In 2008, Pastor Rick Warren hosted a forum for both presidential candidates at his Saddleback Church. The event became one of the most popular and celebrated parts of that election.Those looking for a repeat performance this year will be disappointed: Warren has just announced that he is cancelling this year’s forum because he believes the race is getting too dirty. The Orange County Register reports:
“We created the civil forums to promote civility and personal respect between people with major differences,” Warren said. “The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today’s campaign. I’ve never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don’t expect that tone to change before the election.“It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day,” Warren added.
This is an interesting choice by the man who some considered Billy Graham’s successor as the most prominent Evangelical preacher in the U.S. Interesting, but not too surprising: for some time, Rick seems to have thought of himself as a pastor trying to build a church and ministry more than as someone seeking to be the national public face of one of America’s most important religious traditions.If Warren were trying to be the Evangelical equivalent of a Pope, he would have run the forum almost no matter how nasty the race got. By avoiding the limelight rather than seeking it, he’s not only making a statement about the campaign.; he’s saying something about his personal purpose and sense of vocation.A man who chooses principle over publicity (and there’s no doubt that the forum would have generated much more publicity than the cancellation announcement) is a rare thing in American life these days. While Via Meadia doesn’t share Warren’s full dismay about the campaign (it’s not that this one is great; it’s just that it isn’t markedly worse than some others we remember), we applaud his willingness to follow the voice of conscience. We hope others, in Saddleback and beyond, will be inspired to do likewise.