By Keith Fournier
On August 16, 2008, two intense competitions captured the attention of America and much of the rest of the world. One occurred, in Beijing, where the sports phenomenon, Michael Phelps, made history by earning his eighth gold medal in the competition. The other involved a verbal competition for the hearts and minds of an American electorate set to vote this Fall for the next President of the United States.
The contenders were Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. Without diminishing the significance of what occurred in the Beijing Olympics, what occurred in Lake Forest, California, at the “Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency” held in the Saddleback Church and hosted by its Pastor, Rev. Rick Warren, was significantly more important. In fact, it may have turned the tide in what is one of the most significant elections in modern American history.
First, this was a very significant forum. Indeed, it was historic and may have changed the face of election politics in America. In an age where the American vision of the Separation of Church and State has sometimes been misinterpreted and wrongly applied in efforts to silence people of faith from active participation in the electoral process, this was a great example of the proper role of the Church, indeed all religious institutions, in the American experiment. In fact, Pastor Warren got it exactly right when he began the Forum with these words "We believe in the separation of church and state but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics." He went on throughout the night to underscore the fact that, in his words “faith is a worldview”. I might say it a bit differently, “faith informs a worldview”, but we arrive at the same place.
In fact, as a Catholic Christian, I must admit that I was quite impressed with the Pastors understanding of the social implications of our shared Christian faith. The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church is a treasure for all Christians, indeed all people of faith and good will, who sincerely want to understand how that process of allowing our faith to inform our worldview and then compel our civic and social participation should proceed. I for one am thrilled that our evangelical Protestant friends are speaking to the full spectrum of issues associated with such a worldview, including our commitment to respecting life from the womb to the tomb, protecting, supporting and promoting marriage and family, exhibiting a love of preference for the poor, promoting true and responsible freedom, being responsible stewards of our environment and practicing Peace in our relationships on the local, national and international level. The first winner of the Gold for the evening was Pastor Rick Warren who presided over the forum with excellence.
His comfortable demeanor and charitable manner evoked candor from both candidates. He also showed courage by not failing to ask the kinds of questions which are at the beating heart of this election. Unfortunately, too many of his fellows in the Christian community had prejudged him even before the event began and put out their Press Releases accordingly. His efforts to provide a forum where we can learn to disagree “without demonizing the other” and to “restore civility” were a breath of fresh air. I have tried to encourage just such an approach myself, especially on the internet. I think he has opened the forum of the Church for such future activities precisely when it is needed the most. It is the Christian Church which has been at the forefront of so many of the great social crusades in our shared history, such as ending slavery and eradicating institutional racism. The Gospel simply does have social implications.