Jim Rutenberg credits it to God, but the sudden decision by Barack Obama to reverse himself and attend a joint function with John McCain has a lot more to do with wooing God’s flock than anything else.  Rick Warren of the huge Southern California Saddleback Church will “interview” each candidate separately in front of the flock on August 16th.  They will only share the stage for the briefest of moments, and the only one asking questions will be Reverend Warren:

The Rev. Rick Warren has persuaded the candidates to attend a forum at his Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif., on Aug. 16. In an interview, Mr. Warren said over the weekend that the presidential candidates would appear together for a moment but that he would interview them in succession at his megachurch.

Word of the forum came as a leading conservative Christian, James C. Dobson, signaled that he might reverse his position and endorse Mr. McCain, The Associated Press reported. …

“I just got to thinking, you know what? These guys have never been together on the same stage, it would be a neat way to cap the primary season before they both go to the conventions and things go dark for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I’ve known both the guys for a long time, they’re both friends of mine, and I knew them before they ran for office, so I just called them up.”

He said that both had readily agreed, perhaps reflecting how each candidate is courting the evangelical audience to whom Mr. Warren ministers.

Rutenberg identified Obama’s motivation for his reversal clearly, although it isn’t terribly difficult to deduce.  Obama wants to make inroads among evangelicals, and Rick Warren leads a large and influential group of them.  He won’t find a friendlier venue, given his personal relationship with Warren, and Warren tells Rutenberg that he doesn’t plan asking tough questions of either candidate.

Still, with Dobson already signaling a pending endorsement for McCain, it may come as too little, too late for Obama.  A Dobson endorsement would give the clearest signal of the season to evangelicals that despite their initial resistance to McCain, the election comes down to a choice — and that Obama is bad enough to push longtime McCain critic Dobson into an endorsement.  Warren may not ask Obama about abortion with his insistence on keeping things light at Saddleback, but evangelicals are not going to forget Obama’s support for abortion, especially late-term abortion:

“There’s nothing dishonorable in a person rethinking his or her positions, especially in a constantly changing political context,” Dobson said in a statement to the AP. “Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything I believe about the institution of the family and what is best for the nation. His radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice, John McCain.”

While the media will undoubtedly celebrate this as a compromise on McCain’s town-hall challenge, it is a measure of Obama that he won’t even agree to take questions or debate McCain in a venue this friendly.  Obama still can’t bring himself to engage McCain in a spontaneous environment, even with Reverend Warren at his side to ensure that it remains pleasant, and in this case superficial.  How exactly will Obama deal with America’s enemies when he can’t even share a stage for more than a moment with his political opponent?

And do you suppose that the Fort Hood Presidential Town Hall Consortium wonders how a spot miraculously opened on Obama’s schedule?  They have been asking Obama for weeks to attend their town-hall forum in August on any day available.  It seems that Obama has only enough courage to appear at Saddleback Church and not the men and women of the military.