ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Today, James Dobson, the conservative evangelical talk show host, blasted presidential candidate Barack Obama on his radio program. He said Obama distorts the gospel and the Constitution. NPR's Barbara Bradley-Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY-HAGERTY: Two years ago, Senator Barack Obama sent a rallying cry to liberal Christians. You, too, he said, have something to contribute to politics. You cannot cede the ground to religious conservatives. He said there are many ways to interpret the Bible.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay, but eating shell fish is an abomination?
BRADLEY-HAGERTY: Today, James Dobson took exception to that speech.
Dr. JAMES DOBSON (Evangelical Talk Radio Host): I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.
BRADLEY-HAGERTY: Dobson was speaking on this morning's "Focus on the Family" radio program. For 18 minutes, Dobson excoriated Obama for his political stance, especially Obama's belief that a politician must take into account a variety of views on moral issues.
Dr. DOBSON: Now that is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution. This is why we have elections, to support what we believe to be wise and moral. We don't have to go the lowest common denominator of morality, which is what he is suggesting.
BRADLEY-HAGERTY: Shaun Casey, who advises Obama on religious issues, argues that the candidate's view is a mainstream interpretation of the Constitution. He says Dobson's criticism is not really about theology. Casey says Dobson is frustrated that Republicans chose John McCain as their nominee, a man that Dobson has said publicly he will not vote for.
Mr. SHAUN CASEY (Advisor to Barack Obama): And I think on the other hand, he's frustrated that Senator Obama's outreach to evangelicals seems to be getting some traction at the grass roots level, as well as among a number of prominent evangelical leaders.
Earlier this month, for example, Obama met with more than a dozen evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham and T.D. Jakes. Several said they walked away impressed with Obama's faith. And polls suggest that many younger, moderate evangelicals are interested in Obama.
Michael Cromartie, an evangelical and vice president at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sees in Dobson's words a political signal.
Mr. MICHAEL CROMARTIE (Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center): It's the beginning of what we might call the religion wars in the 2008 campaign.
BRADLEY-HAGERTY: Cromartie says Dobson's criticism is unlikely to keep his listeners from voting for Obama. They weren't going to, anyway.
Mr. CROMARTIE: But it should at least concern the Obama campaign that one of the leading leaders of the religious conservative movement in America, who has a huge and vast mailing list and radio program, has sort of been awakened from his slumber.
BRADLEY-HAGERTY: And is now aggressively campaigning against Obama, and perhaps mobilizing the conservative vote.
Barbara Bradley-Hagerty, NPR News.
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