Dear Saddleback Family,
Today, we let the Orange County Register be the first to announce that we will NOT be hosting another Civil Forum on the Presidency as we did four years ago with the presidential candidates.
Instead, our church will host a Civil Forum on Religious Freedom in September. Here are my full answers to questions about the Civil Forum. Please forward this on to those you know would want to know.
PASTOR RICK'S FULL INTERVIEW
QUESTION: So, the rumor that Saddleback would host another Civil Forum on the Presidency was untrue?
Warren: We did consider hosting another Civil Forum on the Presidency but decided against it.
When the primaries began earlier this year we began getting requests to do another presidential forum because the one we did in 2008 was given such high marks by pundits and critics for its unique format and for fairness. Also, the TV networks were eager to cover it again since it garnered one of the largest viewing audiences of that election. So, last spring I talked with both campaigns about the possibility of doing it again. They were both favorable to participating, but we had not decided to do it.
QUESTION: Would this have been your first civil forum involving a sitting president?
Warren: No. President Bush participated in one of our civil forums while in office. We actually had President Bush as a guest twice at Saddleback Civil Forums.
QUESTION: How many sitting presidents have you known personally?
Warren: All of them since President Carter, who was president when Kay and I started Saddleback in 1980.
QUESTION: Favorite presidential moment?
Warren: President Reagan wearing a Saddleback Church cap at his ranch in Santa Barbara. He wrote me several encouraging letters in the early years of Saddleback. I've framed them.
QUESTION: So what made you decide to not repeat the Presidential Civil Forum this year?
Warren: We had two reasons: First, we feel the climate of the current presidential campaign is the exact opposite of the values of the Civil Forums. We created the Civil Forums to promote civility and personal respect between people with major differences. 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. We felt it would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day. President Obama ran on the promise of being a "uniter, not a divider" but both he and the leaders of Congress have failed miserably at that promise. Our nation is more divided now than ever, except for the Civil War. That saddens me as an American.
QUESTION: And the second reason?
Warren: There is an even bigger issue at stake right now than who sits in the White House. It is the crumbling of our constitution's first guaranteed freedom - the freedom of religion. This issue is more significant and has far greater implications for America's future. People have forgotten that America was founded by people who came here to escape religious persecution. Freedom of religion is America's FIRST freedom. It's #1. It is the first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights - before freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and every other freedom! America was the first and probably the only country to be founded in order to give every individual the freedom to practice his religion and follow his conscience without governmental constraint. And yet today, at the city, the state, and the federal levels, government bureaucrats are daily trying to limit that freedom, impose restrictions, and stifle expressions of faith on campuses, in hospitals, and in businesses. There are widespread attempts to redefine the first amendment to simply mean "You are free to believe anything at your place of worship but you are not free to practice your conscience elsewhere." So now we've had the Justice Department suing a religious university for wanting to hire only teachers that share their faith and convictions. Fortunately, the Supreme Court overruled them, but religion is being zoned into a little box. We've had the government forcing confessing Catholics to violate their convictions, cities zoning out churches, Muslims forbidden to wear head scarves, and businesses banned because of the religious views of the owners. There are literally hundreds of examples of freedom being squelched. The constitution doesn't just guarantee your freedom to worship; it guarantees you freedom from government intervention in your daily living out of what you believe. That's why we've chosen to host a Civil Forum on Religious Freedom in September instead of the presidential forum. It's a fight for the constitution, not a personality.
QUESTION: Who will be invited to speak at that Civil Forum?
Warren: I have invited the leading Catholic voice in America, the leading Jewish voice in America, and the leading Muslim voice in America to join me. I don't want to announce their names yet, because we are still coordinating our schedules for a date when we can all appear together. We obviously have different beliefs, but we are all "neighbors" in the national sense and the Scriptures command us to "Love your neighbor as yourself." But one thing we all have in common is the mutual concern for protecting religious freedom for everyone. We are haunted by the words of the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote "First the Nazis came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me." We intend to speak out for each other. For instance, if the government suddenly decreed that all Jewish delis must now offer pork, you'd find me opposing that with my rabbi friends. I don't have a problem with pork, but I support your right to follow your faith.
QUESTION: What do you think are the candidates' views of religious freedom?
Warren: President Obama's policies clearly show what he values and I have told him that I adamantly disagree with those particular policies. I have not talked about this issue with Governor Romney, but I would imagine that, as Mormon, he'd obviously understand the importance of protecting all religions against persecution, and insuring people's rights to practice their conscience without government intervention.
QUESTION; When will you announce the date of the Civil Forum on Religious Freedom?
Warren: As soon as we have coordinated the speakers' schedules.
QUESTION: Will that forum be televised, too?
Warren: I hope so. Americans are definitely going to want to hear the leaders I've lined up.
QUESTION: Any final words?
Warren: In the final analysis, I believe our hope is not found in any man we put in the White House, but our hope is found in the man we put on the Cross.