Between the lines of the coverage of Rick Warren's forum with the two major presidential candidates was a rather significant development: A pastor, not a member of the media, was asking the questions and controlling the agenda of the first major presidential contest in 2008. Plenty has been said in the media about Warren and how he arrived at this rather significant moment in his life. What hasn't been said as much is that the church in a sense replaced the media Saturday night.
The general sense I get from the coverage of the event is that Warren was somehow able to ask questions that mainstream media types would be less comfortable asking. I guess someone somewhere decided that the public desired these types of questions as opposed to the questions asked by Wolf Blitzer. But is it the public that has changed or is it the media? Or is it the church? Or is it just Warren?
No clear answer emerges from the coverage I've surveyed, but there are some clues.
Here is the San Diego Union-Tribune's relatively brief analysis of Warren, which relies heavily on John Green, a senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:
LAKE FOREST -- That Pastor Rick Warren was able to put together the first joint appearance of the presumptive 2008 presidential nominees cements his status as one of the rising stars of the evangelical movement.
"It's very significant," said John Green, a senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "One of the hallmarks of the 2008 presidential campaign up to this point has been the increased level of discussion of faith and values."
Voicing similar themes, The Los Angeles Times writes that the event demonstrates that Warren is "among the most significant evangelists of his generation." We can quibble with the use of the term "evangelists" in the lead, but on a more significant note, when was the last time a pastor of a church (yes, a very big church) was able to command the presence on a single night of the Democratic and Republican candidates for leader of the free world?
Warren's local newspaper The Orange County Register writes that Warren hoped to use the forum to redefine politics. Whether or not Warren is successful or not at redefining politics, he certainly has taken a major step in helping redefine politics and its relationship with the media.
Whether or not we should give Warren all the credit (or blame) for this is certainly not a matter that can be decided today. But I am hoping that there is some media coverage out there that will discuss how we got to this point and whether the media's ability (or inability) to understand the vitally important subject of religion has anything to do with it.
Photo of Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church used under a Wikimedia Commons license.