Young Evangelical Backs Out of Convention Prayer

DENVER - It was a coup for Democrats: An emerging young evangelical voice, a registered Republican no less, accepted their invitation to deliver a prayer at next week's Democratic National Convention.

But Cameron Strang, the 32-year-old editor of edgy and hip Relevant Magazine, had second thoughts and pulled out of delivering the benediction on the convention's first night, Monday. Citing fears that his bridge-building gesture would be wrongly construed as an endorsement, Strang said he instead hopes to take a lower-profile role, participating in a convention caucus meeting on religion later in the week.

"Through Relevant, I reach a demographic that has strong faith, morals and passion, but disagreements politically," Strang wrote on his blog. "It wouldn't be wise for me to be seen as picking a political side when I've consistently said both sides are right in some areas and wrong in some areas."

Little known to outsiders, the Strang name carries weight with evangelicals, especially in the fast-growing charismatic and Pentecostal branches. Cameron's father, Steven, who like his son is based in the Orlando, Fla., area, founded a magazine, Charisma, that spawned a publishing empire. The elder Strang has endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign has aggressively courted the young evangelical vote, and the younger Strang has been part of it. He was on the guest list when religious leaders met with Obama in June in Chicago, consulted the campaign on Christian issues and interviewed Obama for his magazine, which claims a print circulation of 80,000 and 450,000 unique Web site visitors per month.

Yet Strang's reticence to play such a high-profile role shows such relationships are a work in progress: While Democratic leaders are reaching out to more diverse religious groups, many younger evangelicals are striving for political independence and common ground without compromising on core issues like abortion.

The convention's schedule is studded with faith-themed events, including the first interfaith gathering to open a Democratic convention. Those delivering invocations and benedictions during the four-night convention include a Greek Orthodox archbishop, a Catholic nun, a rabbi from Judaism's Reform tradition and Joel Hunter, a Republican and Florida megachurch pastor who has made the environment a signature issue.

In his blog post, Strang wrote that he initially accepted the benediction invitation, in part, so he could pray in a forum where faith isn't typically emphasized. He also wanted to provide tangible evidence that "this generation of values voters doesn't necessarily need to draw political battle lines the way previous generations have, and that we can work through areas of disagreement toward common goals."

Those goals range from fighting poverty, torture and genocide to protecting the environment and reducing the number of abortions, he wrote. Strang calls himself a pro-life Republican.

Learning later that he was to speak on the main stage on opening night gave him "serious pause." Strang said Obama representatives understood his decision, and he wants to keep his good relationship with them.

Asked whether he got any pressure to reduce his role, Strang said Thursday he got a few e-mails, but it was a personal decision.

Obama campaign and convention committee officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Democratic officials have emphasized their faith outreach work is meant to recognize the nation's religious diversity and unite the religious and nonreligious around shared values.

Strang found a different young evangelical to take his place delivering the closing prayer on Monday night: Donald Miller, author of the popular spiritual memoir "Blue Like Jazz."

Strang's soul-searching prompted one other change: He switched his political affiliation to independent this week.

As for his presidential preference, Strang said he still hasn't decided.