Rick Warren cancels presidential forum; mixed explanations as to why
Rick Warren decried what he calls a lack of civility in the presidential race.
August 23rd, 2012
06:12 PM ET

Rick Warren cancels presidential forum; mixed explanations as to why

By Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editors

(CNN) - High-profile pastor Rick Warren has called off plans for a presidential forum that he said was scheduled to include both major party candidates, but there are conflicting accounts about why the event was canceled.

Warren told the Orange County Register that he was nixing his "civil forum" because of the toxic political climate.

"It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day," Warren told the newspaper in an article published Wednesday.

But sources close to President Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's political campaigns challenged that explanation, saying the event was canceled because of a lack of interest from the respective campaigns.

"As I understand it, Pastor Warren received tepid responses from both camps well before the supposed 'cancellation,'" said a senior Democratic strategist in contact with the Obama campaign.

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"It appears that the event was canceled because neither the Romney nor Obama campaigns thought it was in their interest to do," the strategist continued, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate political matter.

A source close to the Romney campaign said that the former Massachusetts governor hadn't planned on attending Warren's event: “We were never going, ever. We offered to do a video.”

A source close to Warren who worked on the event planning disputed the offer of a video from Romney’s campaign, ”considering the unique live, long-form Q & A format of the civil forum, obviously, video representation would have been impossible and was never discussed.”

The source said, “presumably the individual who responded on behalf of Gov. Romney confused Pastor Warren’s conversations with top campaign officials about that event with the exclusive five-minute plenary video that both he and President Obama provided at the request of Saddleback Church for a Global Health and HIV/AIDS Summit that Rick and Kay Warren co-hosted with several other ministry organizations at Georgetown University on July 25.”

During the 2008 election, Warren played host to both major party candidates at his Saddleback Church in Southern California, in what he called Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency.

Warren told the Orange County Register this week that this year's civil forum had been scheduled to take place this week and that there was interest from both campaigns and from the media.

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"[T]he TV networks were eager to cover it again since it garnered one of the largest viewing audiences of that election," Warren said. "I talked with both campaigns about the possibility of doing it again, and they were both favorable to participating."

Warren's spokesman declined an interview request on Thursday, referring reporters to the Orange County Register.

At the 2008 forum, Obama and Republican presidential John McCain fielded questions one at a time from the pastor on Saddleback's stage in front of 5,000 people and a nationally televised audience.

"We’ve got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other, and we need to restore civility in our civil discourse and that’s the goal of the Saddleback Civil Forum,” Warren said in the statement after the event.

This week, Warren seemed to criticize both campaigns.

"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," he told the Register. "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," Warren said.

Warren also said a larger issue cast a shadow over the event: religious freedom.

"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,' " Warren told the Register, saying he was planning a forum on religious liberty for next month.

Warren used the issue to take special aim at Obama.

When asked by the Register what he thought of the candidates views on religious liberties he said, "President Obama's policies clearly show what he values, and I have told him that I adamantly disagree with those particular policies."

In February, Warren joined a chorus of Catholic leaders who denounced the administration over the implementation of a policy that required health insurers to provide no-cost contraception coverage to employees, even those working for Catholic hospitals and colleges.

"I'm not a Catholic," Warren, a Southern Baptist, wrote on his Twitter feed, "but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure."

Most evangelical and conservative Christians from Protestant backgrounds do not oppose the use of contraceptives, as official Catholic teaching does. The issue for those groups was what they saw as a threat to religious liberty.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Leaders • Politics

soundoff (945 Responses)
  1. JJ

    Wasn't Rick Warren talking about going on a diet last year?

    September 2, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  2. One one

    This is good news. It sounds like Warren was trying to promote his religion and Especially himself under the guise of a "civil forum" and both sides weren't having any of it.

    September 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  3. jholland27

    He is a modern day snake oil salesman (looks the part too I might add – like used car salesman for god) and quite a successful one. I wouldn't give this man one penny of my money or one second of my time.

    September 1, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  4. george wheeldon

    Yet, Rick Warren will support a man who belongs to a cult???????

    September 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  5. GP007

    Why do we care what a TV evangelist thinks or does on the political stage? Furthermore, why is he or any other religious leader inserting themselves and their flock into the political sphere? Preach to your congregation the values of your faith, the rest of us don't care what the candidates have to say to your congregation.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Bethurum

      Rev. Warren is not a TV Evangelist and will never be! He has stated on numerous occaisons to his congregation and the public that he does not need or want to broadcast from the church to the world directly on TV. Please check your facts before making such comments!

      September 1, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Candyw1

      Bethurum you are right...he does not need TV. He has his own private EMPIRE right there with the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca. With over 20,000 people attending the weekend services ...they can stay all day and even eat in his restaurants and buy in his gift shops without leaving the campus. He takes in millions and millions per month tax free........He does just fine without TV.

      September 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • defenseanddeliverance


      You might want to check into how the tax exemption for the church functions. Rick Warren cannot personally take in millions upon millions of dollars tax free. It is the congregations contributions that are tax free (as that money has already been taxed). The pastors salary is taxed just like any other salary that any other individual would receive.

      September 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  6. Giao Hoan

    Hubris is the mark of great tvanglical preachers. You D'Man rick. But please just sty at saddle back where you are worshipped

    September 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  7. John Kay

    Rick lied again?

    Who'd have thought it.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Chip Fields

      Name one lie he told....and back it up unfalsifiable facts

      September 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Bethurum

      What did He lie about?

      September 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  8. 2357

    A series of God-hating pagan presidents just might be the best thing that can happen to American churches. Bride of Christ needs holiness and purity more than growth and power.

    September 1, 2012 at 5:49 am |
    • Giao Hoan

      How can that be ? good ole Billy Graham practically lived in the WH all those years !!! You mean Billy was an agent for the dark side ???

      September 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  9. daniellenewyork

    Ugh, can't we just have a Queen instead?

    September 1, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  10. lamb of dog

    We are headed right back to the dark ages.

    August 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • truthislight.com

      "President Obama's policies clearly show what he values, and I have told him that I adamantly disagree with those particular policies."

      Rick Warren is a classic, ecclesiastical shape-shifter.

      What does he so, "adamantly", disagree with concerning President Barack Hussein Obama's political policies?

      When President Obama was a rising Senator in Chicago, IL his voting record for Pro-Abortion policies, (including Late-Term & Live-Birth Abortion), was 100%.

      But I am very sure that Rev, Warren would deny any forthright knowledge of this as well.

      Rev. Warren... there is always room for you on the political campaign bandwagon!

      September 1, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  11. God hates religion

    So he thinks the candidates aren't civil enough in their campaigns but when they won't show up for his "party" he goes on the attack? Nice....go climb back under your rock and pretend that people still give a cr_p what you think.

    August 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • John Kay

      Well said.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Thinker

      couldn't agree more. My religion does not ban the use of birth control. They are interfereing with my freedom of religion.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  12. Peter

    If Warren were talking to MItt Romney in public, there would be pressure on Warren to challenge Romney's Mormonism and to say that Mormons are not Christians. Despite what many level headed, enlightened Christians might think it is widely held by millions of mainstream Christians that Mormonism is not Christianity, and that it is a cult.

    August 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  13. howash Dao

    HI Rick, the time has come for Catholics to take over power. That is why they invited a Bishop to give invocation at the repubicon convention. Your brand of religion is dimishing , wink wink.

    August 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Bethurum

      What brand of his religion is diminishing? Dare I say Christian! I think not. The command of Jesus was to take the gospel to all nations. So, as Christians that is what we are commanded to do.

      September 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  14. Michael

    We have given Christ athority over your nation and with that said every time you deny him it will be a mark and sin againts you -- same as trader! The lords Michael !!!

    August 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jimbob

      Athority is spelled authority. Just saying. Knock it off.

      September 1, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Andrew

      If jesus died for our sins.. anything we do is forgiven.. also original sin is now invalid in the eyes of christ.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  15. Tim


    August 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  16. Herewe Goagain

    He cancelled because the candidates didn't want to come.

    August 28, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Marty

      I am a Christian and a Baptist Pastor. I can't stand this guy. He is a self promoter referring to himself as the pastor's pastor, and is afraid to speak the truth when asked direct questions. His purpose driven crap is nothing more than Dr. Phil type self help material that has little to do with salvation through Jesus Christ which is what he should be preaching.

      Neither candidate wanted to take part in his shenanigan so he can go back to working with Tony Blair and the Muslims.

      August 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  17. Tim Jordan

    Big Baptist Rick, the sanctimonious, pretentious blowhard can't deign to admit the campaigns have bigger fish to fry than his feelgood, Xtianity lite. The Obama camp learned he's just another backstabbing fundie who is kind to the president's face while he castigates him when he's not around. Romney's afraid Warren's congregation is going to ask embarrassing theological questions which the LDS Church doesn't want him to discuss. Snore.

    August 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  18. Jack

    Greetings folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  19. sbstr

    Warren – "I dumped them before they dumped me".

    August 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm |

    Where did this guy get his suit at...Mervyn's or macy's...??

    August 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.