August 7, 2008
Over at God-O-Meter, Dan Gilgoff has a nice dissection of Barack Obama's short pre-Saddleback "on Faith" essay for Time, showing how well calculated it is to appeal to evangelicals. I agree that it hits a lot of evangelical buttons, though not, perhaps, the most important one. It says nothing about his personal born-again experience--something he has written and talked about elsewhere. Perhaps that would remind people too much of that pesky Trinity church he used to belong to. Or perhaps it would strike non-evangelicals as, well, just a little too evangelical. And then there's this remark: "The next President will have to lead Americans of all religious and secular backgrounds and will navigate a range of tough values issues." The evangelicals Dan thinks Obama is directing his appeal to don't tend to regard the values issues as in themselves tough, but rather see the tough part as actually treading the straight and narrow. So I think we should at least entertain the possibility that this is what Obama actually believes.
As for John McCain, his essay sticks almost exclusively to a vision of faith as something that sustains a person in extremis. He tells the story he always tells about the Christian guard who loosened his bonds when he was a prisoner of war, and throws in one about his father praying for him at the time. There's a short paragraph about caring for the least among us (with a little pro-life pitch), but it's sandwiched in, in a kind of obligatory way. Then he returns to the importance of religion in the "dark" and "solitary" places. I'm inclined to think that that's the real deal when it comes to McCain and religion, and why shouldn't it be? Being a prisoner of war seems to have been the defining experience of his life. That the McCain faith has real resonance for many people I don't doubt. But it's far from the guiding of one's choices in daily affairs that tends to be what Americans are looking for when they seek to know how a candidate's faith will inform his conduct in office. The contrast with Obama couldn't be greater.
(This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.)