ST. LOUIS Barack Obama celebrated “active faith” as an obligation of religious Americans and a chief agent of societal change while speaking Saturday to a nearly all-black roomful of churchgoers but hoping to reach far beyond them.

Making a less than two-hour stop in this battleground state, the Democratic presidential nominee implored the thousands attending a national meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the nation’s largest and most politically and civically active Black denominations, to help fix national and local ills.

He preached individual responsibility, saying he knew he risked criticism for "blaming the victim" by talking about the need for parents to help children with homework and turn off the TV, to pass on a healthy self-image to daughters, and teach boys both to respect women and "realize that responsibility does not end at conception."

But Obama’s main message was the government’s duty to address what he said are "moral problems"–such as war, poverty, joblessness, homelessness, violent streets and crumbling schools–and to employ religious institutions to do it.

"As long as we’re not doing everything in our individual and collective power to solve the challenges we face, the conscience of our nation cannot rest," he said.

Obama, who has made history by becoming the first Black major-party presidential nominee, made frequent references to the Civil Rights Movement and continuing struggles in the Black community.

"We are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will," Obama said. He was greeted when he arrived in the vast hall by the most thunderous cheering, waving and screaming that he has heard all week.

It was also his most enthusiastic delivery of late, employing preacher’s cadences that were interrupted frequently by "Amen"s and "yes."

Obama repeatedly referenced his religious faith in terms that would be familiar to white evangelicals as well as his Black audience. Obama has highlighted faith and personal story over the past week as he campaigned in onetime GOP strongholds and talked more about God, country and service than about rival Republican John McCain.

He hopes to draw more support from evangelical Christian voters than is typical for Democratic presidential candidates. Analysts are skeptical he can do that because of his support for abortion, gay rights and other issues.  (AP)

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