Six of the eight Republican presidential candidates gather today in Des Moines, Iowa for what is billed as a "Thanksgiving Family Forum," the Des Moines Register reports.
The event was organized by "The Family Leader" evangelical Christian policy and advocacy group based in Iowa.
Family Leader CEO Bob Van De Plaats says on the group's website the event at the First Federated Church in Des Moines is not a debate.
He says the forum will be a chance for Iowa voters to look deep inside the candidates, "to learn about their world views and listen to their hearts on key family issues."
The six candidates who will be seated shoulder to shoulder facing the audience include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman declined to attend the forum.
Tom Minnery, Executive Director of CitizenLink which is among the Christian groups hosting the event, said about the event, "I think we'll try to get beneath sound-bites and talking points to get to the issues of the heart to see what motivates these people."
"We really want to make it like a conversation around the table, much more relaxed than people are seeing," Minnery adds.
Not everyone is pleased with the event, reports the Register.
The Reverend Barry Lynn who heads the group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a statement, "It's a shame that so many candidates see fit to attend this fundamentalist Christian inquisition masquerading as a debate."
"Our nation faces many serious problems, but a lack of religion in our politics isn't one of them. In fact, this election has already become deeply entrenched with religion with four candidates now claiming that God told them to run. Enough is enough," Lynn continued.
Event organizers said they were disappointed that Romney declined to take part, believing it would have been a friendly environment for him.
Dr. Frank Luntz will be the moderator for most of the event with Minnery and National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown also getting a turn at asking questions.
Some 2,500 people and 160 members of the media will attend the forum.
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