In a Bible-thumping indictment peppered with Scripture references, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry called President Bush a “false prophet” and compared him to the men who passed by the robbed and beaten man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan at a black Baptist gathering in New Orleans.

Speaking Thursday to about 35,000 delegates of the National Baptist Convention and introduced by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kerry, a Roman Catholic, opened with a stanza from “Amazing Grace,” which he described as his father’s favorite hymn. He reminded that the hymn’s writer was an English slave trader who after giving his life to God became a minister and abolitionist.

“His life shows us that faith can calm troubled waters and that amazing grace will always bring us home,” Kerry said.

Kerry quoted James 2:20 to say “faith without works is dead” and Hebrews 11:1 to point out “you can’t separate faith from substance.”

“Four years ago, George Bush came to office calling himself a ‘compassionate conservative,'” Kerry said, according to a text of his speech on his campaign Web site. “Well, in the story of the Good Samaritan we are told of two men who pass by or cross to the other side of the street when they come upon a robbed and beaten man. They felt compassion, but there were no deeds.”

“For four years, George W. Bush may have talked about compassion, but he’s walked right by,” Kerry said. “He’s seen people in need, but he’s crossed over to the other side of the street.”

“I also know that George Bush has asked the question, ‘Does the Democratic Party take African American voters for granted?'” he said later in the speech. “Well, here is my answer. The Book of Matthew reminds us, ‘Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing.'”

“The president who in the last four years couldn’t even find time to meet with NAACP, the Black Caucus or the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The president who turns away from African American needs, who scorns economic justice and affirmative action, who traffics in the politics of division–and then claims he is a friend of Black America–cannot conceal his identity no matter what clothes he wears.”

President Bush, an evangelical Christian, is often credited for his deft use of personal piety to connect with religiously motivated voters. Such overtly religious talk is rare for Kerry, who says he is personally religious but doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve.

In remarks this summer to the Southern Baptist Convention, Bush also pushed religious buttons to tout policies popular with conservative evangelicals:

–“Life is a creation of God, not a commodity to be exploited by man” (Comprehensive ban on human cloning).

–“The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith” (Constitutional amendment defining marriage as union of a man and woman).

–“I will continue to defend the liberty of religious organizations” (Faith-based initiative).

The Bush-Cheney campaign is relying heavily on the evangelical vote in the election in seven weeks. Polls say white voters who attend church weekly are overwhelmingly Bush supporters.

Black Baptists, however, who are conservative biblically but liberal on social issues, tend to vote strongly Democratic.

In his remarks to Southern Baptists, Bush cited the convention’s “proud tradition going back to your first gathering in Augusta, Ga., almost 160 years ago.”

Ironically, the reason behind that meeting was slavery. Baptists in the South separated from the old Triennial convention in 1845 after two mission boards refused to appoint slaveholders as missionaries, a fact for which the SBC didn’t formally apologize until 1995.

With 7.5 million members in 33,000 churches, the National Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest African-American church group.

Delegates earlier booed President Bush’s housing secretary, Alphonso Jackson, who is black, when he said the Republican Party is committed to helping African Americans, according to the Associated Press.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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