The attention-driven Warren, Book III

Fishers of men need the right bait, and Rick Warren's television show had two presidential nominees on the end of the line.

Published August 18, 2008 7:49PM (EDT)

Delving a bit deeper into this Dan Gilgoff interview with Rick Warren, notice that the pastor essentially concedes that a) he knew Barack Obama's position on choice and that the Democratic presidential candidate wasn't going to shift that position; and b) that, of course, not defining life as beginning at conception was a deal breaker for Warren and most of his followers anyway, no matter what else Obama might say.

Though abortion is but one issue, and there has arguably been some movement and even growing agreement between the candidates and parties on other issues (e.g., human trafficking and environmental protection), in the end not much in the way of news or new commitments was elicited from either Obama or John McCain. I'm guessing few evangelicals changed their candidate preferences as a result. Perhaps some nonevangelicals did, and that is an important electoral consequence.

But is that last a consequence of any real concern for Warren? Doubtful. For him, this was an opportunity to do three, related things. First, to soften the image of modern evangelism. Second, to use that softening, and his ability to be the softener, to cast widely (as in broadcast widely) the nets so Warren could be a fisher of men for new devotees. And thus, third, a huge opportunity for Warren to begin to position himself as the Next Big Pastor.

Are Warren and Joel Osteen and others of their ilk an improvement upon the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells and John Hagees? Absolutely. They are more inclusive, less rigid about invoking Scripture, less formal in appearance and in general more accessible.

But their softer images are merely recognition that the fire-and-brimstone routine no longer works. It is change driven of necessity. Fishers of men need the right bait, too. And Warren's show Saturday night was the equivalent of putting 400 pounds' worth of presidential candidates on the hook.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz. Rick Warren