The most telling theological difference between the candidates was in response to the question of evil - does it exist and, if so, how do we confront it? John McCain said it existed and that we must defeat it. He immediately went on to identify evil as radical Islam and spoke of fighting it around the world until it has been vanquished. This brought to mind the last eight years of the George Bush presidency, the clarity with which he identified the Axis of Evil, and his divinely inspired call to combat it which led to the Iraq war.
Barack Obama also allowed that evil existed and that we had to fight against it every day. However, Obama went on to caution that we must be careful not to fall in the trap of failing to recognize that we can, if we are not vigilant, do evil in the name of doing good. This perspective is undoubtedly influenced by his familiarity with the work of the great cold war theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote: "The Christian faith ought to persuade us that political controversies are always conflicts between sinners; and not between righteous men and sinners. It ought to mitigate the self-righteousness which is an inevitable part of all human conflicts."
The question of how evil and sin work shows a profound difference in the candidates and the Christians who support them. The Evangelicals in the crowd Saturday night who applauded so heartily for McCain's definitive answer believe that they are in a spiritual battle against evil and are sure that righteousness is on their side. Others believe our Christian faith teaches that each is capable of sin and each of us can receive and participate in redemption. This is true on the personal level as well as in our families, nationally and internationally. It was the humility, compassion, and determination evident in Barack Obama's answer to this question of evil that I found most compelling in tonight's forum and most reassuring for someone seeking the most powerful position in the world.
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