Barack Obama threw out the traditional Democratic Party playbook when he launched his “hope and change” campaign for president. He targeted a constituency previously unknown to Democrats. This targeted group was white, evangelical Christians. Considerable inroads with them have been forged by Obama.
Obama discussed going after the evangelical voter at a CNN-sponsored debate in January. He believes they are needed in order for him to win the general election in November. “I think there have been times -- there have been times where our Democratic Party did not reach out as aggressively as we could to evangelicals, for example, because the assumption was, well, they don’t agree with us on choice, or they don’t agree with us on gay rights, and so we just shouldn’t show up…I think we can go after those folks and get them.” Evangelicals are the key to unlocking the prize for this change and hope Democrat.
Obama’s campaign has made a concerted effort to garner Christian votes. He regularly attends mega-evangelical churches, those never before visited by black politicians. An early move by Obama’s campaign included the hiring of Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs. His job is to vouch for the authenticity of the senator’s faith with evangelicals, and he maintains a “faith forum” for discussions about the role of faith in politics at the religious outreach section of the candidate’s Web site. In addition to that, DuBois posts updates on the Web site with Obama’s latest media and events related to religion.
Not only does Obama have a religious outreach adviser, but he is working to convince white evangelicals that a liberal agenda is consistent with the Bible. DuBois’ job includes helping the Democratic candidate connect with evangelicals and articulate the idea that federally-funded healthcare, poverty and foreign-aid programs are congruent with biblical mandates to help the poor.
“The problem is, who can say that it’s genuine or whether it’s just a ploy to get votes?” queried white Pastor Ron Carpenter after Obama spoke for seven minutes at his 8,000-member church in South Carolina last October. The Democratic candidate’s campaign surprised Carpenter when they notified him about their plan to visit his multi-racial Pentecostal church. Not only did he do it, but Obama also appeared at a Christian AIDS summit sponsored by famous mega-church pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay.
The plan to woo evangelicals was masterful and working until his minister, Jeremiah Wright, hit the TV news channels. It appears support from this newly converted group is slipping away in the aftermath of the disturbing revelations about his pastor of 20 years, Rev. Wright. Wright’s hate-filled, racist, anti-American ranting, profanity and taking the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t sit well with most Americans, but they are especially distasteful to Christians. Such venomous and hateful words go against the basic tenets of evangelical Christianity.
Barak Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is dedicated to Black Liberation Theology and income redistribution. This liberal theology goes hand-in-hand with the liberal politics which Obama espouses. Obama’s faith is heavily based in the social gospel, meaning an emphasis is placed on the humanitarian example of Jesus. Humanity’s need for a savior to pay the debt due because of sin, which is satisfied by Christ’s death and resurrection, is relegated to the sidelines.
Obama’s theology is now the subject of intense review on several Christian Web sites. What is raising eyebrows with evangelicals is what Obama said while speaking at a town-hall forum in North Carolina on March 26, 2008. When asked, he spoke about his Christian faith and then mentioned his late mother who was “not a believer.” He continued, "But she was the kindest, most decent, generous person that I have ever known," Obama said. "I'm sure she is in heaven, even though she may not have subscribed to everything that I subscribe to."
A basic tenet of evangelicals is that people believe in Jesus Christ in order to go to heaven. Evangelicals do not believe the door of heaven is open to every “kind” and “generous person.”
All of Obama’s hard work at packaging to persuade the white evangelical vote may have been hindered by the proverbial genie being let out of the lamp. And once the genie escapes, it’s nearly impossible to squeeze him back in before damage can be done. Time will tell how much ground Obama has lost with evangelicals, and if he will be able to win back some evangelical voters who will make the difference between winning and losing in November.