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John McCain and Barack Obama bickered for weeks over the kind of debates they wanted — but when California pastor Rick Warren asked them to put that aside and join him for a candidates’ forum, the answer, of course, was yes.
The two political rivals will join Warren Saturday evening at his 23,000-member Saddleback Church, taking the same stage to answer the same questions for the first time.
The event is not technically a debate, or the kind of free-form joint town hall meeting McCain had advocated. Warren will ask each candidate the same set of questions separately.
Young Evangelicals Up for Grabs
While older white evangelicals vote Republican automatically, younger ones are openly questioning the idea that all Jesus cares about is abortion and homosexuality. Many of them, inspired by Rick Warren (author of the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life), are beginning to see global poverty, AIDS, and climate change as moral issues. This could spell enormous trouble for John McCain in this election and Republicans generally in the years to come since about a third of the Republican base consists of evangelicals. While Barack Obama hasn't sealed the deal with the young evangelicals, he is working very hard to convince them that the Bible instructs people to love and serve others and be good stewards of the earth. Both Obama and McCain will visit Warren's Saddleback church tomorrow. If Obama can convince large numbers of young evangelicals that his message is closer to Scripture than the Republicans', the GOP has a big problem.
GOP Loyalty Not a Given For Young Evangelicals
Jonathan Merritt is a Baptist preacher's son with a pristine evangelical lineage. It was his dad, the Rev. James Merritt, who reportedly brought President Bush to tears in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks when he called the president "God's man for this hour." The Rev. Jerry Falwell was like a grandfather.
"I grew up believing an evangelical couldn't be a Democrat," said Merritt, 25. "The two were mutually exclusive."
But in the past year, as the presidential campaign has focused on the country's problems, Merritt has begun to question the party of his father. There was his recent revelation that "God is green," a mission trip to orphanages in Brazil that caused him to worry about global poverty, an encounter with a growing strain of politically liberal evangelicalism that has taken off online, and a nagging sense that Bush's unpopularity has been an embarrassment to the evangelicals who overwhelmingly voted for him.