At the risk of heresy, let it be said that setting up the two presidential candidates for religious interrogation by an evangelical minister -- no matter how beloved -- is supremely wrong.
It is also un-American. ...
The loser was America.
In his enormously successful book "The Purpose-Driven Life," Warren begins: "It's not about you." Agreed. Nor is this criticism aimed at Christians, evangelicals, other believers or nonbelievers -- or at Warren, who is a good man with an exemplary record of selfless works. Few have walked the walk with as much determination or success.
This is about higher principles that are compromised every time we pretend we're not applying a religious test when we're really applying a religious test.
It is true that no one was forced to participate in the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency and that both McCain and Obama are free agents. Warren has a right to invite whomever he wishes to his church and to ask them whatever they're willing to answer.America loses something every time an elected official or candidate for office is asked to one of these things, just as America loses something every time an elected official feels the need to blather about a political candidate being sent to us by God. America loses every time the response to whispers about Obama's being a secret Muslim are answered with hot denials and even more displays of Christian religiosity -- instead of a shrug and a "Why does that matter? Are Muslim Americans not Americans? Why should anyone care about my religious beliefs as long as I do my job?"
His format and questions were interesting and the answers more revealing than what the usual debate menu provides. But does it not seem just a little bit odd to have McCain and Obama chatting individually with a preacher in a public forum about their positions on evil and their relationship with Jesus Christ?
The past few decades of public confession and Oprah-style therapy have prepared us perfectly for a televangelist probing politicians about their moral failings. Warren's Q&A wasn't an inquisition exactly, but viewers would be justified in squirming.
What is the right answer, after all? What happens to the one who gets evil wrong? What's a proper relationship with Jesus? What's next? Interrogations by rabbis, priests and imams? What candidate would dare decline on the basis of mere principle?
Both Obama and McCain gave "good" answers, but that's not the point. They shouldn't have been asked. Is the American electorate now better prepared to cast votes knowing that Obama believes that "Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him," or that McCain feels that he is "saved and forgiven"?
What does that mean, anyway? What does it prove? Nothing except that these men are willing to say whatever they must -- and what most Americans personally feel is no one's business -- to win the highest office.
I was raised Catholic (albeit half-assedly, and in the 70s, when the Church had its brief moment of reform and liberalization before JPII got his hands on it and reversed all that), in the Northeast (New Jersey and Connecticut). Religion and politics definitely have a relationship here -- in that major religious leaders are courted, and politicians appear at churches to talk about issues important to the congregations -- but the God-talk is minimal. It's distrusted in politicians -- hell, I had no earthly idea that Joe Lieberman was an observant Jew until he became the National Moral Scold, and I lived in Connecticut during several of his Senate campaigns. He just didn't talk about God, because you just don't. It's not a winning strategy.
So it really, really makes me cringe whenever I hear Bible-belt politicians doing the God-talk. And it's disturbed me that this is now de rigeur for candidates for President. I mean, I really don't want to hear about anyone's relationship with Jesus Christ. That goes for the guy at the next desk at work as well as for the people who want my vote for President. But we're now stuck in a horrible recursive feedback loop in which you gotta God-talk to get elected because people who God-talk have gotten elected. Even when that God-talk is utterly, completely cynical, and when the politician professing love of Christ's teachings does his damnedest to avoid actually following any of them. To use a Biblical metaphor, it's as if Caesar is co-opting the message of the guy he had nailed to a cross in order to consolidate his power as Caesar.
And if Christ is misused by modern politicians, Thomas Jefferson is simply ignored:
For the moment, let's set aside our curiosity about what Jesus might do in a given circumstance and wonder what our Founding Fathers would have done at Saddleback Church. What would have happened to Thomas Jefferson if he had responded as he wrote in 1781:
"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Would the crowd at Saddleback have applauded and nodded through that one? Doubtful.
By today's new standard of pulpits in the public square, Jefferson -- the great advocate for religious freedom in America -- would have lost.
H/T to car, in comments below.