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Prodigal party

"Prodigal party" Continued...

Issue: "Faith-based campaigning," Jan. 27, 2007

Strider shares similar theological commitments: His family of four attends Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church across town. When given an opportunity to express his stance on abortion, the former lead staffer of the Democrats' Faith Working Group said he has "never supported criminalization." He believes politicians should work to reduce the number of abortions without making them illegal, a position many Democrats share.

Joshua Dubois, Sen. Obama's director of religious affairs, is guarded in discussing his personal positions. The stepson of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, he did not offer his view of abortion during a WORLD interview, but he spoke readily of his college conversion to Christianity. He said a childhood spent going through the evangelical motions turned into a robust and genuine faith: "I am saved by the grace of God. I'm a strong believer in Jesus Christ."

Such explicit born-again language is more likely to resonate with Bible-believing evangelicals. DuBois, who maintains membership at a United Pentecostal Council Assemblies of God church in Cambridge, Mass., intends to use such credibility to vouch for the authenticity of Obama's faith. "He's also a Christian, a very strong one at that," DuBois said of his employer.

Unlike Clinton, Obama entered the fray of speculation over the 2008 presidential race largely undefined in the minds of American voters. Tapping DuBois to manage the faith outreach of his prospective campaign fits well with the Illinois senator's consistent efforts to project an evangelical image. Obama raised eyebrows on both sides of the political aisle when he spoke at the AIDS conference of evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren last month. The charming Democrat also has broadcast his faith in numerous interviews and speeches since taking national office in 2004.

But does such behavior merit surprise? Many evangelicals contend that Obama does little more than support liberal politics with liberal theology-hardly ground-shaking conduct. His adult conversion to Christianity took place in Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where he and his family remain members. Trinity is an African-American congregation fiercely committed to liberation theology and income redistribution. Such doctrines have largely shaped the faith of a man with little prior religious experience. The stepson of a Muslim, Obama split his early primary education between Islamic and Catholic schools in Jakarta before moving to Hawaii at age 10 to spend adolescence with his white middle-class grandparents, who did not attend church.

DuBois admits that Obama's outspoken faith only appears novel in light of Democrats' recent deference to the party's avowed secularists. In reality, Obama's brand of religiosity amounts to a social gospel, emphasizing the humanitarian example of Jesus over the way His death and resurrection solves humanity's sin problem. "The progressive movement in the early part of the last century was infused with Christian values and people of faith-same with the civil-rights movement," DuBois said. "So this isn't a new thing, but it's a good thing that it's happening now."

Significant portions of the Democratic Party disagree, decrying such an open discussion of faith from their leaders. Many left-leaning bloggers responded to Clinton's and Obama's hiring of religious outreach specialists with the literary equivalent of rolling eyes. "Some folks on the left are uncomfortable with these topics," DuBois said. "There is a constitutional and clear separation between church and state embedded in the fabric of our country. And some folks think that means we have to be separate not only in our legal approach to policy but also who we talk to, who we engage with, whose concerns we can listen to."

Some pundits question whether the chance to scrape off evangelical votes from the GOP is worth the risk Democrats face of deflating their secularist base. But religious consultant Shaun Casey believes political pragmatics will soften any resistance to evangelical outreach: "Even the most hardened secular Democrat can count."

Casey, an associate professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, advises Kerry, among other Democrats, and has helped the Massachusetts senator move beyond the awkward Bible quotes of his 2004 presidential run. Casey wants Kerry to articulate his Catholic sensibility without apology for his many disagreements with official church teaching.

The former minister's theology is often far more conservative than the political candidates he coaches. Casey, 49, attends the evangelistic Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia. He considers himself more of a theologian than a political operative, telling WORLD that no party platform can compare to the gospel of Jesus and His work to save sinners.

Casey argues that the scale of human suffering and worldwide injustice demands government efforts to fund and organize sufficient relief. He dismisses the objection of religious conservatives that government-funded charity excludes spiritual elements, stating that employees and volunteers of such organizations may always share their faith off the clock.

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