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Pastor Rick Warren Brings McCain, Obama Together

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR news. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the presidential candidates and the "Chairman of the Board." But first, later today Barack Obama and John McCain will be on stage together for the first time in this general election campaign. They'll be at Saddleback Church in Southern California, participating in the Civil Forum on National Leadership. The man asking the questions will be Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life." NPR's Ina Jaffe will also be there and joins us from NPR West. Ina, thanks for being with us.

INA JAFFE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: So how did Pastor Warren manage to pull off what no civic organization or TV network has been able to do?

JAFFE: Well, the candidates know that he's a conduit to evangelical voters. He's a fourth-generation southern Baptist pastor, he built Saddleback Church from literally nothing to a congregation of 22,000 people. "The Purpose Driven Life," the book that he wrote, has sold tens of millions of copies, and he says he has trained half a million other pastors in building churches just like Saddleback.

SIMON: Somebody that well known, successful, big, does inspire controversy, too, doesn't he?

JAFFE: Well, yes, especially since he was one of the leading pastors who recently said that social issues like abortion and gay marriage shouldn't be their sole focus. He's embraced issues like poverty, global warming and fighting HIV/AIDS, which he says should be part of the evangelical agenda, and he's gotten some criticism for that.

SIMON: What's going to happen at this forum?

JAFFE: Well, despite all the hoopla from McCain and Obama being on the stage at the same time, that part isn't going to last long. Warren's going to interview each of them separately for about an hour, and Obama will go first, then McCain will come out and join the two of them on stage for one minute, then they break for commercial, and then in the second half he will talk to John McCain. ..TEXT: Warren says he wants to get their views on some traditional concerns of evangelicals like abortion and same sex-marriage, but he also wants to talk about poverty and global warming and the other issues he's recently taken on, and also ask them about the Constitution and how their faith will guide the way they would govern.

SIMON: Now, in addition to what I'm sure both Senators Obama and McCain see as an opportunity for spiritual refreshment, they may be interested in winning some votes, too. Right?

JAFFE: Absolutely. You know, in the last election, President Bush won nearly 80 percent of evangelical votes, but those votes aren't going to be automatically inherited by John McCain. Evangelicals have had some problems with him. He doesn't talk very easily or openly about his faith. He has advocated allowing abortions for victims of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother. And back in 2000 when he ran for president the first time, he called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance."

SIMON: Now Senator Obama, by contrast, talks rather more about his faith, doesn't he?

JAFFE: He absolutely does, and any day that he does talk about his Christian faith in public, it's a chance for him to convince more people that he's not a Muslim. So that's a positive for him. And he'll be sure to talk about his plans to expand the White House office with faith-based initiatives which funnels federal money to social programs run by religious institutions, and he'll probably also talk about the meetings that he's been holding around the country with evangelical pastors.

SIMON: NPR's Ina Jaffe at NPR West. Thanks very much.

JAFFE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.