The Common Good

Democrat Obama Urges Response to Religious Right

Source: Reuters
Date: June 28, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats must shed their reluctance to talk about faith and reach out to evangelical Christians and other churchgoing Americans, a leading new voice in the party said on Wednesday.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said Democrats need to respond to the religious right, which has increased its clout in recent years and twice helped elect President George W. Bush.

"If we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons will continue to hold sway," Obama said, naming two outspoken right-wing Christian figures.

Conservative religious leaders have put Democrats on the defensive by pushing such divisive issues as opposition to abortion and gay rights.

In a speech to conference on poverty hosted by Sojourners, a progressive faith-based group, Obama said Democrats should be willing to explain themselves in moral terms while respecting the separation of church and state.

"I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people.

"After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan," Obama said.

"They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness -- in the imperfections of man."

A freshman U.S. lawmaker and the only black senator, Obama is seen as a rising political star -- one willing to give his party advice and warnings.

"Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith -- the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps -- off rhythm -- to the gospel choir," Obama said, drawing applause and laughter.

There needs to be a "sense of proportion" in policing the boundaries between church and state. "Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," he said.

"It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God;' I certainly didn't."