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Quick Thoughts on the Saddleback Civil Forum

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I just got a chance to catch part of the Saddleback Civil Forum. I’ll have to go back and watch a replay of Sen. Obama’s appearance.

I’ll just say a couple things right now.

First, I have had a hard time understanding a lot of the criticism of Rick Warren, through the lead-up to this event especially. There are a lot of conservatives who want to cast Rick Warren as Jim Wallis-lite, a politically progressive Christian who stealthily is trying to undermine the conservative movement.

Warren, to me, acquitted himself very well tonight. He’s not a professional journo, and shouldn’t be judged by those standards. He asked tough questions but let the candidates speak for themselves, something that has value even if it isn’t what journalists typically do.

The great thing that Rick Warren has been able to do is position himself as an honest broker that can get both candidates to the table in a forum like this. That’s something that somebody like Jim Wallis, for all the bi-partisan touting of his Sojourners compassion events, is unable to do (not least of which because he’s probably unwilling to do anything more than give lip service to being non-partisan). Perhaps Warren has had to upset the margins on both sides of the political aisle to get himself into a position that could command the kind of respect from both candidates that would get them to this platform. But for the reason I state below, I’m glad he’s around and willing to pay that price.

Second, for all the wanna-be pundits who hate the fact that a forum like this was held in a church, I see it as a perfect example of how a vibrant civil society ought to function. As a nation we are all better off for having had a forum like this. It’s a great service to the public square, I think, to see the candidates’ reaction to questions that many people want to have asked and are interested in hearing, but so many of the media and political gatekeepers aren’t interested in communicating.

There’s a great deal of talk about this event all over the blogosphere. Let me recommend the insights over at Mere Orthodoxy for particular attention.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Ray Nothstine

    Good analysis Jordan. I’m not a huge fan of Rick Warren but his fairness and authenticity is far greater than Jim Wallis. You are absolutely right, Wallis would never have been able to broker this agreement.

  • Tracy M Jue

    Ray and Jordan:
    If Jim Wallis moderated the forum why would he not be fair and authentic similar to Rick Warren? I am glad to see that Rick Warren was able to organized a forum for the presidential elections. I am just just curious from reading Jim Wallis book “God’s Politics”, the areas He touches on such as the “poor”, I think He sincerely encourage the presidential candidates to state their opinions on the poor etc..

  • Tracy,

    Very simply, although Wallis gives lip-service to being non-partisan, I think his actions make clear that his commitment is to furthering the aims of the Democratic party. He’s as partisan to the Left as any of the Religious Right have ever been, I think.

    Re: his attempts to broker an honest non-partisan debate, just look at his [url=]Sojourners Candidates Forum on Faith, Values and Poverty[/url]. This forum featured all of the Democratic presidential candidates. Although the Republicans supposedly got a serious invitation to do a later forum of their own, none apparently trusted Wallis enough to take him up on it. The [url=]recent interview with Mike Huckabee in Sojourners[/url] is an exception, and of course Huckabee had to share the cover with Wallis’ favorite son, [url=]John Edwards[/url].

    Wallis’ real job is to provide religious cover for a liberal/Democratic political agenda. You can see it in his activism on governmental intervention on poverty, and you can see it on his position on abortion. Take note that Obama’s ducking of Warren’s question immediately turned to efforts supported by Wallis to add and modify abortion language in the Democratic party platform.

    Add to that the fact that [url=]Wallis will be moderating events[/url], including one titled, “Faith in 2009: How an Obama Administration will Engage People of Faith,” at the Democratic party convention, and you have a guy who is far more active among and supportive of a single party than Rick Warren has allowed himself to be.

    Read the [url=]transcripts of the Sojourners forum[/url] to that of the Warren event, particularly the one time abortion was raised, and see if you think that the treatment was the same or whether there was pandering involved.

  • Tracy M Jue

    Thank you Jordan for the response. I know from reading the transcripts it appears that He wants Democrats to address the poor based probably based his opinion that the republicans who are currently in office are not addressing the poor. As far as the other views no doubt support a left ideas.

  • Michael Severance

    Well done, Jordan. This is an excellent example of a rather unique forum and setting that is still so taboo in Europe. God bless America.

  • The problem with me for Warren is that his modernity has quickly become the new orthodoxy and he is now an untouchable, a kind of god. The fact that he actually asked tough questions is not due to Warren’s insight but rather to the hammering he took from conservatives insisting he ask these questions. Before the forum he had said he would not ask about hot-button issues like abortion. He didn’t change his mind. We did.