ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Sen. Barack Obama ended a week’s focus on values by giving a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church a personal account of his spiritual journey and a promise that he will make “faith-based” social service “a moral center of my administration.”
The address was delivered to one of the oldest and largest African-American denominations.
“In my own life,” Obama said, “it’s been a journey that began decades ago on the South Side of Chicago, when, working as a community organizer, helping to build struggling neighborhoods, I let Jesus Christ into my life. I learned that my sins could be redeemed and that if I placed my trust in Christ, that he could set me on the path to eternal life when I submitted myself to his will and I dedicated myself to discovering his truth and carrying out his works.”
He suggested that he would apply the lessons of his faith to the problems he would face if he became president. “The challenges we face today – war and poverty, joblessness and homelessness, violent streets and crumbling schools – are not simply technical problems in search of a 10-point plan,” he said. “They are moral problems, rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness, in the imperfections of man. And so the values we believe in – empathy and justice and responsibility to ourselves and our neighbors – these cannot only be expressed in our churches and our synagogues, but in our policies and in our laws.”
Obama has been far more outspoken about his religious beliefs than his presumptive rival, Sen. John McCain. Evangelical Christian leaders have remained skeptical, however, that Obama’s faith comports with their own, especially given his support for gay and abortion rights. James Dobson, the influential leader of Focus on the Family, last month accused Obama of “deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.”
But Obama said Saturday that he is optimistic about his ability to win support among evangelical Christians – at least to hold down McCain’s margins. McCain has had his share of problems with the group since he described some evangelical Christian leaders as agents of intolerance following his losing 2000 campaign. Dobson, for instance, continues to say he will never vote for the Republican.
Last month, Obama met in Chicago with Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and the leader of the Graham ministry, along with about 30 other evangelical Christian leaders. McCain sought an audience with Franklin and Billy Graham last week in North Carolina.