Focus on the Family doesn't believe that AIDS, poverty, human rights and or the environment - four issues to be discussed at an upcoming presidential candidates forum - are fundamental Christian issues. First, the FOF press release:
Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama will make their first joint appearance at a public forum with the Rev. Rick Warren on Aug. 16 at California’s Saddleback Church.
“The primaries proved that Americans care deeply about the faith, values, character and leadership convictions of candidates as much as they do about the issues,” Warren said in a news release. “This is a critical time for our nation, and the American people deserve to hear both candidates speak from the heart – without interruption – in a civil and thoughtful format absent the partisan ‘gotcha’ questions that typically produce heat instead of light.”
Republican McCain and Democrat Obama will appear separately to discuss what Warren describes as the “main area of focus” – AIDS, poverty, human rights and environment.
Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family Action, said that while those topics are important, he hopes the candidates will also address the issues that are on the minds of the majority of Christians – the sanctity of human life and marriage.
“It will be interesting to see the direction that Rick Warren takes these interviews,” Minnery said. “I am not certain that he will get into deeply religious issues with either of these candidates and that would be disappointing. While the issues of HIV/AIDS and climate are interesting, any secular reporter could ask about those. He ought to ask questions that go deep to the heart of Christianity.”
Care of creation (for the earth on which we live) and care of the least of these - the sick, those living in poverty - are actually issues central to Scripture and of deep concern to the Christian community.
And I suspect that most Christians don't wake up each morning thinking that today would be a great day if we could just limit civil rights for gay and lesbian people.
Focus and the Family and their founder James Dobson are at risk of being left behind and left out of political debate. Their divisive rhetoric - the kind that has divided Americans in the past - isn't listened to so much anymore (except on the very extreme and troubled edges of society). That's a good thing.
No one should confuse Saddleback Church, however, with the values and principles upheld by the progressive Christian community. The people of Saddleback Church are without question our brothers and sisters (so are the people at FOF, for that matter) but their theology and Rick Warren's social views have always been conservative....more akin to FOF than the NCC.
In political terms it should be remembered (as Fortune points out in this 2005 article) that Warren sent a letter during the 2004 campaign to 150,000 pastors saying that "those of us who accept the Bible as God's word" needed to get out the vote for George W. Bush.
When he did that Warren must not have been thinking about the Biblical issues surrounding AIDS, poverty, human rights and or the environment. I'm happy that he's thinking in those terms now.
I hope that Senator Obama uses the occasion of the Saddleback Church gathering to deliver a forceful message about the role government can play in addressing these issues and I'm glad that my friends at Faith in Public Life are a co-sponsor.