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South Carolina pastor Ron Carpenter was a popular guy as the 2008 presidential candidates geared up for the primaries. After he gave seven minutes of pulpit time in October to Sen. Barack Obama to talk about his faith, other campaigns began calling the megachurch pastor, asking for equal time.

For Carpenter, it wasn't easy to determine where to draw the line for his Greenville, South Carolina, congregation, which sits in key territory for the early primaries. He decided elected officials could speak about their faith in the pulpit, but not candidates who are not in office.

"I'm not willing to open up the floodgates and let somebody different in here every Sunday," said Carpenter. "I'm not foolish, I know why they're here. I'm not going to subject the church just to political pandering."

Carpenter had been surprised when Obama's campaign notified him that the Democratic candidate would worship in his church. Candidates, especially Democratic ones, had long appeared in African American churches, but Redemption World Outreach Center is a multiracial Pentecostal church with mostly white leadership.

Whether or not candidates worship in his 8,000-member church, Carpenter is pleased that political candidates want to talk about their Christian faith.

"The problem is, who can say that it's genuine or whether it's just a ploy to get votes?" Carpenter said. "I think the jury is out on that."

Wooing Evangelicals

Many political scientists attributed President Bush's successful reelection to the 78 percent of white evangelicals who voted for him, compared to the 21 percent who voted for Sen. John Kerry. "There was kind of a wake-up call that we don't talk about those things," said Mike McCurry, former press secretary for Bill Clinton. "In the ...

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Christianity Today
The Megachurch Primaries
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In the Magazine

February 2008

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