.- Saturday night, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain responded to questions from Dr. Rick Warren, author of “A Purpose Driven Life,” and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Following the two hour event, evangelical leaders from across the United States gathered to discuss their reactions to the presumptive presidential candidates’ responses.
During the forum, Dr. Warren first posted questions to Sen. Obama covering the topics such as his personal values, abortion, marriage, education, stem cell research, and his vision for the United States; before asking Sen. McCain the same set of questions.
Warren noted in a press release, “I don't happen to agree with everything either of the candidates teach or believe, but they both care deeply about America. They're both patriots and they have very different views on how our nation can be strengthened. We've got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other and we need to restore civility in our civil discourse and that's the goal of the Saddleback Civil Forum."
Following the event, a teleconference, sponsored by News Guests.com gathered evangelicals from around the country to discuss the presumptive candidates’ responses.
The evangelical leaders began the discussion by focusing on what the presumptive presidential candidates plan to do in regards to the abortion issue.
Moderator of the teleconference, Martha Zoller emphasized that “Obama gave a very long answer to the question, and did so by ‘not saying anything. He’s also got the abortion numbers wrong within that, as well as using old numbers, you know, that Hillary Clinton had debunked a year ago’.”
Sen. Obama answered the question, "At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?" by responding, that determining when life begins is "above my pay grade.” He then stated, "I am pro-choice because, ultimately, I don't think women make these decisions casually. Rather, they wrestle with these things in profound ways."
Obama added that he is in favor of limits on late-term abortions.
Sen. McCain, on the other hand, quickly responded that life begins "At the moment of conception. I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.
Janet Folger, president and founder of Faith2Action noted that “John McCain, without hesitation, bang, life begins at conception, he gets it. The judges that he would appoint, he made it very, very clear. I think he also resonated with beyond the base, to those who are pro-life even within the Democratic Party. I think it was exactly what needed to be done. He said it exactly the way it needed to be said.”
Did McCain ‘close the deal’ with evangelicals?
The leaders participating in the teleconference next discussed whether or not Sen. McCain, “closed the deal with evangelicals.”
Tom Minnery, Vice-President of Focus on the Family, noted that “Senator McCain helped himself. He just will not shake loose of his beliefs that he’s held for a long time on favoring research on embryonic stem cells. But [as soon as] – tonight, he hastened to the safer ground of the promise of adult stem cells as producing progress and disease research. So, he knows that he’s on thin ice with that. But, on the larger pro-life issue, he’s certainly presented himself quite properly as strongly pro-life. So, that was a good step for him.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, Sr., Pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C. and author of “The Black Contract with America on Moral Values,” added, “I think that Senator McCain closed the deal. I think he made a clear contract between himself and Barack Obama. Many evangelicals will vote for him.”
However, Bishop Jackson noted that if McCain chooses a pro-choice vice president, evangelicals may support Obama. “I think the distinction that we heard tonight was clear, was decisive, was effective. That would be muddied if he mixes the ticket in some way and gets somebody who could become the President – in the event that something terrible would happen to McCain – who would go contrary to the clarity, the focus, and the energy with which McCain came forth tonight.”
The group next tackled Obama’s stance on marriage. During the Saddleback Forum, both candidates agreed that marriage is between a man and a woman, however, Obama clarified that he is still for civil unions for same sex couples.
Michael Foust with Bandiss Press asked, “[Obama] says he supports marriage between a man and a woman, but of course, he says he opposed the marriage amendment in California…do you see some conflict there?”
Minnery responded, that there is conflict in Obama’s position. “You cannot square the circle as he is trying to do. Either you support marriage or you do not. He says one thing. By his actions, he indicates another thing. And that answer…shows up the hypocrisy in his position on that issue.”
“I think it would be more refreshing for him if he would just be honest about it and say he favors gay marriage,” Minnery continued. “He cannot do that, because the American people do not favor gay marriage. And so, he needs to keep twisting and turning, diving on that issue. And it is hypocritical.”
Folger added that in McCain’s answer, “he said that he would not only support – he would support state’s definitions of marriage, the defense in his own State of Arizona, for example, where he has been stalwart leader for marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But he also made it very clear. Here’s the distinction. What John McCain said tonight is his position, that he says that the Supreme Court of California was wrong.”
Folger continued, “What Barack Obama left out tonight is that he actually publicly praised the Supreme Court of California. He said he “supported” the California decision. That’s something that redefined marriage, that undermines the institution that is the foundation of society. And Barack Obama is wrong on it, and that did not come out as clearly as it should have.”
Who won the debate?
Finally, the evangelical leaders discussed who they viewed as a winner.
The group unanimously supported Sen. McCain. Minnery noted that McCain’s “answers were sharp. I think he has thought a whole lot more about leadership. I was particularly impressed by his answer on people he admired. He went right to General Petraeus, who did one of the most remarkable military campaigns in recent memory. And I contrast that to Senator Obama, who when asked who influences him the most, he mentioned his wife, he mentioned his grandmother – those are safe nominations.”
Bishop Jackson also chose McCain as the clear winner, “He got energy, he got obviously many more applauses from the people in the room...But, I say this with a caveat. I think he won – if he can continue with the kind of fervor and integration of issues and faith, I think that he may be on to a new high in his campaign. If he retreats to a place of not wanting to talk anymore about these kinds of things, I think it will not help him. So, tremendous win tonight. I think it's a new chapter. I hope it continues.”
CNA also spoke with Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. He explained that he was "amazed by the performance of both Obama and McCain. Obama was almost aloof, cerebral; certain to excite the hearts of liberals from Cambridge to Berkley. McCain was forceful, engaging, direct, everything we look for in a leader. Obama had a flip answer on the life issues saying it was “above his pay-grade” to know when children should have human rights. Obama made it clear that embryo destructive research is fine by him and McCain, who has not been good on this issue, has shown that he is coming our way."
"McCain also made it clear that as soon as a federal judge imposes homosexual marriage on the states, he would support a change in the Constitution. The difference between the candidates could not have been starker. McCain did himself a world of good at Saddleback."