Preaching The Gospel

Monday, November 3, 2008

Preach and Reach - Part II

Preach and Reach
Despite his liberal record, Barack Obama is making a lot of evangelicals think twice.
John W. Kennedy |

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The Chicago meeting focused primarily on abortion and gay marriage. "You can't help but listen to the man and come away believing he's given a fair amount of thought to these issues," Cizik says. "I was both impressed by him and inclined to disagree with him."

Obama has succeeded in gaining the attention of conservative evangelicals in a way that Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, and Al Gore failed to during their respective presidential bids. He has done this in part by doing the unexpected. For instance, in July Obama proposed expanding President Bush's faith-based initiative, which many liberals opposed from the get-go over church-state separation concerns. Obama has also succeeded in winning over at least one very high profile Bush supporter: Kirbyjon Caldwell, the Houston megachurch pastor. Caldwell offered the benediction at both of George W. Bush's presidential inaugurations, and he performed the wedding ceremony of Bush's daughter Jenna in May.

Last year, the pastor of the largest United Methodist church in the nation attended an Obama fundraiser and said he was deeply impressed. As Caldwell handed him a campaign donation check, Obama told Caldwell that he remembered a speech Caldwell had given 20 years earlier at Harvard, and that he had been following the pastor's career ever since.

Another prominent African American leader, Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., isn't in the Obama camp. But Jackson says McCain's relative silence on conservative social issues has motivated evangelicals to take a second look at Obama.

The short supply of evangelical enthusiasm for any single Republican candidate has also worked to Obama's advantage. "There is tremendous apathy on the Religious Right," says Jackson. "Folks are feeling betrayed and left out. That can work in Obama's favor."

Wilfredo De Jesús, 44-year-old senior pastor of New Life Covenant, an Assemblies of God church in Chicago with an attendance of 4,000, says Obama is the first Democratic candidate he has ever supported. Until now, De Jesús says, opposing abortion and homosexuality have been the paramount moral issues for him. But De Jesús says Obama's comments about the mistreatment of illegal immigrants have led him to put more emphasis on immigration in terms of advocacy and ministry.

Stumbling Blocks

Still, an August Gallup poll indicated that McCain would trounce Obama 53 to 37 percent among those who attend worship services weekly. "The Christian Right's core voters are still primarily concerned with abortion and gay rights," says Wheaton College associate professor Amy Black, author of Beyond Left and Right. "They will stay in the Republican Party."

"It's hard to be more pro-abortion than Hillary Clinton, but Obama seems to have done it," says David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRTLC). Here is a snapshot of Obama's voting record:

He voted three times in the Illinois Legislature to stymie legislation designed to keep alive newborn survivors of abortions.

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