A Pilgrim's Progress
Since Thomas Jefferson was accused of being an atheist in 1800, the religious convictions of presidential candidates have often been an issue in American political history. In 1928 and 1960, the Catholicism of Al Smith and John F. Kennedy, respectively, drew close scrutiny and created controversy. Jimmy Carter's declaration that he was a "born again" Christian and George W. Bush's statement that Jesus was his favorite philosopher injected religion into the 1976 and 2000 campaigns.
As important as religion has been, Stephen Mansfield (author of The Faith of George W. Bush and other faith-focused biographies) argues in The Faith of Barack Obama that it is especially significant in the 2008 campaign, primarily because of the Illinois senator. Four factors have focused public attention on Obama's faith: the Democrats' revamped approach to win the votes of the nation's most religiously devout citizens; Obama's unusual faith journey; his frank admission that his faith informs his policies; and the inflammatory remarks of Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright Jr. Along with the claim that he lacks experience, especially in foreign policy matters, the nature and potential influence of Obama's faith on his presidency will undoubtedly remain a key campaign issue.
After John Kerry narrowly lost the 2004 presidential election in large part because Bush captured the votes of78 percent of evangelicals and 52 percent of Catholics (a higher percentage than Republicans normally win), Democrats developed a strategy to appeal more to religious Americans. They hired advisers and held forums to learn how to speak more effectively to religious groups and created organizations to target specific religious communities. Because many evangelicals are ...