Christian conservatives attending the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, Ia., Friday evening listened to seven Republican presidential candidates share personal, emotionally charged stories regarding praying for God's help, asking for forgiveness for a mistake, or questioning God for the suffering they were experiencing.
The Thanksgiving-themed forum was hosted by the Iowa evangelical Christian advocacy group, The Family Leader. The group reported more than 1,100 people and 100 members of national and international media attended the event, which was held at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center. A Des Moines Register reporter stated the event, at times, took on the "confessional, open-hearted mood of a small group Bible study discussion."
Political consultant Frank Luntz moderated the discussion, bringing questions "unlike anything you'll ever see on a mainstream media debate," stated The Family Leader spokesperson after the forum. One example came with Luntz presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina if she should share with him in his own grief any lessons of faith she learned from the death of her daughter. The Leader organizers thought it was one of the most touching moments of the evening.
Ben Carson, previously a neurosurgeon, depicted the heartbreak of losing a patient, the only child of a single mother.
Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz expressed agony of his parents' divorce.
Carly Fiorina, a former technology company executive, relayed how she could barely eat anything when she was fighting cancer, except for the grilled cheese sandwiches her husband, Frank, made for her.
Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, discussed the heavyweight he felt of dealing with the death penalty as governor of Arkansas and detailed the struggle to sign off on the execution of convicts.
Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul talked about a soldier with missing limbs, and about building houses for wounded vets.
Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio shared stories about his late father's childhood, and his parents were working long hours to sacrifice for their kids.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, spoke emotionally about the death of his son, at 2 hours old, after his wife developed an infection 21 weeks into the pregnancy. He revealed "a bitterness of spirit" he felt when doctors told him his son would die.
"This is a beating, running for president of the United States," Santorum said and asked the audience to pray for him and all of his rivals.
The Forum also marked the global launch of If 7:14, an international prayer initiative calling on God's people to prayer and repentance, seeking God for both personal and national healing, according to The Family Leader. The group stated on its website: "With the help of musical superstars the Newsboys and an exciting new app that will engage and unites believer around the world, If 7:14 is igniting a global rhythm of united prayer."
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student David Closson indicated he was really struck by the candid comments of the candidates, and liked Rubio's statement, "The family is the most important school our children will ever attend," and that "We need strong families and marriages."
The Minnesota Family Council called the forum "a night of heartfelt answers from #Election2016 candidates."