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John Edwards: working-class values and a closely held faith

While Christian beliefs help gird his antipoverty campaign, he believes that politicians who identify closely with one religion cannot be inclusive.

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A major address on poverty would seem an ideal place for a Democratic presidential hopeful to toss in a mention of religious faith, particularly if he was on a ticket that narrowly lost the 2004 election to so-called "values voters."

But in long speeches on his signature issue this spring and summer, John Edwards said nothing about the Christian beliefs he says help underpin his antipoverty campaign.

He instead chose the more universal language of ethics and public policy. Poverty is as much "the great moral issue of our time," he said, as a practical threat to the economy and national security.

For Mr. Edwards, a Southern Baptist-turned-United Methodist, faith is deeply felt but intensely private, a refuge after family tragedy and a daily source of wisdom, but not a platform for politics.

"It's a very dangerous business – that intersection" of religion and politics, Edwards said in an interview with the Monitor. "I don't like to talk about my faith openly. I do in answer to questions, but I don't usually bring it up myself."

His reticence owes as much to a Baptist upbringing that cast faith as a private relationship with God as the belief that a politician too closely identified with one religion cannot be inclusive in a diverse America.

"My belief in Christ plays an enormous role in the way I view the world," Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, said at a presidential forum on faith in June. "But I think I also understand the distinction between [my faith and] my job as president of the United States, my responsibility to be respectful of and to embrace all faith beliefs in this country.

"One of the problems that we've gotten into," he added, in an apparent allusion to President Bush, "is some identification of the president of the United States with a particular faith belief as opposed to showing great respect for all faith beliefs."

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