When guests arrived at the National Prayer Breakfast inWashington, D.C., early this year they searched their programs for thename of the speaker, always a closely guarded secret. Typically awell-known evangelical, the keynoter often delivers the equivalent of asermon to the thousands in the audience.
Many guests seemed surprised to see Joseph Lieberman listed.
Some speculation at my table considered the choice of Lieberman, thefirst Jewish speaker, a "politically correct" move toward inclusiveness.And then he spoke.
After he finished, the audience sat in stunned silence for a momentbefore breaking into thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Theself-identified evangelical couple at my table each had tears in theireyes. "Wow," said the husband. The wife couldn't talk for severalminutes.
When she finally could speak, she summed up what many in theaudience were probably thinking: "That was the most evangelical sermonI've heard here."
It was clear from that talk and others that Lieberman could not becalled politically correct. His views are moralistic, rooted in atheology that takes Scripture seriously. During his speech he quotedBible verses easily, seemingly from memory.
He speaks of God often, with reverence and respectful familiarity.He seems to embrace the equivalent of an evangelical's "personalrelationship" although his is with God, not Jesus.
But neither is this Orthodox Jew threatened by other believers. Hespoke that morning of his first encounter with the weekly prayer groupin the Senate and his fear he would feel out of place with prayingChristians.
Instead he discovered a group with which he says he has regular"fellowship," a meeting time when politics are put aside and God is thecentral focus. He said he had discovered what unites them is far greaterthan any differences.
Lieberman is a believer in a pluralistic society in which faithscoexist. He urges adherents of all faiths to be strong and open aboutwhat they believe and respectful of other traditions.
Lieberman supports school vouchers, a move that has won him praisefrom both conservative Christians and conservative Muslims because bothgroups want government support for alternative, faith-based schools.
Likewise, Lieberman's views on entertainment are similar to those ofthe religious right and practicing Muslims.
On other points, such as abortion, the groups part company withLieberman. But even in those moments, they do so acknowledging thatLieberman's positions are not politically expedient but his own carefulview of what Scripture does or doesn't say.
Both Al Gore and George W. Bush have given testimony to their faith,identifying themselves with evangelicals to some extent.
Lieberman is on the other end of the spectrum. He is openly,obviously Jewish. But because of his deep faith, he comes across as themost God-fearing man in the mix. No one thinks he invokes the name ofGod for political gain. Clearly, his beliefs may make him the target ofsome.
But Lieberman doesn't care. For the first time in a long time thereis a politician who seems to recognize that politics is a very smallpart of the big picture. In Lieberman, all true believers have a rolemodel of a man with the moral strength to stand up first for what hebelieves and then to worry about the political fallout.
Whether Gore and Lieberman win or not, the next few months willoffer this country a look at a moral leader. For conservativeChristians, Lieberman serves as a reminder that "the fear of God is thebeginning of wisdom."