Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama-McCain Faith Forum & Politics in the Church

In case you didn't hear, CNN aired a two hour Q&A session between Rick Warren, John McCain, and Barack Obama. Each candidate sat down with the mega-church pastor to discuss various topics such as faith, domestic policy, international relations, and personal motivations.

Here's what I thought about the whole thing and each candidate's responses.

First of all,

Rick Warren and the Overall Scene – I must admit that I'm no Rick Warren fan. I have read “The Purpose Driven Church” and “Purpose Driven Life” and I won’t offer any major review of critique of the books at this moment, except to say that overall, these books are not proper Christian teaching for many reasons. As a matter of fact, in the coming weeks on my blog I will be taking a closer look at people like Warren and other widely popular so called, “Evangelical Christian authors and leaders” who I believe are dangerously introducing and promoting a social gospel message (poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change and human rights, etc.) Now, this isn’t to say that some of these matters aren’t serious nor are unimportant to our God and shouldn't be addressed in ministry and missionary work. But, these are being mixed into the pure soul saving gospel of Jesus Christ. My bottom line problem with so many of these guys like Rick Warren is that they think that by treating the symptoms of sin in the world that all will be well with the world. There is no truth in that! What is really happening is that they are defining “evangelicalism” down by moving it away from its emphasis on the power of the gospel to change human lives to a social gospel of man curing all the ills of the world. And guess who ends up receiving all the glory? Your correct, man, not God! (More To Come in the Future!)

But, overall, I must admit that Warren did a good job of setting an informal, inviting environment. It was clearly non-partisan with Rick Warren openly calling for a return to civility in politics and intelligent discourse. He also identified each candidate as a friend and did a great job of treating them as such during the interviews. Even though Warren didn’t cover it all, he did accomplish more than anyone else has so far in unpacking who the two candidates really are. And hopefully the secular media will learn from his example on how political candidates really should be interviewed.

Obama's Interview - The man is amazing at not answering questions. While I have never been a fan of Barack, I have also never been a big fan of McCain. So, I had little personal investment in their answers. I found myself getting frustrated with Obama for rarely actually answering the question directly. Each question, for the most part, was directed at the candidate on a personal level. Rarely, if ever, did he answer the question on the same personal level in which they were asked. He almost always expanded it to some broader concept. On more hot-button issues, like abortion, Obama was quick to offer a self-excusing answer epitomized by his "above my pay grade" answer to when an unborn child receives human rights. Overall, I wasn't too impressed with Obama. He didn't shoot himself in the foot or anything, and I doubt this interview will cause many people to question their support for him. However, this was a great chance to emotionally, maybe even spiritually, connect with a lot of people who aren't sure about him. I doubt he took advantage of that opportunity.

McCain's Interview - Now, I have also never been a big fan of McCain. I thought he was a liberal in conservative's clothing, but I am starting to rethink that. McCain was personable, thoughtful, straight-forward, and funny. For a man who has never been comfortable talking about his faith openly, McCain clearly and sincerely spoke about his faith and meaningful moments in his spiritual journey. His answers, his words and approach, allowed me to see past the politician. I saw a passionate, confident, determined man.

I wasn't thrilled with his brief acquiescence to vague civil union talk. McCain was equally unequivocal on his stance on marriage: “A union is between man and woman — between one man and one woman,” but added “that doesn’t mean people can’t enter into legal agreements.” Obama said much the same, although he said he supports civil unions for gay partners. He said he would not support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because the issue is one for state governments to handle.

But, other than that, McCain’s answers resonated with me. I found myself laughing out loud with him, imagining what it must have been like in a POW camp as he refused to be released just because his dad was a high-ranking officer, and sharing in his joy as he spoke of a guard in the same POW camp who secretly provided McCain with some relief and later revealed himself to be a believer. I have a pretty strong feeling that I am not the only person who connected with McCain. In light of McCain's recent surge in polls, and these events, I'm beginning to find some ray of hope for McCain in November.

Bottom line, if you haven't watched the interview, I would encourage you to try to find a rerun of it on CNN or go to Youtube and watch the video segments.

Now, let me comment overall on the current trend of the church and “Christian leaders” getting more and more caught up in politics. I think in far too many places the church is getting involved too deeply in politics. Many now think they can join with the world and shape the political world system. But I'm afraid we need to be reminded that the church’s only goal is to save the soul, not to win an elections. We are not citizens of this earth, only strangers and sojourners.

I think we need to be reminded in light of the upcoming election that as Christians, people of God, that our greatest impact, influence in this life, is as a citizen of God’s kingdom–member of God’s kingdom. Now, having said that, yes, I do think it does need to be said, as Christians, we have the opportunity, in this nation, to use the political system. We are tremendously blessed to live in a nation where we’re able to voice our opinions; have input; vote; Many people in this world, don’t enjoy that kind of blessing. So Christians can use that political system to shine as lights in the world and to help encourage and promote righteousness. (Proverbs 14:34) But, once again, always remember that our greatest influence, impact is as a Christian, not as a member of a political party.

And so in light of all this and with my strong note of caution about the church getting too mixed up into politics, I offer the following article below written this week in light of Rick Warren’s Faith Forum. It’s written by Star Parker, who is the current president of Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education. Parker converted to Christianity and began her life as an activist. Parker, an African-American woman, spent her formative years as an unemployed mother receiving welfare; she was arrested in her teens for shoplifting and has disclosed that she had four abortions. Parker is an active spokeswoman for conservative Christian political issues. She makes some excellent points on Rick Warren’s current political events at Saddleback Church that few have criticized. I hope it challenges you and makes you think as it did me.


Pastor Warren: Stop Politicizing Religion: By Star Parker

For whatever good intentions Pastor Warren may have, by posturing as a neutral broker between different points of view, many of which have profound moral and religious implications, he contributes to the moral ambiguity we’d expect a pastor to be combating.

We have institutions for civic and political forums. The press, universities, town halls, etc. If they’re not delivering well, let the marketplace work to improve what we’re getting. But this is not the job of pastors or churches. If it is, where do we go to learn about good and evil?

What exactly is going on in America when our obsession is to cleanse every inch of public space from religion, yet somehow we think it is appropriate to bring a presidential political forum into church?

Our kids can’t pray in public school, or read the Bible or learn to apply traditional values in managing their lives. The Ten Commandments cannot appear in our courthouses. A crèche cannot be displayed in a public space during Christmas.

Yet somehow we think a church is an appropriate forum for hosting candidates for president?

Our world is turning upside down. Rather than raising our public and private lives to a higher moral standard, we’re politicizing religion.
It’s actually worse, I think.

The pretense of neutrality is really a left-wing illusion. It’s a sleight of hand to buy into relativism, and somehow Pastor Warren seems to have fallen into the trap.

When a pastor hosts a political candidate that has a 100 percent rating by NARAL Pro-Choice America and a 0 percent rating by the National Right to Life Committee, he gives legitimacy to that candidate. When legitimacy is given to a line of reasoning that says that poverty and AIDS are symptoms of anything other than moral breakdown, the relativist views of the left are justified.

To a disproportionate measure, when we are talking about poverty and AIDS in America, we are talking about black communities. These communities are in disarray because of moral ambiguity. They not only need moral clarity and leadership, they crave it.

Partisanship is not our problem today. Healthy partisanship is vital to freedom.
Our problem is moral ambiguity. Anyone that thinks this ambiguity is helpful in addressing poverty, crime and disease is misinformed.

We need political leaders that are more moral. Not church leaders that are more political.

Think about it. What do you have to say??

God bless,
Rob Prater

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