Being one of what I'm sure is a very small number of liberals who follow the career of Stephen Mansfield, I was probably a bit less surprised than most to find out that this conservative evangelical author's latest book is about Barack Obama. The book, titled The Faith of Barack Obama, is scheduled to be released on August 5.
Few people outside of the evangelical Christian world seem to have taken more than a passing interest in Stephen Mansfield. His name might be familiar to some as the author of the 2003 best-seller The Faith of George W. Bush, or the co-author of Tom Delay's 2007 memoir, No Retreat No Surrender. Others may remember him for his 2005 open letter to Cindy Sheehan, in which he asserted that by blogging on Michael Moore's website, Sheehan was "abandoning the moral high ground of a grieving mother and [was] in danger of becoming just another fleeting voice on the American pop culture landscape," and urged her "not to taint [her] son's offering on what Lincoln called 'the altar of freedom' by tethering it to the passing parade of trendy causes." Most, however, had probably forgotten all about Stephen Mansfield until the announcement the other day about his upcoming book.
But, for reasons explained in another post I wrote a few days ago, I've been keeping up with Mansfield's work, and while I've lambasted him for his regurgitation of Christian nationalist American history lies in his book Ten Tortured Words, and rebuked him for his uninformed criticism of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I now find myself in the peculiar position of defending him a bit.
On June 17, Mansfield wrote a post on his blog calling Ben Smith's Politico.com article about his book "An Internet Mugging." I tend to agree with Mansfield here. The article's title, "Bush backer pens pro-Obama book," was pretty deceptive. Mansfield is certainly not pro-Obama, so it just defies logic to think he would write a pro-Obama book. And, the article didn't get around to noting that Mansfield said he'll be voting against Obama until the very last sentence. In between, some assumptions were made about Mansfield's motives for writing the book, as well as its intended audience.
Liberals seem to be as mystified by a conservative evangelical like Mansfield writing this book as conservatives are by the idea that the Democratic candidate for president might just be more in touch with the evangelicals than the Republican candidate is, and Mansfield is being attacked from both sides. Smith's opinion that Mansfield's book "may lend credibility to Senator Obama's bid to win Evangelical Christian voters away from the Republican Party" is not going over well with conservative evangelicals, and the fact that this conservative evangelical had the audacity to write a book about Obama's religion has many liberals labeling him a hack who'll write about any hot topic to make a buck.
Back on March 3, before the whole Jeremiah Wright brouhaha began, Mansfield predicted on his blog that Obama would win the nomination, and also that he would defeat McCain in November, ending that post by saying, "This is how I think our current election will play out. Feel that movement under your feet? It is America making a shift to the left."
Two weeks later, he wrote a post titled "A Lesson from Obama," which began, "I obviously have my political differences with Barack Obama. That said, I must admit that his handling of this recent crisis regarding his pastor has been masterful and ought to be a model for leaders of every kind who strive to be statesmen," and ended, "We live in a day of spin and political venom. Refreshingly, Mr. Obama has shown us that the best antidote to this poison is honesty, simplicity, faithfulness and truth. Surely we can admire these traits whatever our politics."
So, while I've considered Mansfield to be a hack on other occasions, and I thoroughly disagree with him on just about everything, I actually do believe that he has a genuine curiosity about the religious beliefs of others, and just don't think he wrote this book for any reason other than those he gives -- that he's "interested in ideas and how they shape culture, even ideas [he] can't embrace," and that he "wanted to explore and explain the faith of this unusual man, Barack Obama, who just might be our next president."