- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2008

OP-ED:

Watching the two presidential candidates court “evangelicals” by way of the Saddleback Church Civil Forum Saturday night was an exercise of perplexing proportions. While both senators clearly have very distinct delivery styles and vastly different approaches to addressing the issues of our day, John McCain undoubtedly restored faith among the faithful.

As eloquent and smooth as Barack Obama can be (and he had his impressive moments that left me moved), his vague and ambiguous answers to the most innocuous questions on faith and American politics were at best disappointing.

The forum’s audience consisted of a voting bloc Mr. Obama needs and Democrats of past have been reticent to reach out to. A Pew Research Center survey out this month revealed that Mr. McCain leads Mr. Obama 68 percent to 24 percent among white evangelical voters. Although that lead is down from the same support President Bush enjoyed among this group, it is a significant gap Mr. Obama struggles to fill. His evasive answers to questions from moderator Rick Warren, such as “When does a baby get human rights,” didn’t do much to shore up those voters. Stunned and stammering, Mr. Obama came up with: “Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.” Huh? Compare that with Mr. McCain’s response: “At the moment of conception.” No equivocation; no ambiguity.

Despite Mr. Obama’s “I’m pro-choice” but not “pro-abortion” comment, most voters are unaware of just how extreme his positions are on abortion. He voted in favor of allowing partial-birth abortions - even when a majority of Democrats did not - and strongly condemned the Supreme Court for upholding the ban on this procedure. He also favors allowing minors to travel out of state to have an abortion without parental notification. It is a topic Mr. Obama was clearly uncomfortable discussing and caused the usually calm and collected senator to become extremely agitated and exorcised during a television interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, directly following the forum. Abortion certainly isn’t the only issue that matters to “values voters” this election, but it is pretty high on the list. According to Pew, 68 percent of evangelical megachurch members believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases (compared to 61 percent of other evangelicals).

On whether evil exists (and every believer acknowledges that it is does), and what should be done with it (negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?), Mr. Obama offered that we: “Confront it,” (not one of the choices). So then, Mr. Obama, after it is confronted, what do we do with it?

Mr. McCain’s response: “Defeat it . … Of course, evil must be defeated.”

Of his faith and what it means, Mr. McCain kept it much more simple than his opponent. “It means I’m saved and forgiven,” he said. Both men are admitted Christians. Mr. McCain is mostly guarded as critics quickly point out. But the former POW gave a glimpse of how emotionally personal his faith is as he choked up in retelling the story of one of his captors drawing a cross in the sand for him to see: “For a minute there, there were just two Christians worshipping together. I’ll never forget that moment.”

Critics would be wise to ease up on how Mr. McCain (who hails from an older, more private generation) “practices” his faith. It is presumptuous for the media and my evangelical brothers and sisters to suggest how a man should carry out his faith and whether he “wears it on his sleeve.” Admittedly, it is a great testimony to see and hear Mr. Obama speak often of his faith and how God works in his life, but one man’s sleeve, is another man’s undershirt. Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy were men of “quiet” faith.

Of course, it is wholly legitimate to question and even criticize Mr. McCain’s “conservative” voting record - such as his support of funding for embryonic stem-cell research - or whether Mr. McCain would make the right decisions as commander-in-chief, based on his faith. And I have been among the singing choir of social conservatives to question his conservative “creds,” based on his record. But how a public official “practices” his faith is between him and God and doesn’t belong in the pulpit of public discourse. As for his record overall, Mr. McCain maintains a 25-year pro-life record, as well as support for strict constructionist judges.

Most impressive, in addition to the Arizona senator’s answers on national security, taxes, education and his moral failings, was his reason for wanting to be president of the United States: “I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest. I believe that America’s best days are ahead of us, but I also believe that we face enormous challenges, both national security and domestic.”

It is expected that Mr. McCain will likely gain a modest post-forum bump of support among evangelicals. As he rides that tide of faith, he would do well to consider the one sin that would undo it all: nominating Tom Ridge as vice president.

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