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Faith, Race and Politics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Last Thursday evening I sat in the green room of the Hannity and Colmes show. It had already been a long week. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to point the nation to my new book Personal Faith, Public Policy. On the other hand, I was concerned about how black viewers would respond to my statements about Jeremiah Wright or Senator Obama. There has been an unspoken sentiment among blacks that we have to support Senator Obama at all costs.

One black minister after another had appeared on TV defending Rev. Wright and Senator Obama. No leading ministers wanted to throw Dr. Wright “under the bus.” Therefore, they characterized liberation theology as a mainstream belief system, although it is not embraced by strongly evangelical, black congregations. Their defense of Dr. Wright’s views made the entire black church seem prejudiced.

Once on the air, my jitters disappeared. It was a great opportunity for me to share that the Church must lead the way in solving the problem of race in America. My loyalty to biblical faith is greater than my allegiance to my ethnic group. Many ministers under 40 years of age share my feeling, while those over 60 are often entrenched in an antiquated, old school, civil rights mindset.

After the program, I made a decision to be a greater agent of racial reconciliation than ever before. In 1981, I led a team that pioneered a new church in Corning, New York that was 95 -97% white. As the senior leader, I had to confront my own anger and bitterness in order to develop the church. My white co-author, Tony Perkins, and I share a common goal to assist the Church in uniting to solve the seven most pressing problems of our day, including race.

We believe it’s time for all Americans to get past race based politics. The greatest bridge available to us is biblical faith and common values founded on the scriptures. Although change and unity have become new mantras for liberal voters, the most tested road map to get them there is biblical unity.

As I reflected on my whirlwind week, I thought about Senator Obama’s speech. The nation wanted to hear more about the Senator personal views and his faith. The real question on everyone’s mind was simply, “Is Obama a hypocrite?” Evangelicals of both parties wanted to examine the orthodoxy of his faith. “Is he really one of us?” is the concern of this huge voting block. Giving simple answers that addressed these questions would have served the Senator much better than his academic response.

Senator Obama’s speech was not heroic; it was an attempt to prevent a complete nose dive of his campaign. Political survival was his goal. Therefore, the Senator took the safest route in this national discussion--- he educated the masses about race relations---but he did not let the nation into his private world or inside of his head. What Obama did not do was take enough personal responsibility for the chasm between his unity message and his personal life. Some may even have seen his relationship with Dr. Wright as a kind of spiritual adultery---just as dangerous to the nation’s health as Governor Spitzer’s or Governor McGreevy’s sins.

Obama missed a huge opportunity to reach out and connect with the broader evangelical, faith community. Many non-black, Bible believing Christians have questioned the orthodoxy of the Senator’s faith. Evangelicals are troubled by the senator’s position on abortion and traditional marriage.

Though brilliant on the surface, last week’s speech wrongly characterized the problem with his minister’s preaching as solely a problem of race. In my view this controversy is more a matter of personal honesty and faith. I agree with Ken Blackwell’s critique of liberation theology. He wrote the following statement last Tuesday, “Liberation Theology... is a belief system about political agendas, socialistic economic policy, and redistribution of wealth.”

The fact is that neither the Senator nor his pastor is qualified to solve this race question in our nation. At the risk of sounding impractical, let me remind everyone that racism is a spiritual problem. It is a matter of the heart, first of all. And because it is truly a spiritual problem, it will require the involvement of a unified, emotionally focused church to lead us toward racial reconciliation.

The time is right to heal America! I’m ready. What about you?

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