Inside Obama’s Christian Crusade

My report on Barack Obama’s evangelical outreach strategy is up at the Nation. I open by revealing a testy moment between the candidate and Franklin Graham:

On June 10, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama convened a meeting in a law office in downtown Chicago with a wide array of about thirty evangelical leaders, in an unprecedented effort to win their support. Obama insisted that the meeting remain entirely off the record, forbidding participants from disclosing his statements to the press. His campaign has kept the names of attendees a closely guarded secret. But through interviews with participants and overlooked statements in obscure publications of the Christian press, a first-hand picture of the meeting emerges, starkly at odds with the news reports that accepted the formal version at face value.

News accounts about the meeting stated that Obama impressed his audience with his sincerity, depth of theological knowledge and communication skills. But according to those present, he did little to assuage the hostility that many of the assembled–particularly the conservative white evangelicals–harbor toward him and his liberal positions on social issues. Those differences reached a crescendo when the Rev. Franklin Graham directly confronted Obama about his supposedly Muslim background and Christian authenticity.

Franklin Graham, son of the evangelical icon Billy Graham and head of the international Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, was seated next to Obama at the meeting. He peppered Obama with pointed questions, repeatedly demanding to know if the senator believed that “Jesus was the way to God or merely a way.” Graham, who once incited an international controversy by calling Islam a “very evil and wicked religion,” proceeded to inquire about the Muslim faith of Obama’s father, suggesting that Obama himself may be a Muslim.

“They focused on abortion, gay marriage, and then Franklin Graham tried to get Senator Obama saved,” said Rev. Eugene Rivers, an African-American pastor from Boston who attended the meeting. Rivers told the Religion News Service that Graham pointedly questioned Obama’s “father’s connections to Islam.” Obama reportedly said of his father, “The least of things he was was Islamic.”

Read on here.