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Barack Obama: Putting faith out front

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"In that single note – hope! – I heard something else," Obama wrote. "At the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story."

Four years later, after returning to Chicago from Harvard Law School, Obama joined Trinity and walked down the aisle in a formal commitment of faith. Wright later married Obama and his wife, Michelle, and blessed the births of their two children.

By his own admission, Obama's conversion was "a choice and not an epiphany." It owed as much to spiritual yearning as to a recognition of the power of the black church to change lives and society.

"What moved me was the role all the congregations I worked with played in the life of the people I was working with," Obama said in an e-mail to the Monitor. "What touched me was how faith bolstered them against heartache and disappointment and kept them going."

Fancy footwork

After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to register low-income voters for the 1992 presidential election. He worked as a civil rights lawyer and as a lecturer at University of Chicago Law School before his election to the Illinois state Senate in 1996.

From the moment he took the national stage, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama, then running for US Senate, made no secret of his spiritual bent. "We worship an awesome God in the blue states," he said in a keynote address credited with launching his stardom.

But for a liberal Democrat and former constitutional law instructor, the plea for a broader public role for religion has at times required some fancy footwork.

He has called for both "a politics of conscience" based on ecumenical religious values and a clear line between church and state. He has both invoked God in his denunciations of the Iraq war and criticized President Bush for using religious terms like "good" and "evil" to justify it.

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