For the party trying to change the impression that it hasn’t got enough religion, Democrats got maybe a little too much on Sunday.
Hundreds of party faithful got dollops of, well, faith in the cavernous Wells Fargo Theater in what organizers repeatedly reassured whomever would listen was the first time a major party convention was launched with a faith meeting. (What about the Temperance Party? Just asking.)
“We didn’t need to bring faith to the party!” Leah Daughtry, a Pentecostal preacher who is also the conventions CEO, shouted out. “Faith was already here!”
If the Democrats wanted to look diverse, the absence of a white male Protestant until a very brief glimpse at the very end of the service achieved that: there were three Muslims (including two women), four rabbis (three men and one women), a Buddhist, three African American preachers, and so on. (The WMP was Rev. Shaun Casey, who joined Rabbi Marc Schneier, an Imam and a Catholic lay leader in delivering the closing litany.)
There was a diversity of political opinion as well, making this religious gambit, well, typically Democratic. Try to imagine this tussling at the GOP convention:
- Bishop Charles E. Blake of the Church of God in Christ excoriated Democrats for backing abortion rights, speaking of the “spiritual pain so many of us feel at this disregard of the lives of the unborn.” (He didn’t let Republicans off the hook, excoriating them for abandoning the poor after they’re born.)
- Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter tossed out the party’s notions of church-state separation: “Politics is the understanding that there is a God, that there is a created world.”
- Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun who wrote the best-selling indictment of capital punishment “Dead Man Walking” (and who joined Janet Weisssssss in the “Susan Sarandon played me” club) excoriated what she described as the American culture of violence: “What has happened to us?” she said, citing the Iraq war and the sanction of torture by American authorities.
Somehow, though, the session worked, infused as it was with the atmosphere of a typical Sunday church outing, with attendants dressed in their Sunday best and whooping agreement with Jews, Muslims and Christians alike – and not to mention the four choirs.
A highlight was the keynote speech by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, who directs the Orthodox Union. His exegesis of the concept of neighborliness, drawing on biblical Talmudic and modern rabbinical examples (Rabbi Kook cited at a Democratic convention? Go figure), drew enthusiastic applause: He drew more than one strong “Amen!” prompting him to plead to laughter, “Let’s try the Hebrew Amen, Ah-mein.” The crowd complied and he said: “Now I feel at home.”
At home enough that he managed to insinuate into his speech a couple of notions not usually sounded at Democratic gatherings, including support for school vouchers.
One salutary effect: Clergy got to see how familiar liturgy plays with an unfamiliar crowd. Weinreb recounted the story of Hillel explaining the Torah to a non-Jew standing on one leg. It’s punchline: “‘That which is hateful to you do not do unto your neighbors, that’s all of God’s teachings, the rest is commentary’ – and finally he said, ‘now go out and study the commentary,'” drew gales of laughter.
Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va, who delivered an opening prayer, remarked afterward: “I didn’t know that story was funny!” (Schwartzman made the remark as she and Rabbi Steven Foster, of Denver’s Congregation Emanuel, busily punched exchanged info into their respective cellphones. From Hillel to the 21st century in a flash!)
(As for the title to this blogpost – a recording of the Bon Jovi classic was how the session wound down.)