Christians optimistic but disappointed in Obama

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Conservative evangelical and Catholic leaders who went out on a political limb by aligning themselves with the Obama administration are expressing feelings ranging from disappointment to optimism in their reaction to the president’s decisions so far

Conservative evangelical and Catholic leaders who went out on a political limb by aligning themselves with the Obama administration are expressing feelings ranging from disappointment to optimism in their reaction to the president’s decisions so far on culture war issues.

Although most of President Barack Obama’s moves on abortion and stem cell research have been expected, some right-leaning Christian leaders who took a risk sitting down at the table with a Democratic president feel that several major decisions fall short of the common ground Obama had promised on divisive social issues.

Obama’s reversal of Bush-era restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is the latest example.

“Thus far, I have been disappointed to see little give. There’s been a lot of take,” said the Rev. Frank Page, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention who serves on a month-old advisory board to Obama’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “I’ve seen little give in the area of relating to the evangelical community as far as life issues.”

Others point out that Obama is, after all, a Democrat and supporter of keeping abortion legal – and he has promised to proceed with caution on stem cells.

Obama “is not doing anything he hasn’t said he was going to do during the campaign,” said the Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from Orlando, Fla., and another advisory board member. “So I am not enthusiastic, but I’m not disappointed because we knew what to expect. I’m encouraged he is not totally flipping to the other side. We’ve got to be patient here.”

One of the four main priorities of Obama’s faith-based office is to find ways to reduce the abortion rate, an attempt at common ground. But shortly after taking office, Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of international family planning groups that perform abortions or provide information about the procedure.

Then in late February, the administration said it would rescind broad protections put in place in the waning days of the Bush administration for health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on personal, moral or religious grounds. Conservative Christian groups cried foul.

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In photo: Senator Barack Obama, speaking to an A.M.E. congregation in Selma, Alabama.

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