God-o-Meter–like so much of the news media–was impressed with Barack Obama’s appearance last Sunday at a Greenville, SC megachurch as part of his campaign’s “40 Days of Faith and Family” tour of the state. After all, the conservative evangelical congregation’s previous political guests were Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Mark Sanford, and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, all Republicans.
But God-o-Meter has learned that parishioners at Greenville’s Redemption World Outreach Center, where Obama told a crowd of nearly 5,000 how “I came to accept Jesus Christ into my life,” have flooded church leaders with dozens of emails complaining that the pro-abortion rights Obama was allowed a speaking slot. “We really didn’t anticipate the reaction we got,” church media director Joe Hayes tells Beliefnet.
The outcry is provoking the church’s senior pastor, Apostle Ron Carpenter, to defend his decision to let Obama speak at a previously scheduled worship service this evening at 7 o’clock. Carpenter’s message will be streamed live at the church’s web site and video footage, God-o-Meter is told, will be posted there tomorrow.
“Senator Obama speaks about his faith because it has been an important part of his life for nearly twenty years and his expectation is never that every single person will agree with him,” says Obama Director of Religious Affairs Joshua DuBois. “He was honored by the warm welcome by most congregants last Sunday, and he looks forward to future opportunities to discuss his own faith and the role of religion in American life.”
The Redemption Center’s Hayes says church leaders are standing by their decision to let Obama speak—they were notified several days before Sunday’s service that the Senator would be attending—and saw it as an opportunity to build bridges to both parties in Washington. “How do you change government? You infiltrate it,” Hayes says. “Since Lindsey Graham spoke at our church, the Apostle [Carpenter] could pick up the phone and call him in Washington. Now he can pick up the phone and call Obama, too. We have credible relations in both parties now.”
“South Carolina is last in everything—we’re in the last county in the last state to recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, so we are just little behind,” Hayes said in explaning the dismay over Obama’s appearance, even while noting that the congregation is roughly half white and half black.
While God-o-Meter’s needle is going down slightly—Obama was, after all, called out for not being insufficiently godly on the abortion issue by some serious believers—it suspects that Obama is better off politically for having appeared at Redemption World Outreach Center. As a slew of Democratic candidates for Congress illustrated in 2006, just showing up before evangelical audiences and making introductions to evangelical leaders makes it much harder for Democrats to be demonized by the Christian Right. And that can lead to the kind of small shifts in evangelical voting patterns that turn elections.