LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Many attending the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency Aug. 16 said they were there for a variety of reasons, but all agreed it was a big event because it was the first of its kind -– both of the presumed presidential candidates answering questions from an evangelical pastor in a non-debate format.
“This is a great opportunity to hear the next president express his views on issues we are concerned about,” said Ron Dacko, a Saddleback member who was accompanied by his wife. “When we hear and learn about the positions of the candidates, it might help us shape our opinion and help us decide how to vote.”
Sandi Polasek, a 10-year member of Saddleback, said, “I’m here to honor [Saddleback Pastor] Rick [Warren] and what he is doing in helping us make a decision concerning the president. I want to find out where each one stands from a moral perspective.”
She added that she wanted her son, 17-year-old Tyler, to see the candidates and help educate him about voting and being informed. Tyler, who cannot vote in this election because of his age, said, “This might help me decide if I want to keep whoever is elected this year [when I can vote] in four years.”
Most of those interviewed received their tickets through a lottery process conducted by the church. Only about 3,000 were admitted to the Saddleback worship center while others were relegated to watch the forum via video feed in two other locations on the Saddleback campus in Orange County, California.
Two of those who had tickets for one of the alternate viewing locations were Guy Torelli and Teresa Nichols, both Saddleback members. Torelli said he thought it would be “awesome to attend” and was “shocked when I got a ticket.”
He wanted to attend because “something like this has never happened before. Even Billy Graham was never able to pull something like this off.” He added he didn’t know “what to expect I would learn.”
Nichols quipped, “We are not here to make up our minds, we’ve already sorted it out.”
But not all who braved the heat and a line that at one time stretched the length of a football field to enter the main venue had sorted it out. One of those was Saddleback member Jason Ip. “I want to hear the viewpoints of the two senators and learn about their perspectives, not necessarily on political views, but their position of power to make this world a better place for all mankind, not just those of us living in the U.S.”
Eddie Pate, director of the Kim School of Global Missions at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and a former member of the church, said he wanted to attend not only because it was “a big event [but] I’m excited to see what Rick does. I know he’ll do a great job.”
After the forum, Pate said it was all he expected. “I saw three rock stars tonight. The event was very conversational, although the questions were a lot harder than I had expected. Rick was good. He was just Rick.”
Pate said he thought both candidates did well.
“I liked both men’s testimony and what they had to say about faith. I was impressed with McCain’s humor and was surprised at his animation throughout the forum.”
Fermín A. Whittaker, executive director of California Southern Baptist Convention, attended because he wanted to hear “what both men had to say and to dispel what the media presents each man to be. I believe this venue will help me in evaluate the candidates and make a decision, because I felt as though I heard very honest and personal responses from both candidates tonight.”
Terry Barone is communications group leader for the California Southern Baptist Convention.