During his trip to Iowa this weekend, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said America’s main challenges are "moral problems" that won’t be fixed by "a 10-point plan."
Obama was the keynote speaker to the 271 delegates at the United Church of Christ state convention in Fort Dodge. Obama told the crowd it was a UCC member who had inspired the Boston Tea Party which helped bring about the country’s independence, and Obama said through the succeeding decades people of faith have helped make America more decent and more just.
"Doing the Lord’s work is a thread that runs through our politics since the very beginning and it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means, somehow, that faith should have no role in public life," Obama said.
Obama praised American religious leaders who are urging their congregations to look for answers to the AIDS epidemic in Africa or the genocide in Darfur. Those kind of "religious values" should be expressed "through" the government, according to Obama. "My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work," Obama said.
Obama identified the war in Iraq, poverty and the plight of uninsured Americans as the primary "moral" issues facing the U.S.
Obama attacked leaders of the "Christian Right" who he accused of exploiting issues like abortion and gay marriage to divide Evangelical Christians from those who attend so-called "mainline" churches. "Of course, it goes a little further than that. There was a period of time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich…I don’t know what Bible they are reading," Obama said, as the crowd applauded. "Didn’t jive with my version."
Obama said "in the public square" politicians must speak of their faith in "universal terms, so that everybody can understand."
Obama talked about his own adult conversion to Christianity, describing it as a choice rather than an epiphany. "I learned that my sins could be redeemed and I learned that there were those things that I was too weak to accomplish myself but that he would accomplish them for me or with me if I placed my trust in him," Obama said. "In time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death but rather as an active, palpable agent for good in the world and in my own life."
Most of the United Church of Christ delegates stood in a long line to meet Obama afterwards in a private reception. Bob Fritzmeier of Mapleton said it’s unusual for a politician to "honestly" speak about his own faith as Obama did.
Jean Claeys of Maquoketa was also impressed with Obama’s discussion of his personal faith. "We need a real person like that," said Claeys, who is considering supporting Obama’s candidacy.
Later, during a stop in Webster City, Obama returned briefly to the theme of religion. "There are some things that we all agree to, some common values that we share and we’ve got to express those not just in our churches or our families, but we’ve also got to express them through our government," Obama told a crowd of about 300 who turned out for a potluck picnic.
You may listen to Obama’s Fort Dodge speech by clicking on the audio link below.