Last August I wrote a column critical of Rick Warren's decision to host a presidential candidate forum at his Saddleback Church.
My reasoning then was that America's crisis is moral ambiguity. I argued that Pastor Warren would only contribute to this ambiguity by hosting candidates with opposing views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality and presenting himself as a neutral moderator.
Only Barack Obama would gain, I felt, being showcased as an acceptable candidate by one of the nation's best known evangelical pastors. If John McCain had wanted to clarify his social conservative credentials, he didn't need to go to Rick Warren's church with Barack Obama to do it.
Evangelicals and other Christians listened as Rick Warren called Obama and McCain "friends" and "patriots" and watched as Warren winced no more than would have Larry King when Sen. Obama said it was above his "pay grade" to consider if and when an unborn child has human rights.
Evangelicals had already been hearing from Warren, and left-leaning pastors like Jim Wallis, that they should broaden their primary concerns beyond sex and abortion.
In retrospect, I cannot prove that I was right. But I think the evidence powerfully supports my claim.
Barack Obama picked up five percentage points of the evangelical vote over what John Kerry received in 2004. Those five percentage points amounted to about a third of Obama's winning vote margin over John McCain.
Sure, the Saddleback Forum alone does not explain this shift. But the legitimacy Obama gained that night certainly didn't hurt.
The largest shift was among 18-29 year old evangelicals. Obama got 32 percent of their vote -- double what John Kerry had gotten.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after the forum, Warren was oblivious to the vulnerability of this group. The Journal reported, "... as for the notion that younger evangelicals are ready for rebellion against their parents' ideals, Mr. Warren cites polls showing that the younger evangelical generation is even more concerned about abortion than the older one." True. But this was only one part of the picture.
In 2007 the Pew Research Center reported that Republican identification among 18-29 year old white evangelicals had dropped from 55 percent in 2005 to 40 percent.
A survey done by Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 26 percent of 18-29 year old evangelicals, compared to 9 percent of those over 30, support same-sex marriage.
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