Obama's Evangelical Biographer

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Ben Smith got an early look at a soon-to-be-published Obama biography by conservative evangelical Stephen Mansfield, who's previous literary efforts have included biographies of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay. The two key take-away points: It's largely positive, and it will be distributed widely among evangelicals.

On the first point, Ben summarizes Mansfield thusly:

"For Obama, faith is not simply political garb, something a focus group told him he ought to try. Instead, religion to him is transforming, lifelong, and real," Mansfield writes, going on to compare Obama favorably to Christian Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who he says erected a "wall of separation" between their religion and their governance. By contrast, "Obama's faith infuses his public policy, so that his faith is not just limited to the personal realms of his life, it also informs his leadership," Mansfield writes. ...

Mansfield said in the interview that he entered Trinity having heard "that Obama's church was a cult, something un-Christian, that Reverend Wright was a nut," but emerged with the view that it is "a pretty solid Christian church." His warm description of the church reflects that view. Though Mansfield writes of some jarringly radical features of the black liberation theology from which Trinity is descended, he concludes that what it offers is the "'born-again, new birth, blood-washed, Spirit-empowered Chrstianity' that Evangelicals know."

As for distribution:

The book is published by Thomas Nelson, the world's largest Christian publisher. It's due out August 5. "The Faith of Barack Obama" is expected to retail in Christian outlets and the Wal-Mart chain of stores, as well as secular bookstores. [The Bush biography spent 15 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list back in 2004.]

It seems hard to underestimate the potential importance of this, given that one of Obama's biggest challenges is showing middle America that he's "one of us" rather than some out-of-the-mainstream, unpatriotic secularist of Muslim extraction. Also, as Ben notes, John McCain is hardly beloved among evangelicals--nor is he particularly fluent in the mores of evangelicalism. If the Mansfield book gets read widely, you can even imagine it delivering a certain number of conservative (as opposed to just moderate) evangelicals to Obama.

--Noam Scheiber

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