Candidates to Talk on Jesus, Abortion

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LAKE FOREST, Calif. - Christian voters across the country are anxiously waiting to see what will happen at Saturday's Civil Forum at Saddleback Church.

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama will each spend an hour chatting with Pastor Rick Warren about their faith and how it will shape their decisions as President of the United States.

Click the play button on the media player to watch CBN News' David Brody's report.

The men will be asked about their position on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, the AIDS crisis, the environment and a number of other key issues important to voters.

"The person who says 'Well, I'm going to put my faith on the shelf and not let it affect my decisions as President' is either lying or they're ignorant," said Warren. "Because you can't do it."

This is Not a Debate

The forum is not a debate. It will begin at 8:00 p.m. EST and will give both men the opportunity to answer the same identical questions.

Obama will go first followed by McCain. Both candidates will have an hour apiece to make their points and give their answers.

The forum will be divided into four parts: stewardship of the President, leadership, world view and the role of America in the world.

It's the section on the candidate's world view that Warren says has people worried, but he says he plans to be totally impartial and fair.

"I'm going to ask them about abortion. I am going to ask them about the definition of marriage," he said. "I intend to ask the tough questions, but I am going to ask them in a civil way.

And he plans to ask both of them about Jesus Christ.

"I'm certainly going to ask a question about Jesus Christ in this forum," he told CBN News. "No doubt about it."

The two men will get a chance to appear briefly on stage together. It will be the first time they've done so in their current positions.

"They're going to come out, take a picture together. That's the picture everybody wants," joked Warren.

Criticism from the Right

The mega pastor has faced some tough criticism from religious leaders on the right who are not happy that he partnered with Obama to take on the global fight against AIDS.

Some of his critics want him to take a more vocal stance on issues near and dear to Christian Conservatives: abortion and gay marriage.

But Warren recently decided to expand his agenda. It now includes the AIDS crisis, Darfur and climate change.

He notes that 40 million babies who could have grown up to vote in this country have been aborted.

But he says, "Every one of those 40 million children are in Heaven. Now the people who had those abortions are not guaranteed Heaven. Now where would you have an evangelist spend most of his time? Winning the people to Christ who need forgiveness - or worrying about all those children who are in Heaven because they are safe…?"

Even so, the move has left some wondering if he has forgotten about the key life and marriage issues.

"We have to go back to what Evangelicals have been for 2,000 years," Warren said.

CBN News will live stream the forum from the Saddleback Valley Community Church beginning at 8:00 Eastern.  Be sure to click the link on the CBNNews.com homepage.

He says Evangelicals have always been concerned about more than just the life and marriage issue.

He notes that all of the great movements in history were led by Evangelicals including: the abolition of slavery, the woman's right to vote and the Civil Rights Movement.

And as a result, Warren has moved from what he calls pro-life to "whole life."

"I want to raise the personal responsibility in people's lives," Warren said. "I want to raise that level of civility in our society and I want to raise the level of credibility in the Church - that the Church is not known simply for what we're against."

A Personal Mission

For Warren, this mission is deeply personal.

By every measure Warren is successful beyond belief. He pastors a congregation of roughly 23,000 people. He has led more than 20,000 people to Christ. He is the author of the wildly popular Purpose Driven Life and Purpose Driven Church.

He has conducted leadership seminars at Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and will soon lead one in Kenya before the entire parliament. Warren is featured on the cover of the current edition of Time Magazine.

So what more could he want? Much more.

Warren says he was visiting a tiny church in Africa when God spoke to him.

"God said 'Yeah, all this stuff you're doing is good. You're training pastors, you're winning people to Christ, but you don't care about the people I love the most. The poor and the sick.'"

And it was at that moment that Warren said "I will change."

He is currently embarking on the P.E.A.C.E plan. The goal of the program is to gather one billion Christians together to battle spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy.

Warren says Christians need to be reminded that "the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ went into every village preaching, teaching and healing. One-third of Jesus' ministry was health care. He cared about the sick. He was a healer."

And for Warren, it's all about bringing people to Christ and making sure His light shines in dark places.

Warren recently attended the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico. He along with his wife and 11 members from Saddleback Church attended the six-day event.

Warren may have been the only pastor at the conference.

"Why did I go?" asks Warren. "Cause that's where the Church needs to be - in the heart of darkness. We need to be holding up the light of Christ, holding up the cross - where everybody else is afraid to go."

Needed: More Tolerance

Many religious voters across the country are not satisfied with the way religion has been handled during this election.

Some people are leery of Obama's "faith talk," while others wish McCain would say more about his faith walk.

But Warren believes that people in our society need to be more tolerant.

"The problem is we don't have the right to demonize people just because we disagree with them. We don't have a right to destroy their character or reputation just because we disagree," he said.

And this belief has gotten him in hot water with some of his peers who criticize his approach.

"I'm not a religious left because I don't believe in big government…I'm not secular left. I'm not religious right, and I'm not secular right," he said. "I happen to be in the kingdom of God. My kingdom is not of this world."

Warren shrugs off the criticism.

"We are members of the body of Christ. Christ shed his blood for us. We're going to live in Heaven together," he said. "And yet if you don't hold the party line, all of a sudden for these people politics trumps faith… And sometimes when people don't understand that, they want you to be on their political bandwagon."

God Is In Control

So as millions get ready to tune in and watch Saturday's forum, Warren takes it all in stride as he reminds us God is in control.

"You cannot change lives simply through laws - that's what the book of Galatians teaches…so I don't have that much faith in politics," he said. "Politicians come and go. No matter who gets elected - in four or eight years, they'll be out."

He notes, "Neither of these men are the next savior of the world. They're both flawed individuals, and they're both going to need God."

Tune in to The 700 Club, Monday, August 18.  CBN News Senior National Correspondent David Brody will have highlights from this weekend's forum.  Check local listings.

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Robin Mazyck

Robin Mazyck

CBNNews.com

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