Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is pulling out all the stops in his effort to appeal to religious voters, uniting top Gospel artists later this month for a weekend concert series on his campaign trail.
Obama is hosting "Embrace the Change! Gospel Series," which will bring some of gospel music's top stars to the same stage in three South Carolina cities – Charleston, Greenwood and Columbia – Oct. 26-28 .
The chart-topping artists include Grammy Award winners Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin and Hezekiah Walker; seven-time Grammy Award-nominee Vanessa Bell Armstrong; Grammy-nominated Deitrick Haddon and Beverly Crawford; Steller Award winner Bryon Cage; Dove Award winner Fred Hammond; and the world's most famous gospel quartet, the Mighty Clouds of Joy.
"I think that what you're seeing is a breaking down of the sharp divisions that existed maybe during the '90s," Obama said, according to CNN last week. "At least in politics, the perception was that the Democrats were fearful of talking about faith…"
The concerts mark the final days of the senator's "40 Days of Faith & family" campaign in South Carolina – a grassroots effort to share with South Carolinians how Obama's family values and faith have shaped his leadership and effort to bring people together for fundamental change.
Currently, Obama is battling Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the state of South Carolina, especially for the support of African-American women, a group that could decide the primary there, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Although all the leading Democratic presidential contenders this year have spoken about their personal faith and reached out to religious voters, the junior senator from Illinois has by far been the most outspoken and aggressive candidate when it comes to outreach to faith-based voters.
"I don't think a Democratic presidential candidate has come close to doing anything like this before," said Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
"If you are going to parse the different dimensions of how a presidential candidate does religion, he (Obama)'s doing them all," he told The Associated Press
Besides speaking at churches and hosting the Gospel concert, the Obama campaign also holds a weekly interfaith prayer conference call, runs a "People of Faith for Barack" web site and has a page on FaithBase.com, a social networking site similar to Facebook and MySpace, according to The Associated Press.
Last year, Obama also participated in the AIDS summit hosted by evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren.
Yet despite Obama's increased "God talk" and religious activities, many conservative Christians are still hesitant to embrace him. Differences on key conservative issues such as abortion and gay "marriages" have blocked Obama from being a serious candidate for many conservative voters.
Obama, although saying he personally does not support homosexuality, has refused to support a constitutional amendment banning homosexual "marriage." Also, although Obama personally opposes abortion, he refuses to support overturning Roe v. Wade.
"I appreciate that the candidates are taking a risk when they talk about their faith," commented Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship Ministries, in a past commentary.
"The problem is that all of this 'God Talk' misses the point: what Christians want – or should want – is a candidate who shares their moral and culture concerns, not just their religious vocabulary."
Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ – considered one of the nation's most liberal mainline Protestant denominations.