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Putting Faith in Obama

By Rod Dreher

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 Mr. Obama? Because to Mr. 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."

Mr. LeBlanc is not alone on the right. Despite being even more liberal on policy matters than rival Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama provokes remarkably little dread among Republicans. For conservatives tempted by Mr. Obama, his charm and empathy soothe conservative anxieties, especially when compared with the frightful Hillary Clinton.

What's more, the promise that Mr. 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 Mr. Obama, you have to ask whether his record matches the hopes his admirers place in him.

Mr. 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 ground.

If so, it's probably less than they think. Mr. 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 Mr. Obama a passing glance.

Moreover, Mr. 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. Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Obama's pastor and whose sermons brought Mr. Obama to the altar for baptism, is a big fan of the black Muslim minister. Trinity UCC's magazine gave Mr. Farrakhan, infamous for his white-bashing, anti-Semitic sermons, an award last year for his "greatness." Mr. Wright bases his own appeal on explicitly racial lines.

Barack Obama certainly does not, and last week he repudiated Mr. 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 Mr. Wright's influence has been on Mr. 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 King Jr."

Few people believe that GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul believes the racist, anti-Semitic things published anonymously in his newsletter. The problem was that Mr. Paul was not sufficiently alarmed by the poison-pen dispatches to distance himself from the creeps writing them. If Mr. Paul takes hits for the company he keeps, shouldn't Mr. Obama?

"We don't agree on everything," Mr. Obama has said of his spiritual mentor. That's not going to cut it once the campaign gets under way. Mr. 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 Mr. Wright and his role in the candidate's life is still largely unknown shows that the dazzling Mr. Obama has not yet received the kind of close media scrutiny he deserves. That's true, even if Mrs. Clinton says it.

Scripture says faith is evidence of things unseen. Mr. 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 Mr. Obama, we need to see more evidence that he's not merely old liberal wine poured into an attractive new wineskin.

Rod Dreher is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His e-mail address is rdreher@dallasnews.com.

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