clear declaration of how his liberal Christian views would benefit the nation. He sounded like the law professor instead of the “cultural preacher” that he often appears to be. As a result, many strict evangelicals who were thinking about voting for Obama changed their minds. Although I don’t agree with Obama’s theology, I believe that he would gain more ground among conservatives by projecting a clearer vision of how his faith will impact the nation.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.