It's understandable that proponents of a clear separation of religion and government were upset that John McCain and Barack Obama dared to participate in a pre-election event held in a California church.

But some of the critics' objections blindly ignore the immense value that could be provided to all voters from the type of discussion the two presidential candidates had.

"I don't see what good it will do for the American people to again hear the candidates spout pious platitudes about their favorite Bible verses or how devout they are," complained the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Perhaps the reverend should follow his own Good Book's advice (Matthew 7:5) to "remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly."

Americans who watched the telecast Saturday night from pastor and author Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., got to hear each candidate discuss the internal compass that guides him on matters, big and small.

Call it faith, or beliefs; it's important. Though each man confessed Christianity, had either been an atheist it would have been just as worthwhile for voters to learn more about the internal guideposts he would use to make presidential decisions.

It was revealing beyond the labels of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" to hear McCain say life begins at conception; not every Christian is so sure. For Obama to say it was beyond his "pay grade" to decide when life exists also provided greater insight into how he thinks. Both men want to place limits on abortion.

Also insightful was hearing each candidate discuss the nature of "evil" and how they would confront it. McCain seemed to take it for granted that evil is something that others (al-Qaeda, for example) want to do to the United States. Obama, though, pointed out that "just because we think our intentions are good doesn't always mean that we're going to be doing good."

Obama said the wisest people he knew were his wife and grandmother. McCain said it was Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus. Who's rich? McCain joked that it takes $5 million. Obama said families making more than $250,000 should be taxed at a higher rate. Both men admitted moral lapses: Obama said it was his drug use as a young man; McCain cited his failed first marriage.

These answers may not mean much now to the 70 percent of white evangelical Christian voters who say they will stick with the Republican candidate. But Obama's remarks about his faith could become more meaningful to them if McCain chooses a pro-choice proponent, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, to be his running mate. That would take away the key distinction for many evangelicals between the Republican and the Democrat.

The value of the Saddleback event, though, goes beyond its discussion of abortion or any single issue. Learning more about the characters of the presidential candidates is important. But next time, the setting doesn't have to be a church.