A person's faith is a window into their soul. For a politician, how he or she speaks about his or her faith will tell you something about how they will govern. Stephen Mansfield, author of the new book The Faith of Barack Obama, says that in examining the Senator's faith journey gave him insight not only into the Democratic presidential nominee but insight into larger cultural trends as well.
"Barack Obama's faith and his spiritual journey not only are shaping this election but also, as you tell the story and reflect on it, captures many of the trends that are most powerful and transforming in this age," said Mr. Mansfield in a recent interview.
One of those trends is one that Mr. Mansfield says has largely been missed by the mainstream media: a gradual shift of young evangelicals to the Democrats. Part of this trend is due to the recent loss of prominent national Religious Right leaders such as Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy as well as the prominent moral failure of former National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard. But part of this trend is also due to younger voters that Senator Obama has energized through the campaign.
"The younger voters coming on line tend to be postmodern theologically to the extent they are theological at all and tend to lean leftward in their politics," said Mr. Mansfield.
Mr. Mansfield argues that Senator Obama is a person that these young, liberal evangelicals identify with because he shares their values. In order to make that argument, he had to address head-on the issue of Obama's true faith, as well as his church, both of which have been the subject of much controversy so far in this campaign. He deals with the issue by first dealing with one of the big unanswered questions of the campaign: why Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ whose pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has infamously made anti-American and hate-filled statements from the pulpit.
"I think Obama is very clear that he first went to church to get connected to a church not so much out of a spiritual search but because people he was working with in the South side of Chicago challenged him that he would be more successful if he had some connections to church, some connection to faith. But I think in time he was captured by the Gospel," said Mr. Mansfield.
It is that Christian faith, that Senator Obama would bring into his administration should he be elected this fall. He has already signalled an intention to continue the faith-based initiatives begun by President George W. Bush. But an Obama election could also provide the impetus for a major shift in American politics.
"Obama is a unique creature because he is so deeply Christian who intends to bring his faith to bear on public policy and is very much on the left," said Mr. Mansfield. "I think what is diminishing is a secular approach to politics and what's arising is a faith-based approach to politics and now I think we have the opportunity in this country for the great debate between a right-leaning, limited government, low taxes, anti-abortion type of faith-based politics and then the more left-leaning version of that on the other side."
Already his book has garnered criticisms in some corners for not being critical enough of Senator Obama. In fact, many on the right have openly expressed anger at Mr. Mansfield, who is conservative and pro-life, for painting what they believe is a too flattering portrait of the Democratic nominee. By contrast, the author says his intention was simply to be fair and objective in examining the Senator's faith.
"As a Christian, I have written a book about another man's faith and I'm intrigued by his faith," said Mr. Mansfield. "I want to encourage his faith and I believe he is sincere about his faith. Now people who share my political vies are upset with me because I have written this book and basically what they are saying is 'you are too Christian, you should be more Republican than you are Christian'. What I have written is an honest, objective evaluation that celebrates Obama's faith to the extent it can be celebrated, questioned it where it had to be questioned and basically tries to explain it in terms of our times which is something we need, by the way, as we approach this election."
At the same time, Mr. Mansfield hopes that his approach in this book will serve as an example to politicians on how to deal with the pressing issues of our day that doesn't involve the bitter partisanship on both sides of the aisle that has become the norm in Washington.
"I have to say that one of my goals for this book besides just the content was to find the tone that I hope will be replicated a bit more in American politics," said Mr. Mansfield. "This vicious left/right fighting that is happening in America is paralyzing us. It is keeping up from accomplishing anything. And I have to say, as a Christian, it is ungodly. My hope was to write a book that would model a certain tone while communicating facts that people need to know."
Click here to listen to the entire interview with Stephen Mansfield.