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New Christian group airs ads – for Obama

The group counters attacks on the Democrat while broadening issues important to Evangelicals and others.

By Jane Lampman / August 21, 2008

Voice for Obama: Pastor and author Brian McLaren, a leader in the ‘emerging church’ movement, is a voice for the Matthew 25 Network.

Blair Anderson/AP

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His face fills the screen as the man looks earnestly into the camera and speaks directly to the viewer.

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"As a pastor, I know you can learn a lot about a man's character by the way he treats his family," he says. It's prominent evangelical leader Brian McLaren, and so begins the new TV ad for Sen. Barack Obama, which ran last weekend during Pastor Rick Warren's presidential forum at Saddleback Church in California.

The ad on "standing up for families" doesn't come from the Obama campaign, but from an independent political action committee (PAC) that has recently joined the battle for the Christian vote.

The Matthew 25 Network, as it's called, is a group of Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal Christians. Its purpose, organizers say, is to broaden the issues Christians pay attention to and also to counter falsehoods or smears targeting Senator Obama. The PAC is sponsoring radio and television advertisements aimed specifically at Christians, mostly on Christian radio in key swing states. There are ads in religious publications as well.

Organizers say the TV ad is the first by active clergy for a Democratic presidential candidate. It includes the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who's been close to President Bush and who recently officiated at Jenna Bush's wedding in Crawford, Texas.

"We've seen the domination of just a couple of issues surround the Christian voice in politics," says Mara Vanderslice, the evangelical founder of the group who worked for John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004. "We wanted a Christian voice that better reflected the gospel values missing from the landscape." For this reason, the organization named its effort after the gospel story in which Jesus calls on his followers to "care for the least of these."

The new PAC is gaining support from a variety of Christians, some of whom are new to political action.

The Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, a leader in the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference says it was time for him to join other believers in addressing concerns of marginalized people. "For Hispanic Evangelicals, this is something deep in the heart," he says.

Some Catholics see the network and Obama as addressing the justice concerns that are part of Catholic social teaching.

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