This Saturday, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Community Church, America’s largest, will be holding a forum for the two presumptive presidential nominees. Barack Obama and John McCain won’t be appearing together, but will answer questions separately that will be put to them by Warren. According to the New York Times, he’ll have help in putting those questions together:

Mr. Warren’s event will have as a co-sponsor Faith in Public Life, the multidenominational religious group that held the Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., in April, featuring Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Pennsylvania during their primary fight. Mr. Warren said he would devise his questions with input from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders associated with the group.

Henry Brinton, pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church here in northern Virginia, put it a little differently in a column at USA Today:

At Saddleback, Obama and McCain are expected to appear together, at least briefly, and will be answering questions on AIDS, poverty and the environment — areas of special concern to Warren, an evangelical pastor and author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life.

Co-sponsoring this event is a multidenominational religious group called Faith in Public Life, whose Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders will be helping Warren devise his questions to the candidates.

This got me wondering: what is Faith in Public Life? Calling it a “multidenominational [sic--I think they mean "interfaith"--DF] religious group” doesn’t really do it justice, though it does make it sound benignly non-partisan. When I looked at the FPL Web site, however, I came away with a decidedly different view. For instance, here is the group’s vision:

Faith in Public Life envisions a country in which diverse religious voices for justice and the common good consistently impact public policy; and those who use religion as a tool of division and exclusion do not dominate public discourse.

And further down the same page, here is it’s mission:

Faith in Public Life strengthens the effectiveness, collaboration, and reach of faith movements that share a call to pursue justice and the common good.

After reading only two sentences I’m already suffering from buzzword overload. Oh, and that reference to “those who use religion as a tool of division and exclusion” is, of course, a neon sign that they stand opposed to religious conservatives. Well, then I took a look at the statement regarding how FPL came to be founded:

The 2004 elections brought a resurgence in religious advocacy for social and economic justice. Yet the Religious Right continued to dominate public discourse on issues of faith — primarily targeting issues of abortion and homosexuality — and virtually ignoring issues of justice and the common good. In December 2004, national religious leaders –- including Jim Wallis, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rev. Jim Forbes, Rev. Bob Edgar, Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, and Rev. Timothy McDonald — gathered in Washington, DC to confront the challenges facing the burgeoning social justice faith movement. They recognized the critical need for increased and effective collaboration, coordination, and communication on the national, state and local level. The meeting resulted in the creation of Faith in Public Life — a permanent organization providing critical organizing and communications resources to strengthen diverse faith movements that share a call to pursue justice and the common good.

Let’s see: Jim Wallis is America’s foremost spokesman for the Religious Left. Bob Edgar, of course, is the former head of the National Council of Churches. Catherine Pinkerton sits on the Obama campaign’s Catholic Advisory Council. Anybody see a pattern here? Just to drive the point home, consider the boards of directors and advisors of the FLP, which include such luminaries as:

*Board of Directors president Meg Rlley, Director of Advocacy and Witness for the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship.

*Elizabeth Letzler, member of the PCUSA’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee and the Israel-Palestine Network (i.e., an Israel divestment proponent). She’s also been “deeply involved” with FaithAmerica.org, an NCC outfit.

*Nazir Khaja, a Muslim leader who also sits on the board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.

*Fred Rotondaro, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, run by Bill Clinton’s ex-chief of staff John Podesta, which is basically a Democratic Party research organization.

*Susan Thistlethwaite, president of the UCC’s Chicago Seminary, well-known to readers of this blog for her contributions to the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column.

*Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, who also sits on the board (with Communist Party USA leader Judith LeBlanc) of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

So, what we have here is a group of liberal and far left activists, who are going to “help” Rick Warren come up with questions for the two presidential candidates.

Come to your own conclusions on how well that’s going to work.

(Link to the initial USA Today column via T19.)

UPDATE: It seems that Rick Warren is denying that FLP is involved. At least that’s the implication of this statement at the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column”

Is any other organization involved with the Saddleback Civil Forum?

No. This is a Saddleback Church event.

The official press release that Saddleback has put out seems to contradict this, however:

Saddleback Church has invited Faith in Public Life, which hosted a Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania last April, to co-sponsor this special Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion.

And of course the Times article linked above also said that FLP is co-sponsoring the forum.

UPDATE: From an Associated Press article on the forum that appeared today in the Washington Times:

Older-guard evangelical leaders who oppose broadening the agenda have been leaning on Warren. In a stream of statements in the days leading up to the forum, they implored him to press the candidates about their positions on abortion.

Larry Ross, who represents Warren, said the pastor has been consulting with other clergy and with experts in different fields to develop questions for the candidates about leadership, the Constitution, human rights and “sin and righteousness issues.”

“The more liberal camp just assumes that Pastor Warren is going to make this a Christian litmus test of the presidency. Others, who are more conservative, fear he is going to wimp out on some of the issues,” Ross said. “He says, ‘Neither group understands or knows me.’ He’s going to ask tough questions, fair questions, not gotcha questions.”

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