Religion and the Democratic National Convention


KIM LAWTON, correspondent: In accepting the Democratic nomination, President Obama sounded several religious themes.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.

LAWTON: He also made a reference to his personal faith.

OBAMA: While I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”

LAWTON: For years, Democrats have battled the public perception that their party is not friendly toward religion, and that battle was evident again this week. Controversy erupted after the initially-approved Democratic platform had removed any explicit mention of God. Then, in a last minute floor action, delegates re-inserted a reference to “God-given potential” from the 2008 platform. Rev. Derrick Harkins is director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic National Committee. He said the Democratic platform always contained a strong—and specific—appreciation of faith.

Rev. Derrick HarkinsREV. DERRICK HARKINS (Democratic National Committee): People of faith make up a significant and important and valuable part of who we are as Democrats and that’s across the spectrum of faith traditions. We are committed to the values and ideals that people of faith hold and we have a president who has expressed that consistently and persistently and so we just want to make sure that that message gets out. That’s our task.

LAWTON: According to Harkins, this week had the largest amount of official faith-related events ever at a Democratic convention. As is tradition at both conventions, each floor session was opened and closed with prayers by a diverse array of religious leaders. In addition, the DNC organized daily prayer gatherings. And twice during the week, the Faith Council held panel discussions where delegates and guests from the religious community reflected on faith and national issues.

Also this year, the Democrats invited a prominent nun, Sister Simone Campbell from the lobby group NETWORK, to address the delegates on the floor. She gave a rousing faith-based critique of proposed Republican budget cuts and their potential impact on the poor.

Sister Simone Campbell speaking at DNCSISTER. SIMONE CAMPBELL (Executive Director of NETWORK): Together, we understand that an immoral budget that hurts already struggling families does not reflect our nation’s values. We are better than that.

LAWTON: Harkins acknowledged the faith-based attention was strategic for Democrats.

HARKINS: Faith communities are such an inherent place of mobilization and engagement.

LAWTON: In the last election, 54 percent of all Catholics voted for President Obama. He also did very well among Jewish voters, black Protestants, and those who say they are not affiliated with any particular religion. John McCain did slightly better among Protestants over all. The vast majority of evangelicals voted Republican.

Democratic officials said they are taking no constituency for granted in this campaign. But there are challenges in many parts of their faith coalition. Catholics will be key in this election, especially given their large numbers in several battleground states. For many Catholics, the Democratic Party’s strong support for abortion rights remains a stumbling block. A group called Democrats for Life has been pushing the Party to include their perspective. At the same time, they have been working to convince Catholics that it’s okay to vote Democratic.

Stephen Schneck, Catholics for ObamaSTEPHEN SCHNECK (Catholics for Obama): When I look at the policies outside of the abortion arena, when I look at things like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act and community health centers and public housing programs, these are all programs that are proven to have a good impact in lowering the abortion rates in the United States.

LAWTON: Stephen Schneck is co-chair of Catholics for Obama. He asserts that the proposed Republican budget cuts will lead to more abortions.

SCHNECK: Thinking about that, I have to say I’m morally challenged to think about supporting Romney-Ryan as a pro-life voter.

LAWTON: On the Jewish front, there was outrage after the Democratic platform eliminated a previous provision asserting that Jerusalem “is and will remain” the capital of Israel. That provision was later re-inserted along with the mention of God. Republican Jewish activists have been arguing that President Obama is vulnerable among Jewish voters because of his policies on Israel. But leaders here said it is wrong to stereotype Jewish views. Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of the Jewish lobby group J Street.

JEREMY BEN-AMI (J Street): There’s a wide range of views among Jewish Americans when it comes to Israel. It turns out the majority of Jewish Americans are actually quite moderate in their views and not as hawkish and militant as the loudest voices that are heard.

LAWTON: He’s confident Jews will vote for Obama in high numbers in November.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, J StreetBEN-AMI: That vote is not up for grabs in any significant way and it is certainly not when it comes to Israel.

LAWTON: Among some Black Protestants, there was concern earlier this year after President Obama changed his position to now support same-sex marriage.

WILLIAM OWENS, JR. (We Celebrate Marriage): It is a major significant issue for the black church. The black community holds to a core sense of values and one of those values is family and to support gay marriage is to do away with family.

LAWTON: But delegates here who also oppose gay marriage say it hasn’t eroded support for Obama in their community.

MARKGETTA LANGFORD (Georgia Delegate): If you’re going to take one issue, and just throw out everything he’s trying to work for because of one issue? I can’t do that.

LAWTON: Meanwhile, Democrats have been working to make inroads in other religious communities that are traditionally Republican, such as evangelicals. A group of local churches held a prayer rally before the convention focusing on what they called the spiritual and moral decline in America. Democratic activists are trying to make the case that the economy is also a moral issue.

Christina Forrester, Christian Democrats of AmericaCHRISTINA FORRESTER (Christian Democrats of America): A lot of our values as Christians are about taking care of the least of these, it’s concerning the poor, immigration, caring for people with mercy so we’re looking at things like, in the context of mercy, compassion and that’s what the Bible really talks about and that’s what Jesus tells us to do.

SEN. HARRY REID (US Senate Majority Leader): I’m a Democrat because I am a Mormon.

LAWTON: And, while most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are Republican, a new group called LDS Democrats argues that the Democratic Party is actually a better fit with their values.

TAYLOR HARTLEY (LDS Democrats): As I think about how we are to put upon charity above all other virtues, I then think to myself, Ok, which political party most closely follows the virtues of charity and compassion and clearly, it’s the Democratic Party.

LAWTON: Taylor Hartley’s wife, Jamie, a delegate from Utah, has a rare illness. For them, affordable healthcare is the most pressing issue. I asked if they weren’t even a little tempted to vote for fellow Mormon Mitt Romney.

post06-dnc-religionJAMIE HARTLEY (LDS Democrats): It’s tempting because I would love to see a Mormon president. But, when it comes down to the values that are most important to me, I have to stick to those.

LAWTON: Amid all the faith-based outreach, there were some cautions. Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said while religion should have a vigorous role in public life, there are some fine lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

REV. C. WELTON GADDY (Interfaith Alliance): I’m going against both parties when I say this: I don’t feel really good about religious outreach that says we want to take the role of the church and use that as a role for enlisting people to support our party. Religion’s role in this nation has always been most important when congregations acted like religious bodies, not political bodies.

LAWTON: Religion, he believes, should contribute to something larger than politics.

GADDY: Bringing together our nation is more important than who wins an election. On the day after the election, we’ve got to be a nation that has learned enough from this past several years, that whoever wins, we can come together and say, we’re going to make this nation what it ought to be.

LAWTON: I’m Kim Lawton in Charlotte.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    Kim Lawton’s remark “Then, in a last minute floor action, delegates re-inserted a reference to “God-given potential” from the 2008 platform.” denies the fact that was obvious to anyone who watched the three voice votes that there was no two-thirds majority from the delegates and the the Yes vote rammed down by the chair was booed by the delegates. That says it all about the democrats stand on religion and charity.
    The seven practices of charity toward our neighbor, based on Christ’s prophecy of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:35), that will determine each person’s, not presidents, politicians, nor government bureaucrats, final destiny was taught us from the Baltimore Catechism:
    1. Feed the hungry
    2. Give drink to the thirsty
    3. Clothe the naked
    4. Shelter the homeless
    5. Visit the sick
    6. Visit those in prison
    7. Bury the dead
    For those who claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to only “Love the Neighbor’ and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point “to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies.
    “For you will have the poor always with you” Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local politicians or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of “Love thy neighbor” because he stopped at the inn to make a 911 call but because he acted, providing aid, comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor. Jesus Christ’s teachings cannot be used be used to support states becoming the major or only source of charitable acts.
    Eventually, hopefully sooner not later, Catholic Bishops and nuns will realize that the old adage “he who pays the piper calls the tune” is true.

    While pointing out that Jesus Christ never laid the task of aiding the needy on any governmental or religious body, his immediate followers established methods and provided means to aid widows, orphans and the needy. St Paul collected what one might call alms from foreign lands to send to Rome to aid his fellow Christians. The Church’s role in providing acts of charity was never the question, only the secular government’s role in defining and dictating to religious organizations how and what they can or cannot do or must do if they receive government aid.
    “but we need the government’s help to do that ” totally ignores the old adage “he who pays the piper calls the tune”and the results are there to see as Catholic adoption agencies in two States have ceased operation as government aid stopped. Why? The Catholic agencies refused to place children with same sex couples on religious beliefs grounds which was trumped by secular anti-discrimination laws. The government is using secular laws, regulations and rules to force Catholic charities to renounce their Catholic beliefs in order to obtain government funding or reduce or give up charitable activities. This is the ultimate goal of every socialist or dictatorial nation, the Federal government as the only source of aid and assistance.

  • ted b

    Its high time people realize that the GOP has lied to Christians about Abortion Rights since 1979 when they began utilizing it as a way solely to secure the Christian vote. Americans have fallen prey to individuals using Christ and God’s name blasphemously. Its high time to see through the sales job and vote for a party with Human interest in mind.

  • Mitch Labuda

    We still have not figured it out. There is not one faith or religion. This is a country of many faiths and religions, not one. We all have differences in what we hold and believe.

  • Bob

    Sounds like this article is not only attempting to convince the public but also attempting to convince the democratic party, why so much prattle about it, just admit that no mention of a higher power than Obama was in the platform until someone said uh oh, we left out God…….but I always thought that Obama thought he was God……..

  • Bob

    So PBS don’t like critical comments?…….they just throw them out………

  • BillH

    Nice try, but no cigar.

  • Nancy

    Thank goodness there is a Christian group that serves more than the litmus test party, the Republicans whose aggressive financial self-righteousness is not from the Bible I read, nor polygamy, nor African American suppression as the Mormon faith has done historically.

    My main question is do you know about and/or support the requirement that all states now have because of the influence of the lobby called the National Association of Social Workers and lobbies for the Association of Social Works Boards to support homosexual activity and the legality of abortion (on demand) through these lobbies’ setting up of licensing and ethical professional performance standards for the states they now control..
    Social worker licensing(testing and professional standards) is now in the hands of lobbies, not state governments, largely as a cost saving maneuver against great social political pressure. So to be licensed with all the required education and experience the professional one has to know about gay social patterns, gay sexual activity, the rights of gay folk within gay domestic situations from gay family theory/relationship theory. In effect espousing these life patterns which are against faith commitments; so Christians stay out of these vocations ? A lot of Christian government officials of many degrees of Christian commitment, don’t know these facts, but it keeps them in the Republican ranks which they otherwise dislike.
    I want to ask whether your (new) standpoint views toleration of pro-abortion laws on the books as a toleration option under the concept of the Separation of Church and State rather than a virtue to uphold. Scripture is mum on that issue, except to ban murder, but most unborns are not viable outside the mother’s body without a lot of medical intervention, as it is-so fetuses and fertilized eggs are not persons in my tradition.

    Also about marriage equality-there is clear scriptural mandate against homosexuality and endorsing marriage equality flows from being biblically “ok” with homosexual activity.

    There are many like me who would seek you out as a group to attach interest to, but if you are not upholding scripture, then your positions are just those of “nice tolerant” people. I know what has happened to parts of my childhodd denominations New England Congregationalists, PA Presbyterians. Thanks for reading. I am an Obama supporter because there is no other choice !

  • jesuschristfirst

    If you put away the immorality of this nation such as homosexuality and abortion and turn back to the only true GOD which is through Jesus christ our lord ONLY GOD himself would see the economy is taken care of because we would quit spending money on all the foolishness of this world!!!

  • Jayne

    I agree with Mr. Schenk’s statement that it is troubling to consider the Republican budget cuts and the impact it will have in removing any safety net in place to buoy those who cannot make ends meet whether that be due to illness or unemployement/underemployment.

    If I may add my perspective about lowering abortion rates:
    I would send a message to President Obama/Health and human services to expand the federal funding policy to include covering costs for essential services given to pregnant women whose choice it is to bring to birth, their child.
    This would make the present ‘exclusionary’ policy less abortion-minded and truly support having a choice and a place to make that choice a reality.

    I would encourage a federal policy that promotes a marriage campaign. This effects the health of the society in that it would highlight and recognize that we as citizens have rights and responsibilities to live up to, that its not only about rights.

    We hear about financial sacrifices and we now need to hear about marriage as a joint endeavor that also includes personal sacrifice for others, one’s partner and children, in order to understand the stability marriage contributes to society.
    Statistically, there are many couples and many couples with children who are only living together without understanding the legal protection offered by marriage, not taught that a healthy relationship can exist within the marriage framework and they are not reminded how each State and religious organizations promote have traditionally promoted marriage for the well being of its people and for the stability of the society.

  • Virginia

    Why is the government expected to enforce the religious rules, morals, ethics that religion itself cannot? True believers of the respective religions will do what is right in their own eyes which is fine when confined. The government also exists to protect the rest of us, the doutful, undecided, non-believers and atheists.

  • Slingmisery

    All religious theory is fairytale There is no Santa Clause. Think big folks, and most problems solved,