On Rick Warren’s presidential faith forum

August 22, 2008

church / culture / politics / theology

For the past few days, the country has been abuzz with talk about Rick Warren’s forum that took place at Saddleback Church, in which Barack Obama and John McCain answered some of the questions of evangelicals.

During this event, I was on a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, and thus was able to use AirTran‘s in-flight XM radio to listen to some of it. I heard most of the questions asked of Obama, and a few of them asked of McCain. Interestingly, most of the flight aside from this was spent reading Jesus for President and discussing culture, Jesus, politics, Shane Claiborne, and theology with an artist/activist sitting next to me.

I have written occasionally about my support for Senator Obama, and still maintain this though I have not written about it recently. I have noticed the rise of the Matthew 25 network, and Brian McLaren‘s support for this network and for Obama. Certainly I think this is a much more balanced approach, biblically and theologically, to an attempt at following Jesus with one’s politics compared to what we have seen from conservatives. But I’m still not planning to join this kind of thing.

In this faith forum, I thought Barack Obama gave some great answers to some great questions. I especially loved his answer to the problem of evil, especially in contrast to that of McCain. Obama’s, at face value, was much more centered on justice and help for the poor and oppressed, while McCain’s was, of course, entirely centered on bin Laden and the rest of the fight against terrorism. Terrorism, of course, is an idea. It can be defined, shaped, and twisted to fit the person who is speaking against it. Darfur cannot.

In addition to this, after he had given his response to evil, Obama stressed that it is not human responsibility to get rid of evil in the world: it is God’s. This is a refreshing statement. Most of America’s politicians believe that, not only is it humanity’s responsibility to get rid of evil, it is the specific responsibility of the blood-stained righteous hands of the United States to get rid of evil. McCain, of course, believes that it is the responsibility of the United States to kill bin Laden.

Do you see the contrast in this? I had hoped that many evangelicals would see this, and it may prove that they will. A quick view of many of the responding blogs and articles, though, would suggest that they don’t. Most conservative evangelicals were entirely won over by McCain’s unelaborated reference to prayer, his unquestioned description of himself as being pro-life, offshore drilling, and going after bin Laden. Wow.

Now. I mentioned that I was reading Jesus for President on this flight. I plan to write a couple of posts about my thoughts and experiences in reading this book, but at the moment when I was listening to all this there was a single thing that stuck out to me. Note that Shane Claiborne is not endorsing a candidate. In his book, he spends a lot of time talking about the honest call of Jesus to nonviolence, and how that works itself out in the life of a believer. It is a challenging, illuminating thing that I would encourage you to take seriously.

In the presidential faith forum, Dr. Warren asked Obama what justification would lead him to take the country to war. The response was reasonably consistent with Just War theory, which of course was constructed by the fourth century church to justify its allegiance with the State. One of the statements he made was related to the idea that it is necessary for us to consider what, as Americans, we are willing to die for.

Of course, the implied answer is that we are willing to die for liberty, freedom, justice, and so on. Fairly standard talk, and the question of what we will die for is incredibly relevant to the person who seeks to follow a man who died on a torture device to offer forgiveness to his killers. But the question that no one asked, or will ask, is what we are willing to kill for.

Evangelicals tend to dismiss the peace-promoting words of Jesus in the ways that we vote, the things we expect from our country, and in our own private hypothetical situations, illustrating Dallas Willard‘s statement that we may like Jesus, but we don’t believe he is very smart. My hope is that things like Jesus for President will resonate with more people, like it did with my neighbor on my flight, and that we will have to devote the energy to learning how to live like Jesus rather than learning how to justify not living like him.