I recently took the time to watch the Presidential Family Forum, an event that involved a number of Republican Presidential candidates sitting around a Thanksgiving table and talking about issues near and dear to social conservatives. I would highly recommend it to you. Do not let its length turn you off; in our "soundbyte" day and age, you rarely get the opportunity to see in-depth, substantive political conversations. (You can skip the first 30 or 40 minutes of the video, however. There's a lot of event "warmup.")
A few general takeaways:
1. Frank Lutz surprised me. I cannot stand his "focus group" thing, but on the whole he asked substantive questions. Only once did he request a "show of hands" from the candidates. And they refused! It was completely fabulous.
2. I am not a fan of asking deep theological questions of candidates. I do not expect the President of the United States to be a theologian, and Frank's question, "Where was God on 9/11?" strikes me as unfair, even if it was revealing. Asking a candidate to give an account of theodicy (or, the "problem of evil") is sort of ridiculous. Be that as it may, the contrast between the two candidates who answered was very interesting. Ben Carson gave an all-too-common "free will" defense: God values our libertarian free will to such an extent he's incapable of preventing evil. I know lots of people (a majority?) are somehow satisfied with this answer, but it doesn't really answer what it thinks it's answering. On the other hand, Marco Rubio decided to wade in and go the opposite direction: God is sovereign. He is alway reigning. Jesus was on his throne on 9/11. He is moving in mysterious ways. We may not understand God's purposes in human suffering, but he has grand purposes. And that's why we call it faith. A refreshingly Augustinian (and biblical) approach to a complicated question. I wanted to reach through my screen and pinch Marco Rubio: are you real? I mean, I've never seen Marco stumped by any question, anywhere, at any time, but of all questions liable to trip him up, I would've thought it would be the problem of evil.
3. I cannot imagine the Democrats having such a discussion. What would they talk about? The chasm between the parties and their competing visions is staggering.
4. I did not like everything everyone said. But taken as a whole, my overall takeaway is that we have an incredible group of quality people running for President. It is an embarrassment of riches, really. None of the candidates come across as phony in any way (well, a couple of times I thought Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz had moments of "veneer"), and many of their testimonies to what God has done in their lives were deeply moving.
These are people of character. That's been in short supply in American leadership for a long time. I'm thankful for them.