A former Bush aide claims that evangelical Christians were embraced for political gain at the White House but derided privately as"nuts,""ridiculous"and"goofy."

The allegations _ denied by the White House on Friday _ are in a new book by David Kuo, a conservative Christian who was deputy director of President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until 2003.

The book describes Kuo's frustration at what he felt was lackluster enthusiasm in the White House for the program, which seeks to steer more federal social service contracts to religious organizations. Details from the book,"Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction,"were reported by MSNBC ahead of Monday's publication date.

Kuo singled out staffers in the office of Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser and deputy chief of staff, as particularly condescending toward evangelical Christians, viewing them as necessary to help win elections but ridiculing them behind the scenes.

Kuo also described how officials from the faith-based office were systematically dispatched to hold large events in areas where there were key House and Senate races before the 2002 elections.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said he had not yet seen the book. But he said Rove was asked if he made the comments and replied he had not. Kuo, however, doesn't single out anyone by name as making the condescending comments.

"These are people who are friends. You don't talk about friends that way,"Snow said.

Bush's spokesman also said there was no attempt to exploit the office to score political points, and that the president had specifically directed it not be politicized.

Snow denied Kuo's charge that the White House's religious charities program wasn't given the status it deserved, saying Bush's personal commitment to the policy was solid. Kuo has complained publicly in the past that the White House did not push hard enough for promised federal funding for religious groups to help the poor.

Snow read from what he called a"very warm letter"Kuo wrote to Bush when he left the White House. Kuo told the president he was proud of what the initiative had accomplished and said"it's your staff's keen awareness of your unwavering support for this initiative that's made the difference."

Snow concluded that the reports on the book"seem at odds with what he was saying inside the building at the time he departed."

Kuo's account of how the faith-based office has been regarded inside the White House recalls that of another high-level alumnus of the program. John J. DiIulio Jr., the faith-based office's first director, who quit in 2002, told Esquire magazine that"Mayberry Machiavellis"led by Rove based policy only on re-election concerns. After his comments caused an uproar, DiIulio apologized for making what he said were rude remarks.

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