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. Demsrules

    As a Christian myself, I'm sure Rick is a good man. However- he like too many other church pastors think it's their duty to delve into political affairs. Jesus never allowed himself to get involved with politics even when he were asked questions pertaining to Caesar and the way he did things. He always pointed back to God and His own mission on earth. Unfortunately, pastors have left the pulpit and have made politics their new vocation. They have sacrificed souls for sidebar issues.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  2. ohreally

    There is no way Romney was going to do that side show. Not with the current Akin problem haunting his campaign. Can you imagine Romney having to talk about his stand on abortion this week?

    August 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  3. Joe

    What is wrong with just debates?

    August 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  4. dana

    I grew up just blocks away from Warren's mega church. He has a profound influence among his wealthy and socially conservative republican community in South Orange County. Everyone knows his name, but no one I knew growing up could tell me what his church taught. He's the epitome of the modern republican, white, suburban, evangelical, male-oriented, wealthy, mega-church Christianity. He used 2008 to bolster his national profile and increase his political influence. He took a major part in the passing of prop 8 (taking away marriage rights for LGB Californians) and held a deeply biased forum between Obama and McCain that was just uncomfortable to watch. He often speaks poorly of the Mormon faith so it's no surprise Romney would decline an invite to his church and he was blatantly unfair to Obama the first time around so it's no surprise the President would decline as well.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Yes, and he was very happy to enlist the support of Mormon $$$$ to help promote Prop 8.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Mr. Warren wished to ride the election year news cycle back into relevance. Happily, both candidates told him to put his saddle back.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Eye of the needle

      Next major debate to be moderated by Warren: Does Claim Jumper or Chili's have faster curbside takeout service? Warren simply peddles a kinder and gentler form of prejudice, including getting his church mixed up with anti-gay measures in Uganda, supporting Prop. 8, having all-male church leadership, using uneducated and sometimes dangerous "Christian counselors" for serious personal and family issues such as domestic violence, and having such a lack of transparency in his ministry that even conservative evangelical charity watchdog Ministry Watch has flagged his church for lack of financial accountability.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  5. nothing new here

    Barry Goldwater tried to warn his fellow GOP members NOT to mix politics and religion.
    The man was 200% correct.
    WTG GOP – you finally starting to realize that you sold your soul to the devil.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Today's GOP don't have a clue what Barry Goldwater stood for.

      The real inheritors of the conservative movement are the Libertarians. Most Republicans thiink Ron Paul is nuts, yet he is so much closer to Barry Goldwater than they are.

      The GOP is lost. Lost in big-spending hawkish neo-cons. Confused by the irrationality of tea-party branded fiscal conservatism and held hostage by the American Taliban – the religious right who hold most of their votes.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  6. HeavenSent

    You atheists think you know better than Jesus, but Jesus gave us the gift of God's truth, the Bible. His truth cannot be questioned. My camel-toe is so large my Doberman sleeps there. You all will burn in your father's motel, hell. Burn burn burn.


    August 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • pat carr

      jesus is my favorite gay lover

      August 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • George Marshall

      My, my what a pious "christian" you are to revel and rejoice in what you hope will be misery and suffering for those who do not believe as you do. Because of people like you its no wonder that people are turning away from religion.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      this is someone parodying a poster named "HeavenSent".

      August 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      That's the phony heavensent's post who is Scott the webmaster hijacking Christian handles to post his atheists baloney.

      August 24, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  7. nothing new here

    Cancelling this forum was a great thing. And I believe, we Americans, have finally started to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to this laughable conservative resurgence..
    For years, these people have worked quietly, and steadlly, to take over governments at all levels, in order to start a theocracy. Even now, these religious people use so-called ministry and other forms of evangelism to try to get people not only "saved", but to get these converts to adhere to their political/social/economic philosophies. Even the Southern Baptist Convention had considered the extreme measure of changing the name of the denomination, in order to further their political agendas into parts of the U.S, (north, mid-west) where their #'s are much smaller.
    The Religous Right is finally being exposed for what it is – another $$$$ driven political machine.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  8. Manda

    He looks like he walked into a Chic-fil-a about 20 yrs ago, and walked out yesterday with about 60 extra pounds and a goatee that was cool in 1992

    August 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      He is Colonel Mustard.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  9. Charles

    Obama lied about his "faith" why have him on again?

    August 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Patrick


      August 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Delusional hubris.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • DCKeene

      Wait, what? You know something the rest of us don't know? I'm anxiously awaiting your proof. Please do tell.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  10. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    What's the orange ribbon for?

    A commemoration of the battle of the Boyne?

    August 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  11. Patrick

    Thank god. I've never been able to suss out why this blow-hard should have his own little chat with the candidates.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  12. Bill

    GOOD. Religion has no place in politics. If you disagree, you can always move to the Middle East.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  13. therealpeace2all


    " "We’ve got to learn to disagree without **demonizing** each other, and we need to restore civility in our civil discourse" 😯

    Love the word choice spoken by the evangelical pastor. Isn't that one of the things many fundamental evangelicals do is 'demonize' people ?

    I know... hate the sin, love the sinner, or some kind of nonsense.


    August 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  14. carm

    Rick Warren is not a Christian. He is in bed with the muslims.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com


      August 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  15. HeavenSent

    You atheists want to bash a true God fearing man and do the work of the devil, satan. I pee a little bit on my couch everytime I sneeze. Jesus said he would give you reprobate minds. You all have snakes in your bellies.


    August 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Boing

      Thanks for the heads up, if you invite me over to your house I'll know not to sit on the couch. And, uh, just had spaghetti for dinner, no snake.


      August 23, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • nothing new here

      Was that a legitimate pee, or a fake one?
      And did you force the couch to participate?

      August 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Not my post. This is Scott the webmasters post as he hijacks my and other Christian handles to post his atheist nonsense.

      August 24, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  16. JiminNM

    Neither Romney nor Obama are fit to serve.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      Incorrect. Obama will have an outstanding second term and make history. Romney will become a footnote joke,.

      August 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  17. Ralph

    The lesser of two evil: The Mormon...

    August 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      I can only imagine if anyone else had inherited Bush's mess. Thank goodness for Obama.

      August 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Jerry

      christard: I'm just wondering why Obama waited until the final quarter to decide he's for fixing the economy? He spent the first 3 quarters giving the liberal fringe and unions all they wanted and now he says he's going to help the middle class? Day late and dollar short!

      August 23, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

      No thanks. No cult religion Leaders for me. Not even Jim Jones, or David Koresh. I will be voting for the only legitimate candidate this election has, and that is President Obama; at least he is a Christian.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      He is not a Christian, he is clearly agnostic but naturally he has to lie or he can't be president. No one intelligent is allowed in that club.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com


      I can give you almost 200 things Obama has done right. You must be retarded.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Jerry

      Christard: Answer the question. Insults have no place in intelligent discourse. That's why our government is impotent right now.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Jerry

      Roadrunner: How do you know Obama is a Christian?

      August 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      Jerry, it is not an insult if it is true. You want me to answer the question? Ok, here goes:

      If you think President Obama is a "disappointment," my condolences for not getting your unicorn. And it's time to grow up, get over it. We have four months to go before an election that will feature more political ads than you have ever seen before in your life. We're not just having to beat Willard Romney; we also have to beat Citizens United.

      There will be TWO choices for president. You can either work for Obama and every other Democrat (yes, including Blue Dogs), or you can sit back and watch Willard Romney complete the job of taking apart the social fabric of the country that was begun by Ronald Reagan.

      What makes the "disappointment" argument even more irritating is that it's simply not true. He's done nearly everything we elect a president to do, and he did it all with little support from the left, and ma.s.sive obstruction from the right. .
      Is he perfect? No, he's human. Does he deserve some criticism? At this point, it really doesn't matter.

      What does matter is that this president has compiled a STELLAR record. If you can look at this list of the president's accomplishments after three years, and not be excited, you have a serious problem with perspective.

      You want examples???

      August 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  18. Marty

    Are we witnessing a presidential campaign to solve problems of government such as jobs, the economy, education and health for our countrymen and women or are we witnessing a radical party seeking to establish a religion? It is essential that we separate Church and State in our national affairs. This is a big country, there is room for everyone, regardless of color and faith.
    Mixing religion and politics is quite dangerous.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  19. Your Panties in Texas

    Anyways, people, I really don't care. Y'all try to act normal for awhile.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  20. Ralph

    I can guess what happened.....President Obama's stance on Gay Marriage and abortion is a clear contradiction to what Christianity is all about....Mormom is to Christian as Sky is to the Earth..I bet I would see President Obama telling all his lies about God and Church and Mr. Romney as well.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      So Ralph, who are you voting for?

      August 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

      Civil rights for gays and lesbians, and for women IS exactly what the Bible is all about. Jesus said that you are to love your neighbor as yourself, The Christian message is about inclusivity, NOT exclusivity. It is about respecting others, NOT condemning them. As the Bible so aptly puts it: "If a man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hat not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." (II John 4: 20, 21)

      August 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
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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.