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The role of religion under Obama

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Indeed, religious groups have been broadly advising the Obama transition team on issues ranging from poverty to criminal justice to foreign policy. "To move from a consuming, polluting, poverty-creating economy to one that conserves, is a good steward of the environment, and focuses on bringing people out of poverty, that's more than a structural crisis, it's a spiritual one," says Mr. Wallis.

Obama's predisposition to stake a big tent that includes a broad range of faith traditions has been evident early.

Who leads the prayers at presidential inaugurations is usually about as controversial as whether to put an American flag near the podium. Preachers such as Billy Graham typically struck a broad, ecumenical tone acceptable to a wide range of religious adherents.

Not so this inaugural cycle. Obama's choice of the Rev. Rick Warren – a popular Evangelical who has campaigned against gay marriage – to deliver the inaugural invocation riled many liberals. Obama's subsequent invitation to V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, fired up the other end of the religious spectrum.

"Bless this nation with anger: anger at discrimination at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people," said the Right Rev. Robinson at Sunday's opening of inaugural ceremonies.

Obama's choice of two spiritual leaders with such distinct and controversial views signals that differences are not to be avoided but are an essential part of the conversation.

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