David Gray: Faith in the Democratic Platform

It is interesting at the start of the Democratic Convention to note that the draft platform the delegates are beginning to discuss says more about what a faith initiative will not be than what it will be in an Obama administration.

I bet the GOP platform will be more positive. Not that the Democratic platform is negative. It is just less positive than one would imagine. This contrasts with Obama’s rhetoric in July about his plans for a Council of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (as he will call it), though it does track somewhat his well-known 2006 Call to Renewal speech, which sought to show the complexity of faith and policy in America.

Below is the draft section on faith in the Democratic platform. It uses traditional language in praising the place of faith and its importance in solving problems in America. When it comes to specifics, however, the draft Democratic platform wants to make sure any faith-based initiative does not endanger First Amendment protections, does not allow proselytizing, does not allow discrimination (they main issue of controversy in Congressional debates on the issue), and is used on programs that actually work.

All these points are right and important. They show more concern from the Democrats about faith and government than the flowery language they have used in the past or than one would imagine in such a document.

Draft Democratic Platform Statement on Faith

We honor the central place of faith in our lives. Like our Founders, we believe that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. We believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and that few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. To face today’s challenges — from saving our planet to ending poverty — we need all hands on deck. Faith-based groups are not a replacement for government or secular non-profit programs; rather, they are yet another sector working to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy. At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate. We will also ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work.

–David Gray directs the New America Foundation’s Workforce and Family Program. An attorney and ordained Presbyterian minister, he is an associate pastor at Georgetown Presbyterian Church and a chaplain at American University in Washington, DC.