Rick Warren leads ‘Global Summit on AIDS and the Church’ at his Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., in November (WND photo)

Rick Warren’s Southern California megachurch announced today it will host the first joint campaign appearance of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

Warren will moderate the event with the presumed Republican and Democratic presidential nominees Aug.16 at Saddleback Church’s Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion.

“This is a critical time for our nation and the American people deserve to hear both candidates speak from the heart – without interruption – in a civil and thoughtful format absent the partisan ‘gotcha’ questions that typically produce heat instead of light,” Warren said in a statement.

Warren, founding pastor of the 22,000-member church, said the primaries “proved that Americans care deeply about the faith, values, character and leadership convictions of candidates as much as they do about the issues.”

“While I know both men as friends, and they recognize I will be frank, but fair, they also know I will be raising questions in these four areas beyond what political reporters typically ask,” Warren said. “This includes pressing issues that are bridging divides in our nation, such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate and human rights.”

As WND reported, Obama’s appearance in 2006 at Saddleback’s Global Summit on AIDS and the Church stirred controversy when some evangelicals objected to a pro-choice Democrat being given the pulpit of a church that opposes abortion. At last year’s AIDS summit, in November, Sen. Hillary Clinton gave a warmly received speech while Obama and McCain were among several candidates who presented taped messages via satellite.

Warren said that, at the candidates’ request, the two-hour event will be held in a non-debate format and open to all media.

Both candidates want the questions to be posed exclusively by Warren, instead of a panel or members of the audience.

Obama and McCain will each have an hour to converse with Warren, beginning with Obama, as determined by a coin toss.

Warren said his conversations will focus on how the candidates will lead and make decisions rather than their positions on issues.

“Since the oath of the president is a commitment to protect the Constitution, it’s critical to know how each candidate interprets the nature of its principles,” Warren said.

“Leadership involves far more than promoting programs and making speeches, and since no one can predict what crises will happen over the next four years, it is vital to know the decision capacity and process of each man,” he added.

Warren said that in addition to the Civil Forum event, he will convene an interfaith meeting at the church for some 30 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to discuss “cooperation in projects for the common good of all Americans.”

He plans to delivers a special sermon Aug. 17, titled “Making Up Your Mind: Questions to Consider before the Election” that will be streamed live on the church website. Warren said the intent is for it to be used in small-group discussions within churches across the country.

Saddleback’s next Civil Forum, in September, will feature former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“In addition to my primary calling to proclaim the Gospel truth of salvation in Jesus Christ, these Civil Forums further three other life goals: helping individuals accept responsibility, helping the Church regain credibility and encouraging our society to return to civility,” Warren said.


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