US Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama told a church convention on Saturday that some right-wing evangelical leaders have exploited and politicised religious beliefs in an effort to sow division.

“Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart,” the Illinois senator said in a 30-minute speech before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ.

“Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us.

“At every opportunity, they’ve told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design,” his speech continued, reports AP.

Obama urged America to dig itself out of its “cynical” approach to problem solving.

“Whether it’s poverty or racism, the uninsured or the unemployed, war or peace, the challenges we face today are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect 10-point plan,” Senator Obama said.

“They are moral problems rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness, in the ‘imperfections of man’ and in the cruelty of man toward man.”

Senator Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ, a church of about 1.2 million members that is considered one the most liberal of the main Protestant groups in the United States.

In 1972, the church was the first to ordain an openly gay man. Two years ago, the church endorsed same-sex marriage, the largest Christian denomination to do so.

Senator Obama believes that states should decide whether to allow gay marriage, and he opposes a constitutional amendment against it.

He trails Senator Hillary Clinton of New York by 33% to 21% in the most recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll among Democrats and those leaning toward the party.

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