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Sweet Column: Obama--Democrats have something to say to people of faith.

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During the 2004 Illinois Senate race, GOP nominee Alan Keyes, facing certain crushing defeat from rival Barack Obama, suggested that Jesus Christ would not back the Democratic contender.

"And I think you remember my response, which was, I wanted to know who his pollster was," Obama joked to Fox News host Alan Colmes on Oct. 26, 2004.

(a copy of the speech is in an earlier post)


"Because if I have a chance to talk to Jesus, I'm going to be talking to him about eternal life and the meaning and purpose of my work here. I'm not going to be worrying about who he's voting for in the Senate race."

Obama's lighthearted responses at that time included a quip about not being on the ballot for "Minister of Illinois."

On Wednesday, Obama revealed that Keyes' assertions ate at him more than he let on and in a sense prompted some personal soul-searching as the freshman senator pondered the role faith in general -- and his in particular -- had to do with shaping policy and politics in the United States.

"But Mr. Keyes' implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer didn't adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and beliefs.

Taken from chapter in new book

"My dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we've been having in this country for the last 30 years over the role of religion in politics.''

These reflections came in a keynote address Obama delivered Wednesday to a conference sponsored by Sojourners/Call to Renewal, a liberal evangelical group whose major focus is on fighting poverty in this rich nation.

Obama, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who also spoke the last few days at the organization's convention in Washington, all received standing ovations. The group is led by influential Christian thinker and writer the Rev. Jim Wallis. The evangelicals also heard from Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

Obama's speech was adopted from a chapter on faith included in his upcoming book, The Audacity of Hope, to be published in October. While Clinton's camp treated her speech routinely -- her office did not have a copy for release -- the Obama team used it as a setting for a major policy address.

The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign paid a lot of attention to evangelicals in 2004 -- especially those who stayed home in 2000 -- and President Bush won a second term with 76 percent of the evangelicals, according to exit polls.

Obama has an important message about the need for Democrats to reach out to people of faith in America and not make concessions to the right-wingers who claim moral superiority. It's similar to a campaign for faith-based voters being waged by Dean. Obama's team also made sure there were messengers to get his message heard.

Obama's office handed out the speech in advance to wire service reporters so a story would be on the desks of assigning editors when they looked at the morning news roundup from the wires, hopefully influencing their coverage decisions. Interviews on CNN and Fox were booked before he even gave the speech. Wednesday night, Obama was scheduled for another interview on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes." Today, Obama will be on ABC's "Good Morning America" and CNN's "American Morning."

'A choice and not an epiphany'

Religion is no small matter to Barack Hussein Obama. But it has not always been that way.

"I was not raised in a particularly religious household. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just 2, was Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, I did, too.

"It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma,'' he said. His embrace of Christianity was "a choice and not an epiphany," and his spiritual home is Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

All too often, the "values vote" is seen as Republican. Democrats have been trying for years to make the conversation broader -- not just about gay marriage or posting the Ten Commandments in a public place, but about the morality of budget choices Congress makes every day. Obama goes a little further in making the suggestion that "voluntary student prayer groups" in school "should not be a threat."

Or as Obama put it, "In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons will continue to hold sway.''

Read the entire Obama speech on faith at my blog: http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/

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9 Comments

As a recovering Baptist, now in a UCC Church in Vt., you express my thoughts completely. Have just read "The Heart of Christianity" by Marcus Brog. Will support you and your ideas however I can.

As a Veteran I know we fought for God an Country. Obama is right here on reaching out but not just Democrats. The Right has to step out an stop this one religion idea. I bled for freedom of religion. Not just one.America is a people of faith not just one idea.And I do not an will not embrace the end days idea of certain people.

I was at Pentacost 2006 where Obama spoke. All the media coverage has focused upon Obama as a Democrat. What I heard was Obama as a Christian. The focus of the conference at which he spoke was a New Covenant calling for raising the minimum wage, seeking to end child poverty in America, and increasing the US contributions to the MDGs agreed upon by Bush to eradicate extreme global povery (where over a billion people live on wages of less than a dollar a day). Although I'm a Democrat, I don't think poverty should be a partisan issue. Our failure to place poverty in the middle of the political agenda is a moral choice. It's sad that the media's attention has focused upon whether Democrats can be openly Christian rather than on the fact that millions of American children of working parents still go to bed hungry or don't ever get to see a dentist.
I will be blogging more about the conference at cracksinthefacade.com.

How can a person who VIOLATES COMMANDMENT #1 THOU SHALL NOT KILL (ABORTION), be a person serious christians could vote for. People who are por have my deepest sympathies ,but the smallest and defenseless have no chance at all? This guy a christian ,NO ,this guy a HYPOCRITE , yes! Thats what this guy and his party miss. Defend the defenseless, honor life, do not kill. Love God. I see right thru this clown, he opened up an argument he can't and never will win, chose life.Not debateable! Same thing with that phony Bishop that blogs here, where is he on abortion? Nowhere. These hypocrites cant address the real issues.

There is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian. Paul said it best when he chided fallen Christians centuries ago. "you are neither hot nor cold. You are Lukewarm."
Excuse my paraphrasing, please. I think you get the gist. Obama is first and foremost a politician. Like our president, he is serving more than one master. I don't listen to any politician that uses religion to gain a following. I commend Obama in that he is using his popularity to express some spirituality. It would be instant death for most Democrats because of their "wingnut" ideas. As I said before, real Christians are not lukewarm or cold, they pattern their lives to be of service to the Lord and their neighbors. Obama nor most of the politicians that I can think of fit that definition. You liberals who have a leaning toward spirituality need to be wary of Kenyans bearing gifts. The Reps. already fell victim to a Texan who claimed to be bearing riches of faith. His record and his cabinet do not substantiate the promise.

Carl that is what you believe not all people feel the same way.That is what I mean one idea is not all ideas. Your only pushing want you believe and that is not the Christtian at all.

Dale who wants life advice from you, all you do is whine and cry. You have no answers and seem tobe a very disturbed liberal.You seem pretty judgemental, actually all of you Obama apoligists are very judgemental of anyone who critizes Obama, wow . Here are the defenders of a do nothing senator. Typical of a bunch of Chicago voters, who have no brains. You let Daley steal from you with his ghost payrollers, his private army of publicly funded precint workers, keep electing him. You have Dick "Our boys are Nazi's" Durbin keep voting for him, Barack "Do Nothing" Obama and vote for him. What has Obama ever done in the Senate nobody has answered that yet! Nothing. Has he worked to feed the poor , no. Has he figured how to win the war on terror , no. Yea , he is a leader. He isn't getting a free pass from me , you bunch of simpleton's. Sheep, B A A A A A A !!!!

Dale , the guy has an opinion. Look at the goofy stuff you write with your wacked out conspiracy theories. Your not christian, you support abortionist politicians. What planet are you from? You telling me that you can believe murder is good and still be a christian? Nice, typical liberal.

Obama said some truth in his speech, but I don't expect it to resonate much with evangelicals. His view of Christianity (i.e., no hell) is heterodox at best in their eyes. At worst, he'd be considered an apostate. On the other hand, it's amazing how much we're willing to swallow as long at the other guy (Bush) believes the same things we do about God.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on June 29, 2006 6:29 AM.

Rahm Emanuel: Back to back news conferences today. was the previous entry in this blog.

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