Riding Low in the Saddleback

By Eleanor Carmichael

It was hotter than Hell when I arrived at Saddleback Church (my former parish—no, seriously) for the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look forward to sitting in the main worship center near Rick Warren, Barack Obama or John McCain.

OC Weekly usually gets identified as “alternative” media. At Saddleback, we earned another A-word: “auxiliary,” which meant I was bound for room 404, the auxiliary press room—along with the likes of the San Francisco Chronicle, KNX Radio AM 1070 and (shudder) the Register. But after baking in the sun for two hours, I was ready to declare, “Praise the Lord and pass the a/c,” as I settled between a pair of suspicious-looking correspondents from the Reg (I think they figured out that I sat next to them on purpose), and two others from KBRT radio, who gave me a friendly nod. Saddleback Church, which clearly never does anything halfway, plied us with mountains of Costco pizza and rivers of soda just before the video feed started. So there I was, in the same building (or at least the same 120 acres) with the candidates, the cleric, and 3,000 folks who could either afford the ticket prices or had it in good with Rick Warren (not a big Obama crowd, to say the least).

And yet, armed with cheese pizza and a Diet Coke, I watched the Forum the same way the rest of America did: on TV.

Obama spoke first in the interview-style forum as determined by a coin toss. His answers to questions such as “How do you define marriage?” and “At what point does a baby get human rights?” seemed honest and predictable, if a bit more religiously flavored than usual. After an hour, it was McCain’s turn. His answers were also predictable, though much more entertaining over in the press room. When asked, “What is rich?” he offered the figure of $5 million, adding that he knew the comment would be distorted. My silent agreement was echoed by one lone reporter, who shouted, “You bet!”

While the Forum continued inside the church, protests raged outside. In an e-mail I received a couple of days before the Forum, ANSWER LA and the OC Peace Coalition proclaimed to be protesting “the war, etc.” Since I didn’t make it out of the church until 7:30 p.m. due to masses of traffic, I only caught the tail end of the shouts along Portola Parkway about everything from Ron Paul to ending the War in Iraq to re-investigating 9/11.

The Forum was aired live on KDOC, CNN and FOX News and streamed online. Warren’s service on Sunday morning, titled, “Making up Your Mind: Questions to Consider Before the Election,” will be streamed live on the church’s website at saddlebackfamily.com. I think I’ll be skipping this sermon. I’d hate to get there and find myself watching it on TV. Again.


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