Squishy religion terms

ihmpittsburgh1The Pittsburgh Tribune published an interesting perspective on its region’s religious communities, stating in the headline that the city’s “Bible Belt rivals South’s, scholars say.” Overall the story is an interesting feature on the religious communities in the amazingly diverse city that is Pittsburgh, but the comparison with the South and the use of the term “Bible Belt” raise too many unnecessary issues that could cloud the story’s purpose for some.

America’s Bible Belt refers generally to the large swath of what is generally considered to be the American south, but the term has other meanings. For example, various communities in Indiana, particularly south of I-70, are certainly members of the Bible Belt, or could be considered Indiana’s Bible Belt along with area regions. What qualifies an area as a Bible Belt in my view is a place where a socially conservative view of religion dominates the culture. But I am willing to accept other definitions, which is the problem with using this term without a good definition.

As this article makes clear, Pittsburgh’s “Bible Belt” is broader than my perspective on the team:

A strong work ethic and conservative religious bent, the legacy of early settlers from Scotland and Ireland, has created a Bible Belt here as strong as that in the South and Midwest, theologians say, but with a personality of its own because Pittsburgh, with its many faiths and nationalities, has a deep religious commitment that spans church spectrums.

“God has done something very special here,” said Anglican Bishop Robert Duncan.

Western Pennsylvania has been the epicenter of splits within two Protestant denominations because local clerics took exception to the more liberal positions of their churches. Duncan led a group of conservative Pittsburgh-area parishes that split from the national Episcopal church over theological issues and the ordination of gay clergy. He serves as head of the Anglican Church in North America, a church formed by conservative congregations.

Part of this story of Pittsburgh’s religious diversity, and intensity, has to do with some of the wonderful features Pittsburgh provides that are absent in most other American cities of its size. In part, the story reflected that:

Geographically, Western Pennsylvania is the meeting point for northeastern, southern and Midwestern cultures.

“I see a confluence of all three cultures here, particularly when it comes to religious issues. It’s not southern, but it’s not Boston, either,” said Barr, who came here 20 years ago from a small church in a town of 3,000 people in North Carolina.

Churches here tend to focus on the New Testament, while Bible Belt churches concentrate on the Old Testament, said Duncan, who served in North Carolina.

I really don’t know how you can pigeon-hole churches in broad regions of the country. Churches and their various religious denominations are simply too diverse to categorize the manner in which they focus on the Bible. I would be interested in hearing an elaboration on that stereotype.

Another factor that makes Pittsburgh unique, and I am certain that most local readers of this story are aware of this fact, is that the city has a history of wealthy business leaders funding nonprofit organizations and using their millions to establish educational and cultural institutions. Pittsburgh stands out for its rich art and cultural communities, and I wonder how this influences the city’s religious institutions.

Overall the article is very strong in capturing the religious diversity of one of America’s great cities. I just would have avoided squirmy words such as “Bible Belt” and comparing the religious traditions with the South before rightly qualifying and withdrawing those comparisons.

Image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and old Emma Kaufmann Clinic in Polish Hill Pittsburgh, Pa., used under a public domain license.

Time: Biology explains belief

chimp_brain_in_a_jarIn a recent article, Time magazine gives professor after professor a chance to explain the effect religion has on an individuals’ health. Unfortunately, people who specialize in religion, such as preachers and theologians, aren’t given much of a voice by Time in discussing “the biology of belief” unless they have a strong scientific background.

The primary religion ghost that jumped out at me in reading this rather long article, is that Time apparently didn’t talk to any Christian Scientists. Their unique and varied perspective is not reflected in the article. One would think that Christian Scientist’s beliefs on healing would be considered for an article on whether prayers provide healing:

If you’ve ever prayed so hard that you’ve lost all sense of a larger world outside yourself, that’s your parietal lobe at work. If you’ve ever meditated so deeply that you’d swear the very boundaries of your body had dissolved, that’s your parietal too. There are other regions responsible for making your brain the spiritual amusement park it can be: your thalamus plays a role, as do your frontal lobes. But it’s your parietal lobe — a central mass of tissue that processes sensory input — that may have the most transporting effect. (Read “Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs”.)

Needy creatures that we are, we put the brain’s spiritual centers to use all the time. We pray for peace; we meditate for serenity; we chant for wealth. We travel to Lourdes in search of a miracle; we go to Mecca to show our devotion; we eat hallucinogenic mushrooms to attain transcendent vision and gather in church basements to achieve its sober opposite. But there is nothing we pray — or chant or meditate — for more than health.

Health, by definition, is the sine qua non of everything else. If you’re dead, serenity is academic. So we convince ourselves that while our medicine is strong and our doctors are wise, our prayers may heal us too.

A review of the sources quoted in the article indicates that Time didn’t find it necessary to talk to anyone who doesn’t believe that religious emotions and health are completely controlled by one’s brain. The article is about the science of religion, but when one talks to individuals who completely buy into one’s racial thesis, it is difficult to get any contrary criticism. Or perhaps science has decided this matter as settled, but I doubt that.

The article is primarily an analysis piece, and it is Time (which has been curiously silent as Newsweek goes through its spasms of attempting to transform into a “thought leader“). Unfortunately, the magazine approached this topic with the pre-conceived concept that science can in fact explain everything religious.

There were a couple of quotes worth highlighting from individuals who have what seems to be solid religious expertise:

A similar analysis by Daniel Hall, an Episcopal priest and a surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, found that church attendance accounts for two to three additional years of life. To be sure, he also found that exercise accounts for three to five extra years and statin therapy for 2.5 to 3.5. Still, joining a flock and living longer do appear to be linked. …

Even doctors who aren’t familiar with Kristeller’s script are finding it easier to combine spiritual care and medical care. HealthCare Chaplaincy is an organization of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Zen Buddhist board-certified chaplains affiliated with more than a dozen hospitals and clinics in the New York City area. The group routinely provides pastoral care to patients as part of the total package of treatment. The chaplains, like doctors, have a caseload of patients they visit on their rounds, taking what amounts to a spiritual history and either offering counseling on their own or referring patients to others. The Rev. Walter Smith, president and CEO of the chaplaincy and an end-of-life specialist, sees what his group offers as a health-care product — one that is not limited to believers.

What patients need, he says, is a “person who can make a competent assessment and engage a patient’s spiritual person in the service of health. When people say, ‘I’m not sure you can help because I’m not very religious,’ the chaplains say, ‘That’s not a problem. Can I sit down and engage you in conversation?’”

That’s all wonderful, but why wasn’t there room for anyone who still believes in good old fashion prayer or the biblical laying on of hands? Or has that simply been discredited to the extent that Time didn’t find it worthwhile to mention?

Photo of a chimpanzee’s brain, used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

A faith dispute goes public

maincollage1The Akron Beacon Journal published quite a story Sunday that touches on issues with which many families struggle, but so rarely do they spill out into the public square. In this case, a family’s personal controversy over the child’s decision to join a non-denominational Christian group known as the Xenos Christian Fellowship created a story that the newspaper could not ignore.

The article could have been limited to the police and court reports, but instead, the newspaper published an epic 2,700-word news feature:

Annemarie Smith, 48, a Roman Catholic from Stow, believes her 18-year-old son, Thomas, has been taken by a cult.

She has launched a religious war that has engaged the Stow police, mayor, high school and a municipal judge. She started an Internet blog and is trying to rally others to the cause.

Online, she makes allegations of alcohol abuse, vandalism and brainwashing of young children. She calls the church leader and his family “Devil man,” “Devil wife” and “Devil son.”

While the article leads with the perspective of the mother, it makes clear early and often that there is definitely another side to the story. Readers are left deciding for themselves which side has more validity. The journalists’ job of avoiding the temptation to take sides, or to make individual judgments, can twist a story into an appellate brief designed to convince the jury of readers of certain morality judgments that have no place in news features such as these.

The mother’s accusation that her son has joined a cult goes a bit deeper than that, but the article captures it well:

His mother, a stay-at-home mom, said she had no problem with her children occasionally attending church with friends — and she believes her son’s attraction to Xenos is more about friends than God.

The tension grew exponentially after Thomas’ roadside reckoning and an announcement to his parents that he planned to be baptized again, this time at a Xenos service, and that he would like for them to attend.

They told him he already had been baptized Catholic and they would not attend.

The article totally gets the faith aspect of the story and leads with it in the article’s subhead. The article’s grasp of the importance of faith to these individuals and all that comes with that helps the author explain to the reader some of the more difficult-to-grasp concepts present in this saga.

The story gets much darker, with a few twists and turns, and one has to wonder how this can end well. One criticism that could be leveled against the article — and this one came from a reader that submitted the story — is that the article could have quoted another Catholic other than the mother. However, this is very much a personal story that is unfortunately playing out in the public square.

The other area I wish the article had focused on is the organization’s history, its activities outside the immediate controversy, and how the group maintains its funding. The article gives a definite sense of what the group is not about, but less about what the group is about. Are members of the group are expected to maintain a financial commitment while involved and what are some of the group’s main accomplishments since it was launched?

Indulgences sell newspapers?

orthodox_indulgenceToo frequently in print journalism, headline-induced spin ruins an otherwise solid news article. Such seems to be the case in this New York Times article on the alleged “return” of indulgences.

From a journalistic perspective, the article covers a lot of ground geographically. The article reflects a nice diversity of regions, from Pittsburgh to Oregon to Oklahoma. I would hope that other areas of the country see this article as an opportunity to contribute to the local discussion.

However, reporters calling their local bishop should be careful in how they phrase their questions because if they just base their inquiry on the articles’ headline they may be perceived as fairly uninformed.

Here is the article’s headline:

For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened

A major issue for the many of you who have kindly submitted comments to us on this article is the fact that the door to indulgences was never really shut by the church. And the article reflects that fact at the beginning of the article (second paragraph) and at the end (final paragraph):

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

“It faded away with a lot of things in the church,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “But it was never given up. It was always there. We just want to people to return to the ideas they used to know.”

Overall, most of you who have already submitted comments, liked the article. One suggested that the comments from former America editor and Jesuit Rev. Tom Reese should have been cut from the article and that Notre Dame theology professor Rev. Richard P. McBrien could have been balanced out by another conservative theologian.

One reader submitted an extensive comment that focused on the article’s struggles to capture the true essence of an indulgence: the detachment from sin. The reader also noted that the article didn’t mention the document which lists all indulgences that are available on a regular basis known as the Enchiridion of Indulgences:

With every indulgence there are the requirements of going to confession, praying the Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, in particular for the intentions of the Pope. And then each indulgence also has other particulars, as listed in the Enchridion or published for particular circumstances. For instance, in this year of St. Paul, the requirement is to visit a church named in his honor and to follow all prescribed prayers.

However, there’s something more than this which was totally missed. In order to obtain a plenary indulgence, i.e. a complete remission of all punishment due to sin, one must have complete detachment to sin. This means there can’t be any desire for any sin of any kind. That’s the difficult part. People I know who try to obtain these indulgences know that they’ll only obtain a partial one because they don’t have that total detachment from sin.

The substance of the article seems to rightly focus on the fact that this is not a shift in church theology, but a marketing attempt of sorts to draw people in closer to the church in the United States. In fact, the article could have been flipped around to focus on the evidence that Catholics go to confession less often these days. The article’s focus could have also centered on the perceived “conservative resurgence,” but my guess is that there have been plenty of articles on that topic lately.

And as a final note on the article’s focus, indulgences tend to catch people’s attention, don’t they?

Image of an 18th-century absolution certificate granted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and sold by Greek monks in Wallachia (History Museum, Bucharest) used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

Breaking news: sex sells

danicalogosA few years ago, a “wardrobe malfunction” grabbed the country’s attention during the nation’s annual celebration of consumerism and marketing (and in-between, there were some violent expressions of athleticism). Amongst this year’s Super Bowl commercials, marketers for a certain Internet domain registrar and Web hosting company grabbed its fair share of attention by producing an ad that was deemed “the most watched commercial among TiVo users.”

For those of you who missed the game or the commercial, here is a brief description:

The GoDaddy.com ad — a parody of a congressional hearing — depicts women in tight, low-cut tops insisting that they weren’t “enhanced.” Patrick admits to having “enhanced” her image with a Web site from GoDaddy.com, which sells Internet domain names.

The obvious irony of this ad is that Patrick has herself enhanced her image and her marketing star power due to the fact that she is an attractive female race car driver. There are at least a half-dozen of IndyCar drivers that are as accomplished as her and a handful that are significantly more talented. But Patrick is easily the IndyCar Series’ most valuable driver from a marketing perspective and one of the most popular.

While the ad may have been re-watched the most, Wired reported Tuesday that Christians may be bailing on the company “due to ‘Immoral’ Advertising.”

Here is some of the evidence along with Wired‘s more complete description of GoDaddy’s two ads:

Entrepreneur Brian Harrell, who manages hosting services for dozens of Christian churches and faith-based organizations and uses GoDaddy to host over 160 domains, says he’s pulled several of his clients off of GoDaddy’s servers after receiving numerous complaints about the company’s racy ads that aired during Sunday’s game.

“I know they’re trying to make sales, but that kind of content is not going to fly in the Christian community,” he says.

During Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast, the domain registrar and hosting company ran two sexually suggestive ads featuring auto racer Danica Patrick — one featuring Patrick and a few busty models tossing around double-entendres about their breast size, and another featuring Patrick stripping down and stepping into a shower.

Whether or not the ads hurt or help GoDaddy’s business will be determined over the course of the business cycle. But this is a blog about religion and the media’s coverage of it. As a subset of religion, what are the issues of the morality behind these ads in particular and America’s culture of sex-driven marketing in general?

In the auto racing context, all drivers strive to sell sponsorships using whatever, um, assets they have. For the vast majority of the drivers, who are male, this means selling sponsorships that may or may not draw attention. For Patrick, her status as one of the few female drivers (and one of the better overall drivers at that), helps her stand out. She tends to draw the most attention, which of course, is the very purpose of advertising.

The fact that GoDaddy has picked up on this should not surprise anyone, and I think it’s fair to say that their advertisements are simply an issue of the degree to which they use Patrick to grab attention. GoDaddy’s advertisements just seem to cross an invisible line that results in a moral outrage. See here the analysis from Wired:

In addition to working with churches and faith-based organizations, Harrell runs a sales portal for the wedding and event planning industry at alltimefavorites.com. He has been a GoDaddy customer for almost ten years, so he’s more than familiar with the company’s sexually charged ads. But after seeing Danica Patrick showering and nearly showing off her bare breasts, he decided to put his foot down.

When Harrell contacted us our first thought was, Christians are using GoDaddy.com for hosting? Haven’t they seen the ads?

Harrell, who is a Christian himself, says he’s no stranger to the ads or to the suggestive nature of advertising in general. But the ads are costing him business, and he feels it’s time the company owns up to what he calls its “immoral and irresponsible” public image.

Sex will always sell. This post, I predict, will receive a lot of comments and page views because it is about sex. Patrick will continue to make a lot of money selling products and continue to be one of the most popular racers of this era. GoDaddy may lose a few customers in the process of accomplishing their goal of attracting a lot of attention, but at some point journalists will recognize that the battle for maintaining any sense of morality in the public square is over. Sex sells in this culture, and that is beginning to seem to be all that matters for those attempting to market a product.

Perhaps the only question that remains is whether the GoDaddy commercials were amusing or simply tacky.

To get a closer perspective on Patrick and her non-marketing driven personality, see here a section of a 2006 Indianapolis Star article by Curt Cavin (no longer on the Internets unfortunately) on her marriage and how it changed her life:

Patrick remembers sitting by herself in a Starbucks in Long Beach, Calif., on the weekend of her first Toyota Atlantics race in 2004.

She looked across the street at a theater that was showing “Passion of the Christ,” a movie that intrigued her. She took the opportunity to see it and left with questions. At the hotel she called [Paul] Hospenthal, whom she had been dating for 18 months. He surprised her with information.

He was Catholic.

“I was nothing, really, but I always had this sort of faith in the bottom of my heart that I didn’t know where it came from,” she said. “I had never (gone) to church; we were always racing on Sundays. I just became intrigued.

“I started asking him questions. We talked a lot about it.”

Patrick formally professed her faith in 2005, another of last year’s life-changing moments. The Indy 500, Catholicism and a wedding.

“It helps me justify situations, that there’s a reason for everything,” she said of her religion. “It makes me feel better in times when I might have been disappointed or angry, like, why me?”

I think this look-back article is a good reminder that there is a real human behind these mini-controversies regardless of what one thinks of the advertisement’s offensiveness.

Happy five years!

brass_5lite_candleabrum_br22972It seems like just a few months ago that I was compiling my list of top stories from the previous year. Regardless of how quickly I would like to see time fly by, what follows is my summary from the past year and a celebration of this blog’s five years in existence.

Looking back on my first full year blogging from Indianapolis about the media’s coverage of religion revealed some interesting trends. Religion was a big issue initially in the 2008 presidential election, but once the primaries were over and the economy exploded, faith largely dropped out of the media’s coverage. Either religion in sports news became a more frequent event, or we are just doing a better job of noticing it because our sports category exploded over the last 12 months. Atheism continues to be part of the religion beat, (despite the irony), and covering non-mainstream American faiths continues to be a problematic area of coverage, particularly when the subject pops onto the radar suddenly (see a certain ranch in Texas and the links later in this post).

That is my summary. What follows is my list of top stories.

1. The election of the second Muslim U.S. Congressman, who happens to be from Indianapolis. The media’s coverage, particularly locally, went from ice cold to mildly warm over the course of the year.

2. President Obama’s church made more than its fair share of news over the course of the campaign. One of my favorite articles on this subject reflected back on the incident from the perspective of the members of Obama’s old congregation. This is an example of the media doing a good job at not forgetting important stories after the attention has worn off.

3. The 2008 presidential debates were noteworthy from the perspective that religion was hardly an issue. The vice presidential debates gave religious issues a bit more attention, but again, the economy dominated.

4. The YFZ Ranch story, which was supposed to be about child abuse, became a story about religious freedom. This fact alone made it one of the most significant religion-legal stories of the year from my perspective. On a related note, Planned Parenthood made news when undercover cameras caught a couple of their counselors attempting to cover-up child abuse (they failed due to the fact that the child-abuse had not happened).

5. I think it would be nearly impossible for me to measure whether the quality of local religion news reporting improved over the last year, but I did find some excellent examples from a series of articles ranging from prayer in local government meetings, to the depressing story of dying churches and their conversions to condos, to natural disasters, and lastly (but probably not the last time) emerging churches.

Untold Super Christian stories

Art Stricklin of Baptist Press had an excellent profile of the faith of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin earlier this week. Unfortunately, the article seems to be one of the only works of print journalism to be on top of Tomlin’s life-story of faith.

There are two levels of Tomlin’s story that are interesting. Both mirror a head coach-story from a couple of years ago. First, Tomlin is the third African-American coach in the NFL to take his team to the Super Bowl and second, he is relatively outspoken about his faith. While his story is unique, these are two significant similarities to the 2007 Super Bowl involving the Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy. The personalities are different, but the faith is the same.

Here is the material from the Baptist Press article that could have been hooked into the many profiles of Tomlin published this week:

Until this week’s Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, Tomlin had never had the international platform to follow his mentor Dungy and speak about his faith in Jesus Christ. But that’s exactly what he did before hundreds of reporters in Tampa.

“First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ,” Tomlin said in response to a Baptist Press question about his personal faith.

“Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”

Stricklin does a good job showing where Tomlin stands in the Dungy coaching tree (former assistant at Tampa Bay), but also where he stands in Dungy’s discipleship tree. Those post-game comments from players and coaches about the significance of their faith may receive a certain level of eye-rolling from the media, but it is that very faith that motivates the behavior that the television announcers will no doubt praise during the game.

Tomlin’s many profiles don’t completely ignore the faith aspects of his story. Take for instance this quote in a column by The Boston Herald‘s John Tomase:

“I’ve been blessed that I have worked with some great people, people who took a stake in my development,” Tomlin said. “And really, I pull from all of it on a day-to-day basis — lessons learned from leadership. It’s about people. It’s about taking care of the troops. It’s about putting them first. I’ve learned that if you are going to lead, you try to lead with a servant’s heart. I try to do that — try to take care of my men and give them what they need to be great.”

Words and phrases such as “blessed” and “servant’s heart” must unfortunately act as code words for readers who know more about the story. I wish reporters would be more blunt.

Dave Fairbank of the Daily Press also hints at the faith issue:

Tomlin, a father of three, has expanded his charitable work to the Pittsburgh area.

He has participated in charity events there and is a member of the group All Pro Dad, an organization with deep NFL ties that helps men become better fathers.

“Most of the kids looking up to athletes think that there’s a possibility that they can get there,” Orie said, “but there’s a lot more that don’t get there than do. But having Mike as another alternative — it’s just like Mr. Obama being the president now — a kid can look up and say, ‘I can do that.’

“He’s a good role model because everyone that aspires to be an athlete is not going to be one, and he’s an example that you don’t have to be one to have a good life and have an impact on people.”

It would be interesting to compare the coverage of Tomlin with that of the coverage of Dungy when he was in his first Super Bowl. Much of the Dungy coverage focused on the fact that he was the first African-American coach in the NFL to take a team to the Super Bowl. But Dungy’s faith was part of that story just as it is part of Tomlin’s story.

Covering the faith in faith-based

955707435_474b94f6e4When the President of the United States appoints an official to lead, say, the Department of Health and Human Services, reporters generally tell their readers or viewers what that person believes about issues relating to health. The same is generally true for positions such as Attorney General or any other position that has some level of autonomy from the chief executive.

Executive branch appoints are not the same as appointments to the federal judiciary in the sense that officials serving at the pleasure of the president generally do not have the same level of ultimate autonomy as say a Supreme Court Justice. But personal views, convictions and beliefs do matter, particularly in a sensitive role such as chief of President Obama’s new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The New York Timesexclusive that President Obama intends to appoint 26-year-old Pentecostal preacher Joshua DuBois to direct the old office of faith-based initiatives covers, in a paragraph or two, matters of personal conviction, but much more leg work must be done if readers are going to get a true idea of what he believes.

Here is the gist of what the NYT has to offer, which I’ll readily admit is just now breaking the story, giving little time for in-depth reporting on DuBois:

“He is smart. He is calm. He is steady,” Mr. [former chief of the President Bush faith-based initiatives office John] Dilulio said of Mr. DuBois, “and I think he’s very close to the new president. He’d be a good guy to do it.”

On Capitol Hill, Mr. DuBois was part of a Democratic working group focused on building relationships with religious leaders, especially evangelical Christians alienated by the Republican record on economic inequality, foreign policy and environmental matters. Mr. DuBois expanded that outreach during the presidential campaign by convening house parties of religious voters across the country to present Mr. Obama as a man motivated by his faith.

The most contentious issue that Mr. DuBois will have to help resolve is whether Mr. Obama should rescind a Bush administration legal memorandum that allows religious groups that receive government money to hire only those who share their faith.

Mr. Obama said in a campaign speech last June, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.”

The issue of religious-based hiring is the big one, and this quote is telling on where DuBois stands, particularly since Obama has already declared his intentions in this area. Much of that will be hashed out by lawyers. And I don’t doubt that the press will give plenty of attention to the issue of whether faith-based groups that discriminate in hiring will receive federal dollars. But here is the more interesting question: if and when groups that discriminate in hiring are banned from receiving federal money, will those groups give America’s lawyers some extra legal work to create separate secular entities entitled to receive the funds?

You also can’t help but notice that DuBois is about as much of a political operative as you will find these days. He makes Brownie look like a mid-level government bureaucrat with a law degree. What does that say about how Obama views this new office, and will reporters cover this aspect before the scandals start occurring? (see here Michael Gerson on Obama’s dismissal of a qualified, effective coordinator of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in favor of politics.)

An aspect I worry will fall between the cracks is the perspective on what this 26-year-old minister actually believes himself and how that could impact his policies. Here is what DuBois told Christianity Today:

“I’m certainly not a theologian, but there are fundamentals I know to be true. The foundations of my faith are in Jesus Christ and in his teachings, especially addressing the needs of the least of these,” DuBois said. “That’s certainly a model for me, and that’s how I’m hoping to approach my work on the campaign.”

DuBois said that while Obama’s personal faith (Obama is a member of a United Church of Christ congregation in Chicago) shapes his approach to issues, the senator is a firm believer that church and state should be separated.

Will his campaign approach differ from his approach as a federal official? For more perspective on the origins of his faith, see this Wall Street Journal profile from August 2008:

Mr. DuBois grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and Xenia, Ohio, the stepson of a minister at an African Methodist Episcopal church, a branch of Christianity born in protest against slavery in 1816. His grandmother participated in the 1960 Nashville sit-ins and used to tell her grandson stories about being spat on.

His conservative parents would listen to Mr. Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” radio show. Mr. DuBois says he remembers his mother being moved to tears by some of Mr. Dobson’s broadcasts.

While studying at Boston University, Mr. DuBois became an evangelical Christian and joined Calvary Praise and Worship Center, a small African-American Pentecostal congregation in Cambridge. He became an associate pastor at age 18. …

When the short video ended, Mr. DuBois led a discussion about how religious voters can come to terms with voting for a pro-choice Democrat.

“Abortion is certainly a deeply moral issue, but so is struggling to afford decent health care for your family, or straining to put food on your table,” he recalls telling the group.

From James Dobson to abortion, what does DuBois actually believe today as a Pentecostal preacher? Wasn’t there another former Pentecostal on the national stage that received quite a bit of attention for her religion?

This raises the famous tmatt trio questions regarding the resurrection, salvation and everyone’s favorite, sex outside of marriage. Perhaps someone will ask him questions along those lines? As DuBois told Christianity Today, church and state maybe separable, but how does his personal faith shape his approach to these public issues of faith?

Image from Obama-Biden Community Blog.