Saddleback civil forum called off

A repeat performance of a 2008 face-off between the presidential candidates planned at a Southern Baptist mega-church won’t happen after all, according to the Orange County Register.

By Bob Allen

Saddleback Church pastor and Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren announced Aug. 22 that a civil forum planned with President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been canceled.

Warren, who held a similar event in 2008 featuring then-candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, said he pulled the plug this year because he believes discourse between the two campaigns has become so uncivil that a polite exchange for two hours would seem hypocritical.

"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.” Warren said, according to the Orange County Register. “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.”

Warren announced plans for the forum in a conference call with reporters July 16. He said he had been in touch with senior officials from both campaigns who expressed their interest in participating, though no formal agreement had taken place.

The following day Politico quoted unnamed campaign officials as saying there would be no joint appearances by Obama and Romney before presidential debates that begin Oct. 3.

Warren, who said in July that 5,000 tickets would be available and distributed by lottery, announced alternate plans this week for an interfaith civil forum on religious freedom in September.

“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,” Warren said in an interview with the Register. “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.’”

Warren said one thing they all have in common is “mutual concern for protecting religious freedom for everyone.”

“We intend to speak out for each other,” he said. “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.”

The 2008 civil forum on the presidency produced one of the most memorable moments of that campaign. Asked for his perspective about when life begins, Obama said answering the question definitively was “above my pay grade.” McCain, who did not hear Obama’s answer because he was sequestered in another room during that part of the program, answered unequivocally “at the moment of conception,” solidifying his support among pro-life conservatives.