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Chicago Tribune - Obama in Father's Day Sermon Reminds Dads That Parenting Doesn't End at Conception

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Chicago Tribune - Obama in Father's Day Sermon Reminds Dads That Parenting Doesn't End at Conception

In a Father's Day address heavy with personal and political meaning, Democrat Barack Obama told worshipers at a Chicago church Sunday that government must do more to help families---but he also exhorted parents, especially fathers, to play their part by raising healthy children.

In a popular South Side church, Obama (D-Ill.) decried the shortage of police on the streets and money for schools, as well as a proliferation of guns in the wrong hands.

But America needs more than jobs and opportunity in its communities, the presidential candidate told the hometown congregation.

"We also need families to raise our children," he said. "We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. It's the courage to raise one."

Obama sounded a theme familiar from previous Father's Day speeches in which he called on fathers to rise to their duties.

But the story of fatherhood--never a simple one for Obama, abandoned by his own father when he was very young--was especially poignant on Sunday.

It came in the aftermath of a painful separation from Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., a father figure who, as Obama's longtime pastor, played a crucial role in his spiritual maturation as a young man. A few weeks ago, Obama publicly broke relations with Wright after controversy about the minister's strident sermons turned into a personal disagreement over their divergent views.

As the first stop in Obama's quest for a new religious home, Chicago's the Apostolic Church of God offered a symbolic new beginning.

Obama, who often speaks of a "Joshua generation" standing ready to take over the mantle of leadership from its civil rights forebears, stood in a pulpit that Bishop Arthur Brazier, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., recently handed over to his son, Byron.

A month ago, as the Wright controversy unfolded painfully for Obama, the elder Brazier organized a gathering of black pastors in a show of support for him. Obama chose the Braziers' church as the place to revisit a key message of his campaign on Sunday.

"Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important," Obama said. "And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation."

But, "if we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers also are missing, missing from too many lives and too many homes.

"They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men," he said. "And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."

The theme of fatherly responsibility is important for Obama, especially now that he is the presumed Democratic nominee for the White House. While his dogma is decidedly liberal, his talk about personal responsibility crafts an appeal to religious conservatives and political centrists.

And while he clearly aims the message at Americans of all races, he has chosen more than once to broadcast that message from black churches.

In his recent speech on race relations, Obama spoke of a historic lack of economic opportunity for black men and the "shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family," which he said contributed to the erosion of black families.

Welfare policies didn't help, he said at the time.

As he has in the past, Obama on Sunday preached about the individual's responsibility to leave that legacy behind.

Two weeks ago, Bishop Brazier, 86, who led the influential Pentecostal congregation for 48 years, handed his church to his only son, Rev. Byron Brazier, 58, a business executive who left the corporate world to follow in his father's footsteps.

As pastor, Bishop Brazier refused to speak politics at the pulpit. Nevertheless, his influence and clout became well-known in Chicago's political circles, and the church is now an obligatory campaign stop.

Similarly, although the bishop never spoke of Obama at the pulpit, it is widely known that he supports his candidacy.

In choosing to speak at Apostolic, Obama chose a somewhat more conservative church than Trinity United Church of Christ, where the senator from Illinois was a member until recently.

Both churches are on Chicago's South Side and are predominantly African-American congregations.

Trinity is part of the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination that, for example, ordains gay ministers.

For decades, Apostolic Church of God had been part of the conservative Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Though Bishop Brazier broke away from the PAW last year, his church is still solidly conservative when compared to Trinity.

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