August 14, 2008

CNN Compassionate Leader ForumOn Saturday, August 16th, megachurch preacher and Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren will host the first joint appearance of campaign '08 by Barack Obama and John McCain. In what CNN is billing as the "Compassionate Leader Forum," Warren will lead separate conversations with Obama and McCain, who will meet on stage at the beginning and/or end of the event at Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

While the anti-gay Warren and his co-sponsor the multi-denominational group Faith in Public Life will apparently be the arbiters of presidential compassion, Reverend Warren insists Saturday's event is not about "gotcha" questions for the candidates:

"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."

But for the good people at the Red State blog, that's simply not good enough. Declaring that "abortion on demand is non-negotiable," Red State's open letter to Reverend Warren insists he promise to confront Obama on the issue. Failing to do so at the event, "it would be better to cancel it." No doubt, Rick Warren will ask Barack Obama about his views on abortion and women's reproductive rights.

But among the questions on AIDS, poverty, climate change and the candidates' personal faith, the notoriously reserved on religion John McCain can rest assured he won't face tough questions about his own.

Here, then, are 10 questions Rick Warren won't ask John McCain.

1. In 2006, you recanted your claim six years earlier that Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell were "agents of intolerance." What changed your mind?

During the 2000 campaign, you famously claimed that the late Jerry Falwell was an "agent of intolerance." But when Meet the Press' Tim Russert on April 2, 2006 asked whether you "still believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?" you reversed yourself and said, "no, I don't." The next month, you gave the commencement address at Reverend Falwell's Liberty University. Just weeks earlier, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart asked you, "Are you going into crazy base world?" to which you replied, "I'm afraid so." Why did you change your position on Falwell and Robertson being agents of intolerance? Were you pandering to the "crazy base world" of Republican primary voters?

2. You've said, "The most important thing is that I am a Christian." Why is that the most important thing?

Campaigning in South Carolina last fall, you responded to questions about whether you were a Baptist or an Episcopalian by proclaiming, "the most important thing is that I am a Christian." What did you mean by that? Was your Christian faith the most important thing for you personally, or just for the heavily evangelical voters of South Carolina?

3. Speaking of which, are you an Episcopalian or a Baptist?

You were raised as an Episcopalian and during your "Service to America" tour in April made a point of visiting your old prep school, Episcopal High. A Congressional directory lists your religion as Episcopalian, as did a questionnaire your campaign staffers completed in August for a debate in South Carolina. Yet you've attended the 7,000 member North Phoenix Baptist Church for 15 years. Despite never having been baptized, you said of your faith in September, "It plays a role in my life. By the way, I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist." So just to clear up any lingering confusion, are you an Episcopalian or a Baptist?

4. Will you ask your supporters to respect Barack Obama's Christian faith?

On more than one occasion, you pledged to run a "respectful" campaign. Yet despite Barack Obama's repeated and heartfelt proclamations of his Christian faith, many in the conservative movement accuse Obama of being a Muslim. Polling data show that the percentage of American who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim increased to 12% in July. Do you believe Barack Obama is a Christian? Will you ask your supporters to stop promulgating the myth that his is a Muslim? Will you ask them to respect Obama's Christian faith? For that matter, will you ask them to respect the faith of Muslim Americans?

5. Do you agree with Pastor John Hagee that war with Iran is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy?

Back in February, you shared a stage with Pastor John Hagee and said you were "very proud" to have his endorsement. Then in May, you announced that you "must reject his endorsement, given "deeply offensive and indefensible" remarks he had made about the Holocaust. But given your own tough talk and past jokes about "bomb bomb Iran" and killing Iranians with cigarettes, do you join Pastor Hagee in believing the United States must attack Iran to fulfill the biblical prophecy of Armageddon in Israel in which 144,000 Jews will be converted to Christianity and the rest killed?

6. Why did you change your position on overturning Roe v. Wade?

In 1999, you announced your opposition to overturning Roe v Wade, "But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations." But in November 2006, you answered "yes" when ABC’s George Stephanapolous asked if "you’d be for that?" Why did your change your mind on overturning Roe? Was it so your campaign could claim in a February press release during the Republican primaries that "John McCain is far and away the most consistently anti-abortion of all the top contenders?"

7. Do you support the Bush administration's attempt to redefine many forms of birth control as abortion?

A draft proposal by President Bush's Department of Health and Human Services would "withhold government funds from health-care providers and organizations that don't hire people who refuse to perform abortions or provide certain types of birth control." Senator Hillary Clinton wrote HHS Secretary Leavitt that "this definition would allow health-care corporations or individuals to classify many common forms of contraception - including the birth control pill, emergency contraception and IUDs - 'abortions' and therefore to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it." Do you agree with the Bush administration's proposal to redefine these contraception methods as "abortion?" While you're at it, have you decided whether or not you believe insurance companies covering Viagra for men should also be required to cover birth control for women?

8. Do you believe, as you said last September, that "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation?"

In an interview with BeliefNet last September, you said that:

"I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who has a grounding in my faith."

"I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."

After withering criticism from Jewish and Islamic groups, you backtracked the next day and claimed, "Yes, I believe a Muslim could be president." Do you still believe that "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation?" Do you agree with Mike Huckabee that "what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards?"

9. Do you believe Americans should pray for rain to end droughts – or to wash out Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention?

Last November, Georgia Republican Governor Sonny Perdue held a public vigil at the state house to "pray up a storm" to end the drought in the Southeast. His plea followed on the heels of Alabama Governor Bob Riley's week-long "Days of Prayer for Rain" that June. Just days ago, Focus on the Family, led by James Dobson (who recently announced "the possibility is there that I might" endorse you) posted a video calling on its supporters to pray for "rain of biblical proportions" during Obama's DNC speech in Denver. Should your supporters pray for rain on Obama's parade? Should elected officials lead public prayers for rain to end droughts? Do you believe those prayers work?

10. Do you know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims?

You've long touted your commander-in-chief credentials in the struggle against Islamic extremism. Yet on four occasions in under a month, you confused Sunni and Shiite, friend and foe in Iraq. Given you repeated - and mistaken - statements about a non-existent Al Qaeda alliance with Iran, can you tell the American people: what are the differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims?

Of course, those are just some of the uncomfortable questions John McCain could - but won't - face from Pastor Rick Warren Saturday. McCain's endless reversals on teaching intelligent design in public schools and his dependence on PEPFAR opponent Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) for his AIDS policy are just two. And then there's issue of McCain's past adultery. When asked by ABC's Jake Tapper during a discussion about John Edwards if he would have "compunctions about voting for someone who had cheated on his wife," Rick Warren answered, "Absolutely I would."

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