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Obama to Deliver Values Speech at St. Louis Church Conference

By Jonathan Weisman
ST. LOUIS -- After a week touring Republican strongholds, Sen. Barack Obama heads back to familiar turf today, addressing the annual conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church this afternoon with promises that he will make "faith-based" social service "a moral center of my administration."

"The challenges we face today -- war and poverty, joblessness and homelessness, violent streets and crumbling schools -- are not simply technical problems in search of a 10-point plan," he is expected to say before the largely black audience of conference attendees, according to a prepared text of his speech. "They are moral problems, rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness -- in the imperfections of man. And so the values we believe in -- empathy and justice and responsibility to ourselves and out neighbors -- these cannot only be expressed in our churches and our synagogues, but in our policies and in out laws."

Of the two presumptive nominees for the White House, Obama, the Democrat, has been far more outspoken about his religious beliefs than has John McCain, the Republican. Conservative evangelical Christians remain skeptical that Obama's faith comports with their own, however, especially his support for abortion and gay rights.

James Dobson, the evangelical head of Focus on the Family, last month accused Obama of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology."

But unlike recent Democratic nominees, Obama is also courting conservative religious voters, hoping, if not to win them over, at least to hold down McCain's margins with them.

Last month, Obama met for an extended session in Chicago with Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son and the leader of the Graham ministry, along with about 30 other evangelical leaders. McCain sought out an audience with Franklin and Billy Graham last week at the family's mountaintop retreat in Western North Carolina.

In St. Louis, Obama today faces an overwhelmingly friendly crowd, but his message is aimed at an audience far beyond the AME Church, one of the largest and oldest African American denominations in the country.

He will speak at length on his journey from a youth with no real religious affiliation to a committed Christian. And he plans to pointedly mention that his father, a Kenyan immigrant who left his family when Obama was a small child, was an atheist, trying to dispel the notion that he comes from Muslim roots.

By Web Politics Editor  |  July 5, 2008; 1:28 PM ET
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