The Obama campaign is reportedly rolling out a line of faith-themed merchandise catering to religious voters.
BeliefNet’s “God-o-Meter” blog–a tongue-in-cheek scorecard of God-talk in U.S. elections–published an e-mail reportedly prepared for supporters by the Obama campaign’s deputy director of religious affairs, Paul Monteiro.
“Great news! We now have faith merchandise available for you to show your support for Barack Obama as a person of faith,” the e-mail begins.
It then directs recipients to “Believers for Barack, Pro-Family Pro-Obama, and Catholics for Obama buttons, bumper stickers and signs” on sale in the Obama supporter store.
“Believers for Barack rally signs and bumper stickers, along with all Pro-Family Pro-Obama merchandise, are appropriate for people of all faith backgrounds,” the e-mail continues. “We’ll soon be rolling out merchandise for other religious groups and denominations, but I wanted to get this out to you without delay.”
“The Obama campaign apparently thinks that becoming the religious Cracker Barrel of presidential politics will win an election,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “I think authentic people of faith will see this marketing of junk as folly, not faithfulness.”
“Faith is more than a sloganeering T-shirts and bumper stickers,” Parham said. “What the Democrats are doing is shameful and shallow.”
“The Christian Right’s 25-year manipulation of the faith community is no excuse for the Obama campaign to engage in one-upmanship with tacky commercialism,” he said.
“Both Obama and McCain should express their faith commitments in respectful ways and explain how they translate their faith commitments into public policies.
“Maybe it’s time for congregational leaders to take back our faith from politicians trolling for voters.”
Obama has been reaching out to religious voters since he spoke to the progressive evangelical group Call to Renewal in 2006, proclaiming “if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.”
In a January interview with Christianity Today, Obama described himself as “a devout Christian” who believes “in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life,” he said. “But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful.”
Obama spoke at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church’s AIDS conference in 2006 and then returned to the California mega-church for a candidate forum with his Republican opponent John McCain Aug. 16.
On Sept. 10 Michelle Obama spoke to the National Baptist Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, in remarks peppered with religious speech.
His campaign Web site includes a page for People of Faith for Obama. An organization of Christian Obama supporters calls itself the Matthew 25 Network.
But–in the words of NPR’s humorous “Car Talk”–the “shameless commerce” approach appears to be a new wrinkle.
Faith-based merchandise already available from the Obama campaign includes the Believers for Barack Rally Sign ($2.50) and bumper sticker ($3 each or two for $5).
Other products include “Pro-Family, Pro Obama,” “Catholics for Obama” and a Hebrew-language Obama button for American Jews.
Non-religious items target women, veterans, African-Americans, Latinos, Republicans and Independents. One niche, Obama Pride, appeals to a national network of Obama supporters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
The Obama store says all items are “top quality, union and U.S.A. made and produced.” Purchases are 100 percent campaign contributions and count toward the overall contribution limit by an individual donor.
McCain supporters wanting to wear their allegiance need not despair. His campaign Web site sells a rally sign reading “Values Voters for McCain” ($3) with accompanying apparel including a bumper sticker ($1), button ($2), key chain ($5) and packet of 50 lapel stickers for $7.
Other McCain coalition apparel appeals to Jewish Americans and Catholics.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
“Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics”