1/18/08 Dallas Morning News
Doug LeBlanc is a conservative evangelical and a Republican who is
considering doing something he hasn't thought about since before the
Reagan era _ voting for a Democrat for president.
And not just any Democrat _ he's taken by Barack Obama.
Why Obama? Because to LeBlanc, a Virginia writer active in Episcopal
Church controversies, the Illinois senator would bring to the White
House "a decisive break from President Bush's foreign policy, a
shattering of the racial ceiling on the presidency, youthful energy
and an exceptionally bright mind."
LeBlanc is not alone on the right. Despite being even more liberal
on policy matters than rival Hillary Clinton, Obama provokes
remarkably little dread among Republicans. For conservatives tempted
by Obama, his charm and empathy soothe conservative anxieties,
especially when compared with the frightful Hillary Clinton.
What's more, the promise that Obama could represent a decisive break
with the divisive racial politics practiced by Jesse Jackson and Al
Sharpton, and lead the nation toward authentic racial
reconciliation, might make an Obama presidency worth risking.
It's an enticing prospect for conservatives, but as with so much
surrounding the dazzling Obama, you have to ask whether his record
matches the hopes his admirers place in him.
Obama is not a preacher, but he gives awesome sermons. He is
comfortable using religious language in his speeches, and it's easy
for conservative Christians to imagine that, despite profound policy
differences with the liberal Democrat, he and they share common
If so, it's probably less than they think. Obama's church is a
member of the United Church of Christ, one of the more liberal
mainline Protestant denominations. In his writings, he has conceded
that he doesn't know what happens after death or "where the soul
resides or what existed before the Big Bang."
That's not out of the ordinary for liberal Christian churches, but
it may take conservative believers aback. Conservative evangelicals
and others who won't vote for Mitt Romney because they believe his
Mormonism deviates too widely from traditional Christianity had
better not give Obama a passing glance.
Moreover, Obama has called his conversion to Christianity "a choice
and not an epiphany." He writes of his experience at Chicago's
Trinity United Church of Christ as an opening up to the social power
of religion. Obama saw secular salvation in the church's ability to
provide community and to give purpose to its members' lives and
mobilize them for social change.
Does Obama believe in God, or does he believe in the church? To put
it another way, is his faith fundamentally supernatural or merely
social? If you believe the content of a presidential candidate's
faith factors into his fitness for office, this could be important.
And then there's Obama's Muslim question. No, not the smear e-mails
making the rounds, preposterously alleging that he is a closeted
Muslim. His Muslim problem has a name: Louis Farrakhan.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who serves as Obama's pastor and whose
sermons brought Obama to the altar for baptism, is a big fan of the
black Muslim minister. Trinity UCC's magazine gave Farrakhan,
infamous for his white-bashing, anti-Semitic sermons, an award last
year for his "greatness." Wright bases his own appeal on explicitly
Barack Obama certainly does not, and last week he repudiated
Farrakhan and said he disagrees with his pastor's decision to honor
him. This isn't the last we will hear about Pastor Wright, though.
His anti-white, hard-left statements _ for example, days after 9/11,
he gave a sermon saying the attacks were evidence that "the Great
White West" had ignored black concerns _ will be hard to defend to a
mainstream audience. Noting how formative Wright's influence has
been on Obama's worldview, Rolling Stone observed: "This is as
openly radical a background as any significant American political
figure has ever emerged from, as much Malcolm X as Martin Luther
Few people believe that GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul believes
the racist, anti-Semitic things published anonymously in his
newsletter. The problem was that Paul was not sufficiently alarmed
by the poison-pen dispatches to distance himself from the creeps
writing them. If Paul takes hits for the company he keeps, shouldn't
"We don't agree on everything," Obama has said of his spiritual
mentor. That's not going to cut it once the campaign gets under way.
Obama's unwillingness, so far, to take on his own pastor's racial
rhetoric raises doubts about his ability to be the kind of president
who can transcend America's identity politics.
That the incendiary Wright and his role in the candidate's life is
still largely unknown shows that the dazzling Obama has not yet
received the kind of close media scrutiny he deserves. That's true,
even if Clinton says it.
Scripture says faith is evidence of things unseen. Obama's
conservative admirers, in whose number I count myself, should bear
in mind that he's merely a secular politician. Before putting faith
in Obama, we need to see more evidence that he's not merely old
liberal wine poured into an attractive new wineskin.