ST. LOUIS — Barack Obama celebrated "active faith" as an obligation of religious Americans and a chief agent of societal change while speaking Saturday to a nearly all-black roomful of churchgoers, but hoping to reach far beyond them.
Making a less than two-hour stop in this battleground state, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee implored the thousands attending a national meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the nation's largest and most politically and civically active black denominations, to help fix national and local ills.
He preached individual responsibility, saying he knew he risked criticism for "blaming the victim" by talking of the need for parents to help children with homework and turn off the TV, to pass on a healthy self-image to daughters, and teach boys both to respect women and "realize that responsibility does not end at conception."
But Obama's main message was the government's duty to address what he said are "moral problems" — such as war, poverty, joblessness, homelessness, violent streets and crumbling schools — and to employ religious institutions to do it.
"As long as we're not doing everything in our individual and collective power to solve the challenges we face, the conscience of our nation cannot rest," he said.
Earlier in the day as he flew from Montana to Missouri, Obama told reporters he was surprised at how the media has "finely calibrated" his recent words on Iraq, and reaffirmed his commitment to ending the war if elected.
"I was a little puzzled by the frenzy that I set off by what I thought was a pretty innocuous statement," he said. "I am absolutely committed to ending the war."
On Thursday in North Dakota, Obama said that "I'll … continue to refine my policy" on Iraq after an upcoming trip there. With a promise to end the war the central premise of his candidacy, the Obama campaign has struggled over the past two days to push back against Republicans and others who say his recent statement could be a softening or change in policy.
Obama has always said his promise to end the war would require consultations with military commanders and, possibly, flexibility.
"The tactics of how we ensure our troops are safe as we pull out, how we execute the withdrawal, those are things that are all based on facts and conditions," he said. "I am not somebody — unlike George Bush — who is willing to ignore facts on the basis of my preconceived notions."