McCain and Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum this Saturday

This Saturday (August 16) Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain will speak at Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum. The presidential contenders will be interviewed separately by Warren on issues such as AIDS, poverty and social justice.

As we noted earlier, this appearance by political candidates with an evangelical Christian leader is unique in that Warren has pointedly ensured a separation between his ministry and the forum’s purpose of public education.

“America has a choice. It’s not between a stud and a dud this year,” Warren said. “Both of these men care about America. My job is to let them share their views.”

Warren’s nuance in such matters doesn’t sit well with some on the religious right. They would prefer he focus on wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage. “He is threatening to water down the essential message of evangelical Christianity,” Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, told the Los Angeles Times.

But Warren shows a deeper — and more respectful — understanding of faith and public service. His actions seem to say that we can’t vote our values, religious or otherwise, if we don’t know the candidates’ positions on the issues important to us.

“This is a critical time for our nation, and the American people deserve to hear both candidates speak from the heart – without interruption – in a civil and thoughtful format absent the partisan ‘gotcha’ questions that typically produce heat instead of light,” Warren said.

It should be an informative event and a delightful change from the usual religion-in-politics morass. The Saddleback Civil Forum airs on CNN on Saturday at 5 p.m. (check local listings). If you’re in the Austin area, Democratic group Turn Texas Blue is hosting a bipartisan watch party and discussion at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church (6:30-9 p.m., 1809 Pennsylvania). If Republican groups are hosting similar bipartisan watch parties that evening, please let us know.

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