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ELECTION 08: Obama slams ‘Christian Right,’ voices faith in testimony; …

WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill., spoke openly about his religious views at a United Church of Christ meeting June 23 in Hartford, Conn., saying the religious right had played a role in “hijacking faith.”

“Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart,” Obama said. “Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us.

“At every opportunity, they’ve told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design.”

However, the rest of Obama’s 30-minute message focused on an intimate retelling of his conversion experience, which David Brody, senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, commended in his weblog, “The Brody File.”

“Besides Obama, how many times have you seen a presidential candidate get up in front of a large crowd and talk in depth about his salvation? I’ll give you the answer: Zero,” Brody said. “For Obama to stand up and talk about how Jesus changed his life, my friends that takes guts. You may disagree with everything he’s about, you may disagree with his policy goals but as Christians, shouldn’t we like it when someone talks about Christ being the missing ingredient in his life?”

Obama spoke about working alongside churchgoers to rebuild poor neighborhoods in Chicago in 1985, an experience that led him to begin attending Trinity United Church of Christ, which culminated in his conversion.

“I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And 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 in the world and in my own life,” Obama said.

“It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and … kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s Spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ, a church with 1.2 million members that is considered one of the most liberal among the Protestant churches.

CANDIDATES VOICE PRO-LIFE STANCES — Republican presidential candidates addressed an enthusiastic crowd at the National Right to Life Convention June 14-16 in Kansas City, Mo.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose reversal of his stance on abortion has been criticized by his opponents, received a standing ovation during his speech.

“What some see as just a clump of cells is actually a human life,” said Romney, who said the work of pro-life supporters like the National Right to Life Committee had helped change his stance on the matter.

“I proudly follow a long line of converts,” Romney said. “When I first ran for office, while I was always personally opposed to abortion … I concluded that I would support the law … the pro-choice position. I was wrong.”

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson proclaimed his pro-life beliefs in a video message broadcast at the convention, saying he had a 100 percent voting record on abortion and stem cell research legislation while in the Senate.

“On stem cell research, I’m for adult stem cell research, not stem cell research where embryos of unborn children are destroyed,” Thompson said. “It looks to me like there are a lot of promising developments as far as adult stem cell research is concerned anyway, and we don’t need to go down that other road.”

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback pledged to devote his presidency to overturning Roe v. Wade during his comments. Roe is the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

“We are winning the fight for life,” Brownback said. “We are going to win the fight for life.”

STEM CELL VETO STIRS CONTROVERSY -– The two leading Democratic presidential candidates condemned President Bush’s June 23 veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act that would have provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research -– the president’s second such veto in less than a year.

“This is just one example of how the President puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families, just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said in a speech at the Take Back America Conference. “And it’s just one more example as to why we’re going to send them packing in January 2009, and return progressive leadership to the White House.”

Sen. Barack Obama also criticized Bush’s veto in a statement released on his website.

“By vetoing funding for stem cell research once again, the President is deferring the hopes of millions of Americans who do not have the time to keep waiting for the cure that may save or extend their lives,” Obama said. “The promise that stem cells hold does not come from any particular ideology, it is the judgment of science, and we deserve a President who will put that judgment first and make this promise real for the American people.”

However, science appears to affirm President Bush’s stance, contradicting Clinton and Obama. Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow has nearly universal support. Such research has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries causing paralysis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a Southern Baptist, released a statement affirming Bush’s veto.

“Without the President’s veto, this controversial legislation, which is wrong on moral grounds and based on inconclusive scientific research, would have become law,” Huckabee said. “I commend the President for his strong stand in support of life.”

The Senate is close to having enough votes to override Bush’s veto, which requires a two-thirds majority, but the House of Representatives is far short.

Bush, in vetoing the bill, said, “If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos.” The president’s 2001 policy bans funds for stem cell research that kills embryos.

DEMOCRATS BASH S.G. NOMINEE — Democratic presidential hopefuls criticized President Bush’s nomination of James Holsinger as the 18th U.S. surgeon general because of his outspoken opposition to homosexuality.

Holsinger, 68, an accomplished cardiologist from the medical center at the University of Kentucky, wrote a scholarly article in 1991 for a United Methodist Church panel on homosexuality, noting that anal sex is unnatural and heightens the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Injuries and diseases may occur “when the complementarity of the sexes is breached,” Holsinger wrote.

“I have serious reservations about nominating someone who would inject his own anti-gay ideology into critical decision about the health and well-being of our nation,” Obama said in a statement. “This administration must know that the U.S. Surgeon General’s office is no place for bigotry or ideology that would trump science and good judgment.”

Sen. John Edwards, D.-N.C., also voiced his opinions in a statement.

“In a profession dedicated to healing and compassion, it cannot be hard to find a qualified candidate for Surgeon General who sees all human beings as equals,” Edwards said. “Instead, President Bush has sought out a nominee who will divide America. Dr. James Holsinger’s anti-gay writings and beliefs suggest that he will undermine, not advance, the cause of equality and fairness in health care.”

A spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton said she planned to oppose Holsinger’s confirmation.

Holsinger will have to appear before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to be confirmed as surgeon general. The committee is chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.-Mass., and includes Clinton and Obama.

Holsinger is an active member of a conservative United Methodist church in Lexington, Ky.

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  • Jennifer Thurman