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Barack Obama: Putting faith out front

How the Illinois senator came to embrace religion in his life.

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On a recent Sunday, the magnetic pastor who led Barack Obama to Christianity was at his usual perch on the dais here, a South Side megachurch where a plaque beneath stained-glass depictions of the African-American struggle reads "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian."

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., in a casual short-sleeve shirt, preached about Martha as a "single saint," urging unmarried women to draw self-esteem from faith rather than men. He took blacks to task for what he said was their silence on domestic violence, homophobia, and the "illegal, untested, insane war in Iraq, started by a C-student draft dodger."

And in honor of National HIV Testing Day, he alerted his flock to mouth-swab tests being offered in the church building after services. "You can get results in 20 minutes – free and confidential," he said. Then he led more than a thousand worshipers, and a 200-member choir in traditional African dress, in a hymn to the Lord.

It was at Trinity United Church of Christ here, in the late 1980s, that Senator Obama says he found religion. Raised in a secular household, with ancestral roots running from Islam to Baptist to atheist, Obama had grown up a skeptic. But Mr. Wright's blend of scripture and social action resonated with Obama, then a young community organizer in black neighborhoods ravaged by steel-mill closings.

And when Wright preached one Sunday about the sustaining power of hope in the face of poverty and despair, Obama says he found himself in tears.

"The questions I had did not magically disappear," Obama wrote in his recent book, titled "The Audacity of Hope" after Wright's turn of phrase, of the day four years later when he made a formal commitment of Christian faith. "But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

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