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Pastor Mike Addresses The Flock In NH

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For most Presidential candidates stumping in New Hampshire, today is nothing more than a crucial opportunity to expand and rally their base. But for Mike Huckabee, it's also Sunday. Today in the town of Windham, Huckabee stood in the same suit and spoke in the same voice to two different crowds, for two very different reasons. This morning, he did double duty as pastor and Presidential candidate. And while he uttered not a word about his campaign or political career in his sermon, the two performances--one from Pastor Mike, one from Governor Huckabee--were strikingly similar.

For the 75-odd% of Americans who live outside the world of electric worship bands, whose cars bear no fish icons, and who are thinking about a personal relationship with their health care system and economy, instead of a personal relationship with Jesus, Huckabee is an introduction to a new sort of Christian candidate. To the megachurch set, he's as familiar as a favorite Bible verse. He's as different than the slick, paternalistic, damnation preachers like Pats Robertson and Buchanan, who before him dreamt of expanding their pulpit to the presidency.

Huckabee's self-deprecating humor, comfort with secular culture, and essential reliability is the stuff of any soul-saver finding success in Christian America today; the preacher who is comfortable sitting in with the band, playing the devil's music like he did on Leno the other night, or traveling with a star of the sort of movies and television that yesterday's Christian leaders would have pilloried as violent soul poison. Today he let that persona hang out in its more familiar environs, before he brought it in front of a larger public, some of which is looking to this former long-shot as a possibility for national salvation.

What Pastor Mike said this morning has been spoken regularly at any Evangelical church in the country, by any pastor. It wasn't fair tax or foreign policy he preached on today, but what it means to be a soldier for Christ, and what it means to sacrifice ones selfish needs to serve the Lord. In church speak, he delivered a message on "death to self." But while his battle for votes in Tuesday went unmentioned, many of his musings spoke allegorically to his bid for the White House, and his Iowa win which to most people seemed unthinkable just weeks ago.

"Most of us start as losers," he said. "It's what we're trying to get away from," reminding the parishioners gathered before him in turtlenecks and snow boots that "patience is from a Greek work that literally means victory." Huckabee referenced the marathons he's run in terms of what it means to persevere in a life dedicated solely to Christ. "If you finish, you've had a victory. You trained for the moment of finishing." Eyes on the prize, indeed. But when reading fro Timothy 2, he made no mention of the apparent irony in the verse he discussed: "what it means to be a soldier for Christ," he preached, " is no one gets involved in civilian affairs." He continued, without an eye towards the political rally immediately following the service, at another school down the street, " committing to Christ, a lot of us want to bounce back and forth between two worlds. It doesn't work."

Perhaps that's because, the order to avoid civilian affairs aside, Huckabee is successfully collapsing his pastor self into his presidential candidate self. His cadence, his anecdotes, his jokes, his timing, his references--all these things are identical whether delivered form the pulpit or the podium. His church service this morning could have been recast in mad lib form, substituting his experience as a Christian with his experience as a governor, exchanging notions about sacrifice and freedom as a Christian for those same ideas as a citizen. Throw in a few mentions to his support for the second amendment, his opposition to abortion, and his constant circling back, in this income-tax-free state, to his plans to reform the tax code, and you've got the same guy. "Government didn't give us these rights," he said at his rally after the service. "God did."

Of course, it makes perfect sense that the same type of performance that would draw seekers hungry for identity, community, and the promise of salvation into a relationship with a church and a perceived Savior would also work to sign people on to a political platform. I've traveled throughout Evangelical America and listened to Christians tell me everywhere I've gone that they came to Christ because they were searching for authenticity, they were looking for a leader to believe in, in what they consider to be a leaderless world. They're referring to the Lord, sure, but also to the pastor's whose charisma and accessibility many of them follow like Jesus himself.

Speaking to Huckabee supporters this morning, Christian or secular, I heard the same words spoken in the same tones. People would gush that they feel he's "something real," "truly authentic," "something to believe in," whether he's discussing the energy independence or his executive experience. They don't talk about him in the terms of political leadership, but spiritual leadership. In this state, the second least-church-going I the nation, where Evangelical churches average 70 members--compared to the 2,500 are the lowest limit to qualify as a megachurch--the gospel Huckabee preaches may be, in the vernacular of that other boy from Hope, the economy stupid. But the experience they're having in rallies across the state between now and Tuesday feel like the stuff of the modern American pulpit, no longer a world apart from the modern American presidential election. Whether that will translate into a political mandate in this state or nationwide remains to be seen. But no longer does a Christian soldier need to change his uniform to do civilian duty in this supposedly secular nation.