Shame on You Rick Warren
This weekend, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain joined megachurch pastor Rick Warren on the stage at his Saddleback Church, in California, for what was dubbed a forum on faith.
Warren, who is a bit of a rouge evangelical in that he has repeatedly called for Christians to broaden their limited scope of moral outrages to encompass poverty, climate change, AIDS and African relief, succeeded superbly in creating a venue in which nuanced, penetrating questions were asked and answered. It was like a normal debate, but for adults. While questions of faith were certainly introduced, Warren’s topics ranged over wide and comprehensive policy issues.
Obama was comfortable and at ease, much more so than he’s been in these sorts of impromptu venues in the past. But then he had reason to be. In an odd bit of role reversal this campaign season, it’s the Democrat who is the regular churchgoer who talks openly about his beliefs and quotes Scripture regularly, not the more tight-lipped Republican.
McCain was direct and forceful, but one got the impression, much more so than with his Democratic challenger, that the answers were pandering to a religious audience hungry to be spoon fed exactly what they wanted to hear. Many religious conservatives with whom I speak, including members of my immediate family, are not only not excited about McCain, they are actually hostile toward him.
The fact that both candidates were willing to show up for a joint appearance shows how eager they are for the religious vote, especially that of white evangelical Christians. McCain is bleeding evangelicals, especially when compared to the numbers Bush pulled in during his two elections. But, contrary to what you might assume, Obama is not automatically picking those voters up, except among 20 to 30 year olds. Obama’s campaign is obviously interested in adding older religious voters to their numbers, just as McCain stated that he hoped his appearance with Warren might draw religious youth to his side. The last Democrat to siphon off a large amount of the religious votes was Bill Clinton.
So if the forum was such a success, why am I so angry that it occurred?
You see, I am one of those people Warren mentioned in his closing battery of questions. I am one of those people who think that Obama and McCain had no place being on that stage. Good as it may have been, the Faith Forum was both dangerous and a flagrant violation of this country’s election laws. Oh, both campaigns spun the language to make their actions more palatable, to make their presence fit awkwardly into the shape of law, but it doesn’t change the fact that the event violated the tenets of separation of church and state.
Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time can probably guess that I am a big believer in that separation. Religion and politics has always been a combustible mix. I once heard it best described like this: the church is like ice cream and the state is like sh*t. If you mix them together, the sh*t isn’t affected at all, but the ice cream is ruined forever.
I hate it when I see politicians using churches for stump speeches. Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault. Democrats hit African-American churches, going for the country’s black vote, while Republicans sucker up to Evangelicals, hoping the Religious Right will buy their act hook, line and sinker.
I for one cannot tolerate either one. There is a reason we have a separation of church and state. Not only should every pastor steer clear of politics and stick to the word of God, they should not allow those running for office to use the pulpit as a platform on which to parade their views. That is not what the church is for. Not any church. Including Saddleback.
When we allow politicians to use the pulpit as an engine of their messages, we dilute the authority of the church, we dilute its ability to speak uncompromising truth to power. The church must exist outside the state. It cannot allow its message or its integrity to be watered down by introducing the sort of sh*t endemic to politics.
No matter how illuminating, civil and downright exemplary this weekend’s event was, it had no right taking place.
Shame on Rick Warren for encouraging it and shame on John McCain and Barack Obama for agreeing to it.