Pastor Who Officiated at Jenna Bush Wedding Launches Pro-Obama Website
By Krissah Williams
Sparks are flying in the 2008 culture wars.
The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, leader of the largest Methodist congregation in the country, launched a website yesterday titled "James Dobson Does Not Speak For Me." The site is a jab at Dobson, a stalwart of the religious right who this week called Sen. Barack Obama's interpretation of the Bible in a 2006 speech distorted "to fit [Obama's] own world view, his own confused theology."
Caldwell's site launched a day after Dobson's Focus on the Family radio program aired a harsh assessment of Obama's speech on faith and public policy and encourages readers to sign a statement declaring that Dobson does not represent them.
"I think it's a crime and a shame that Senator Obama has had to explain the fact that he's a Christian," Caldwell said in a recent interview. "Criticize his politics. Criticize his stance on whatever, but don't question his faith. Never in the history of American politics has someone said that he is a Christian and someone came back to say, 'No you're not.'"
If Rev. Caldwell's name sounds familiar, it may be because he is the same Rev. Caldwell who introduced President Bush at the 2000 Republican National Convention and last month officiated at Jenna Bush's wedding ceremony at the presidential ranch in Crawford. This election Caldwell is firmly in the Obama camp and doggedly trying to help the campaign bring other pastors and parishioners along.
Caldwell's site encourages readers to sign this statement:
James Dobson doesn't speak for me.
He doesn't speak for me when he uses religion as a wedge to divide;
He doesn't speak for me when he speaks as the final arbiter on the meaning of the Bible;
...What does speak for me is David's psalm celebrating how good and pleasant it is when we come together in unity;
Micah speaks for me in reminding us that the Lord requires us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him;
...These words speak for me. But when James Dobson attacks Barack Obama, James Dobson doesn't speak for me.
Caldwell is not an official surrogate for the Obama campaign, but has for months participated on a weekly Friday morning prayer call with members of Obama's staff and other Christian ministers who dial in from across the county.
Caldwell, who oversees the 14,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, said he personally prayed with Obama before the Texas primary and talks regularly with Joshua DuBois and Paul Monteiro, the young staffers overseeing the campaign's religious outreach.
The campaign has indicated recently that it will aggressively pursue religious voters, and Obama met with 30 evangelical leaders earlier this month, including the Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. Franklin Graham (son of the Rev. Billy Graham), for an off the record Q & A session. And the campaign is reportedly working on a broad outreach to young evangelicals that it calls "The Joshua Generation."
CBN reporter and blogger David Brody, who has been following the role of faith in the campaign closely, has suggested that Obama will struggle to win over many traditional Evangelicals but has a shot with younger Christians. "Clearly there are differences between Obama's more progressive views of Christianity and the conservative viewpoint. It's important to remember that while Obama will attract some conservative Evangelicals, Obama's main goal is to win over moderate Evangelicals," Brody wrote on his blog. "Also young conservative Evangelicals seem more open to Obama's 'Christian' message of caring for the poor, fighting genocide, healthcare for all, and climate change. They also like the fact that he is reaching out to try and find common ground with conservative faith voters."
For his part, Caldwell, who still considers Bush a personal friend, said he sees similarities between the President and Obama that may appeal to religious voters.
"They are both loyal to their God. They are very loyal to their country. They are very loyal to their wives and their families," Caldwell said. "They are great husbands and great dads. Both of them have a clear understanding of the role that the families play in the community."
Will that be enough for Obama to siphon off some of the heavily Republican evangelical vote, which went overwhelmingly to Bush in 2000 and 2004? If Dobson is any indication, skeptics remain.
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