It's not exactly the old-time religion, but suddenly there's sawdust on the trail. If some other worthy actually wins the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have a new career open to them, reprising Jim and Tammy Faye. Praise the Lord.
Just when everyone thought that no Democrat wanted to be caught in church dead or alive, it's revival time. First Hillary started talking about the influence of the Methodist social gospel on her life this must have been heck all these years for Bubba, a hymn-singing good ol' Baptist boy and now Barack Obama invokes G-d in a way that no Republican, whether moved by the spirit or falling poll numbers, would have dared.
"I think it's important, particularly for those of us in the Democratic Party, to not cede values and faith to any one party," Mr. Obama told a predominately black congregation in Greenville, S.C. "We're going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth."
The senator has good reasons to play the faith-and-values card. It's not easy being the first serious black presidential candidate, particularly the first black candidate with a vaguely Muslim name. He gets points for chutzpah if not courage, taking his revival tent into upstate South Carolina, a stronghold of evangelical Christians, but the senator's choice of church is not exactly going to win a standing ovation. The United Church of Christ, only slightly to the right of the Unitarians, is one of the most liberal of the empty-pew denominations, and liberation theology sets few souls aflame in the South. The late Harry Golden, editor of the Carolina Israelite, was once asked to set up an exchange of pastors for Brotherhood Week. When he proposed exchanging the rabbi for the Unitarian pastor, one of the elders of the synagogue came to him, unhappy. "We expected a Baptist, or at least a Presbyterian. A Unitarian? For this, we have Brotherhood Week?"
Mr. Obama clearly has to do something. He trails Nurse Hillary, who proposes giving $5,000 to every newborn in America, in Iowa. He running a lot worse in South Carolina, whose early primary is pivotal in measuring such Democratic sentiment as there may be left in the South. A new poll by the Los Angeles Times finds him trailing her by 18 points.
No mystery, then, that he arrived in South Carolina not with a political campaign but with a revival meeting. He's using gospel concerts and "faith forums" in a bit of grass-roots gimmickry called "40 Days of Faith and Family." Last weekend, he went to church twice (but stiffed Sunday school), once to a white congregation and once to a black one, and spoke at neither.
The Web site Beliefnet.com, which measures the religious content of campaign speeches with something called the G-d-O-Meter, finds that Mr. Obama talks about faith, church, Sunday school and the like more than any other candidate. Even Mike Huckabee, a Republican and an ordained Southern Baptist preacher, rations G-d talk.
But the senator's pastor back in Chicago, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who the senator cites as his inspiration, wouldn't satisfy Harry Golden's synagogue. The only sin he denounces is the inherent sin of being American. In one sermon posted on the Internet, Mr. Wright says America was founded on racism and runs on racism. "We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns and the training of professional killers. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in G-d. We conducted radiation experiments on our own people ... And G-d! Has got! To be sick! Of this [doo-doo]!" (Exclamation points definitely not mine.)
A vulgar rant like this by a man who purports to be a servant of the Almighty would make anyone sick. Probably the senator, too. He has declined to invite his pastor to appear with him at least in South Carolina. Praise the Lord, indeed.