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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. Jeb

    Obama administration: "let's call the preacher a liar and tell the public that we didn't want to go to his forum anyway". I can't believe this guy will actually win 4 more years.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Galls you that the majority of voters see right through your fundie preacher, doesn't it?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  2. LiberaLIowan

    Another self-important bible banger that no one cares about.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  3. Mikaela

    It seems a bit arrogant of Warren to assume that he should be politically relevant.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  4. Jed

    Could it be because no one want to listen to what this rascist, uneducated idiot has to say ?.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Grant

      Millions of people want to her what he has to say. Next time YOU sell millions of well-written books, then maybe you can compare differences in "education".

      August 24, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  5. TonyInNYC

    Pastor Warren's explanation doesn't really make sense. I think it would've been inspiring to demonstrate for American what civility looks like. I don't see how that would be "pretending" or "hypocritical."

    August 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  6. Ted Davenport

    Is there anything more "Toxic" then this reverend?

    August 24, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Grant

      Maybe you?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  7. v_mag

    "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
    --
    We hear this over and over from the craz-evangelicals. They are oppressed, they say. It reminds me of the 'heel' in wrestling who is telling the ref, "No, no, I'm not doing anything wrong" while he pokes the other wrestler in the eye. If they're so oppressed and can't practice their religion every where, why do we have all these religious planks in the party platforms and all this legislation to force people to obey fundamentalist laws? Why is "Creationism" even mentioned in relation to education? Why all the prayers at football games and in Congress? Evangelicals are every where, like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • bobpitt

      They have the same principles... if you are not in my religion then you are an enemy of mine..

      August 24, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  8. kurtinco

    Does anyone care about this guy anymore? Put him out to pasture already. Besides, none of the debates will amount to a hill of beans anyway. They have degraded into audience popularity contests. Lose the studio audience, and the debates have a chance of being meaningful.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  9. beancounterz

    "you are not free to practice your conscience elsewhere," Code for the Gov won't let my religion be the State religion for the US and we can't therefore force our religion down other peoples throats and make other religions illegal like they do in Iran..

    August 24, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Grant

      I'm not catholic, but if (when) the govt forces me to go against my beliefs, I'd do the same thing. I hope you would to. Your faith should matter to you.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  10. Truthbetold

    All debates are worthless unless true differences can be discussed. I won't watch these two dopes regurgitate party lines while people with truly different ideas that would make a worthwhile debate like Gary Johnson aren't even invited.

    August 24, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  11. Michael, Chapel Hill.

    CNN's relegious commentators are fit to be Obama spiritual advicers. Obama was Christian, then Muslim, then Black Liberation theology believing Christian and now he claims to be a Christian with an antichristian outlook.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • beancounterz

      "and now he claims to be a Christian with an antichristian outlook." But wait, Ryan is the one that got into Politics based on his admiration for Ayn Rand. Would the real atheist please stand up?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • bobpitt

      and your point is?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Learn to spell and maybe someone will take you seriously. I'm guessing you aren't part of the university community.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  12. Jacob

    Majority of the folks posting on CNN are either atheist or have hatred for Christianity,Judaism. And those are primarily left leaning liberals. I cannot believe democrats have become so anti-religion and pro-OBAMA policies. The man is not what he call himself. He claims to be christian but has not principles that a christian should follow. He extremely left leaning, socialistic minded person.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • MAC

      Anyone not agreeing with your relgious bent is out in the cold. Why can't you live and let live???

      August 24, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • beancounterz

      I don't hate other religions. I just don't like it when they don't respect my religious views and legislate their religious views on me...like here in Texas. Principles which christians should follow, like charity, compassion for the poor, feeding the poor (I seem to remember Jesus doing something with fish) but the GOP doesn't want to have the equivalent in our society (food stamps).

      August 24, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • v_mag

      And Romney would be, what? A Christian? I don't think so. The difference between the Mormons and the Branch Davidians is that the Mormons own there own state and have over $30B stashed away. They're both cults, but the Mormons have bought respectability. People who have left Mormonism nearly all describe it as a cult. Romney is hip-deep in Mormonism, being a bishop in that fake religion. He used it to avoid military service during wartime. All his kids refuse to serve.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • v_mag

      "He extremely left leaning, socialistic minded person."
      --
      Take a look back at your Bible. The New Testament, this time. Read the Gospels and you will find that your description of Obama closely matches that of Christ. The disciples and early church held all their assets in common (socialism). Jesus was in opposition to the Romans and the rich Jews (Pharisees and Sadducees), making him a radical leftist. Why are you supporting the Pharisees?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Tropical Swaps

      He claims to be christian but has not principles that a christian should follow.

      Like trying to help the poor and middle class ?
      Like trying to give everybody affordable health care ?
      Like trying to treat all Americans equally ?

      Your GOP wants to help the richest Americans get richer.
      How Jesus like is that ?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Hulk

      "He extremely left leaning, socialistic minded person." Hulk agree. Him not citizen. Man on radio tell Hulk so. Hulk smash! Hulk smart like Jacob.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • John

      @v_mag The difference is, Obama is taking his socialist views (his religion, if you like) and attempting to make it into government law. So, separation of church and state is good if you don't agree with the certain religious views, but putting religious views into government (and forcing all people to participate in your views) is great if those views religious views reflect socialism and you agree with them? Jesus never desired political power.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Ed

      I'm always stunned when I see inferences that Jesus would eshew socialism. Really?! What did he say about the poor? The rich? Was he an everyone for themself kind of guy?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • SeilnoigileR

      It's not hatred for your religion – it's hatred for what you DO with your religion. Like trying to make America a version of Iran with a different flavor of repression. Kind of the same as 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. Turnabout's a real smack in the face, yes?

      August 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  13. Norm

    I find it quite laughable that when President Obama was elected in 2008, the Republican Christians loved to tell the lie that he was a Muslim and shouldn't be elected and now just four years later they are "knowingly" electing a Mormon. A faith they all consider to be a blasphemous cult.
    The hypocrisy of these people knows no bounds.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Well, Mormons have never attacked our country so it's not exactly equivalent is it?

      August 24, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • midwest rail

      So it was OK for them to label the President as a Muslim, even though they knew it was a lie ?

      August 24, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • jeknows

      Amen to that. It's sad Christians would compromise their own faith in order to further their political agenda. I don't care what "conservative" christians say is the "christian choice" Jesus befriended sinners or "liberal minded" people not the Pharasees(Conservative Christians). I wonder if he'd call the "Conservative Christians" of today a brood of vipers or white washed tombs like he did then?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • v_mag

      Bill Deacon, you must never have heard of the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857. Under the leadership of polygamist mass murderer Brigham Young, a wagon train passing through Mormon territory was wiped out. All 140 men, women and children. Then they named a university after him. And people have a problem with a mosque near Ground Zero?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 24, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • hippie power 69

      no, prayer changes nothing. its like asking santa for a pony. these stories are so ridiculous i can't believe that smart thinking people...oh nevermind.

      August 24, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • bobpitt

      I alrerady asked for a pony.. My imaginary friend will give to me If I pray...

      August 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      Broken God bot.
      Do not reply.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Which God?

      Atheism is not... has a one thought brain cell. Nothing else. Troll par excellent.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!~

      August 24, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Roger

      It's because prayer doesn't work that you have to keep repeating this over and over again.

      August 24, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  15. PR

    You are free to practice whatever religion you want...BUT I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT! Keep you religious views to yourself.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Jesus is Lord

      You MUST be born again !

      August 24, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  16. Finally see the Light

    Matt have you got it right. Saddleback Church is funneling milloions of dollars to Ruwanda every year, millions for hospitals and schools so they can get the kids and woman healthy so they can affectively spread the hate!!! Down with Christians up with Atheist!!!

    August 24, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • JDJ

      "Funneling" money to a poor war-torn nation to feed children and take care of the sick is wrong?

      August 24, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • bobpitt

      The only light you see is the one in your backyard.. Probably you go to church but don't practice what your religion attemps to teach..

      August 24, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  17. Puzzled in Peoria

    It's interesting that most evangelicals do not consider Mormonism a Christian denomination, yet because Republicans are anti-abortion, they have kept silent and are supporting Romney. Maybe Romney was afraid Warren would inquire into his faith at the Forum. And, the Catholic bishop in Peoria is suing the Dept. of HHS over the contraception/abortion policies for hospitals and health insurance providers. It's not just mean politics involved here.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • v_mag

      Craz-evangelicals are more comfortable with a white cultist than they are with a black Democrat.

      August 24, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  18. matt

    If your purpose is to steal a lot of tax free cash and make the world a more hateful place have we got the pastor for you!

    August 24, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  19. Dana Hall

    Dear Brother & Sister of this earth down line from Adam & Eve. I am applaud by those saying mean words against each other. You know that God Father & Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much by letting us visiting in His earth to be training before entering eternal life with God Father & Lord Jesus Christ. You know saying God isn't to be mocked but to honor & respect, beware mockers & disrespecters Him will be shorten life and He is able to destroy souls in the Lake of Fire which is eternity. We all, I mean we all will face the white throne judgment at the end of everything on this earth. Brother & Sister of earth I really encouraging you all by grace & mercy love of our God Father & Lord Jesus Christ is to repent and read Bible the Manuel book of this life. To learn this truth come to Celebration Church in Lakeville, Mn. Jesus provide a way to escape from Wrath of God which soon to come. Love Bro Dana Hall

    August 24, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • AvdBerg

      To learn about the true church and how and by whom this whole world has been deceived we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

      August 24, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  20. sujinamarie

    I've never been a fan of megachurches, televangelists or high profile pastors, but I have to say that after following Rick Warren on the news and watching him speak he does appear to be a solid individual with some wisdom and critical thinking. I'm not sure what the whole contraception thing is about, but in general he does seem to be well educated and not overly legalistic. It makes sense that if both campaigns chose not to use his forum that he could use use the cancelation as an opportunity to point out the lack of civility taking place in this election. I assume not all context for his decision was included in this article. I do not think it is fair to judge an individual harshly simply because they look like so many other corrupt and fundamentalist religious leaders. I also agree with the comment that he may support Romney's moral values in relation to politics, and not the Mormon religion, and vise versa with Obama (agree with his proclamation of Christianity but not his political values) but this hopefully would not have affected an "unbiased" forum moderation.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:28 am |
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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.