Like many Americans, I believe that Tuesday night’s debate was not very helpful or civil. President Trump and former Vice-President Biden behaved in ways that would provoke me to discipline my young children if they acted like that in my presence. I knew it would be contentious, but I walked away dumbfounded at the level of disrespect portrayed.
I was thankful to read the following day that the debate commission is going to change the format for future debates (even though it is sad they have to make such alterations). As I processed the aftermath, it made me remember my favorite “debate” that happened 12 years prior to this one. It honestly wasn’t a debate, but the type of interview format used was the most revealing and helpful to understand the candidates.
My favorite format was facilitated by Saddleback Church pastor, Rick Warren, as he interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain on their quest for the White House.
Many people claimed that a pastor didn’t have the right to do this, but he defended that both were friends, that civility in America was lacking, and he invited them to help America get a better picture for both.
- He asked both the same questions
- Only 1 was on stage at a time
- The other was in a booth unable to hear response from opponent
- You got to hear both answer differently regarding the same question
It allowed you to see each candidates positions clearly (even though some of them changed through the years as typically happens), and their content wasn’t merely responses.
You heard what they thought and not just antagonizing statements about what the other thought.
I know that this format won’t be used again, and I do understand the importance of watching how a leader can respond and engage on his feet, but I really wish our citizens could actually hear what current candidates believe.
I really wish Rick Warren’s attitude could also spread at this time.
Read the transcript from his opening.
Welcome to the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. I guess you got my invitation. We’re here in Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Tonight, we’re going to use the interview format with these two candidates. We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics, because faith is just a world view, and everybody has some kind of world view. It’s important to know what they are.
Now, what I decided is to allow for proper comparison, I’m going to ask identical questions to each of these candidates. So you can compare apples to apples. Now, Senator Obama is going to go first. We flipped a coin, and we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence. Now, each of the interviews will be segmented into four different sections. We’re going to look at four different things, and the number of questions answered in each segment will depend on how succinct the senator is.
I have to tell you up front, both of these guys are my friends. I don’t happen to agree with everything each of them teach or believe, but they both care deeply about America. They’re both patriots. And they have very different views on how America can be strengthened. In America, we’ve got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other and we need to restore civility — Yes. We need to restore civility in our civil discourse, and that’s the goal of the Saddleback Civil Forum.
So let’s get started.
After he concluded both interviews, Rick Warren concluded:
America is the freedom of speech — even the freedom to protest this meeting. That’s a good thing. But we have to learn how to have civility in our civilization, how to stop being rude, how to stop demonizing each other, how to have a discussion and a debate because we all want America to be a greater place.
God bless you.
A Call for Civility and Clarity
I am sure that this format from 12-years-ago is archaic and obsolete, but I wish we could see something like this again. Most would never considered that a pastor could provide a helpful direction to navigate polarized times, but I was very appreciative of it.
I will remind you once more of a great line from the night:
In America, we’ve got to learn to disagree without demonizing each other and we need to restore civility.Rick Warren
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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