I’m here in St. Paul, and still processing everything from last night. I was pretty sure there was no way that the Republican National Convention could come even close to the excitement of the Democratic National Convention but last night was truly amazing. We’ll be sure to cover the coverage of the religious angles — although it’s funny that most of the fodder for religion news seemed to come from Rudy Guiliani, of all people.
The interesting thing about the difference between the two conventions was that you couldn’t go more than a few minutes in Denver without hearing mention of the party being welcoming to religious adherents. There were prominent invocations and benedictions, the interfaith gathering, the faith caucuses (caucii?). Here, every mention of religion I’ve heard has been so different. Obama’s “clinging to religion” comments get joked about a lot — but there is no “appeal” being made to religious voters. This is likely because Democrats have a real image problem, although it’s improving, with being seen as “friendly to religion.” It will be interesting to see how the religious outreach will be compared in press reports.
But before we get to that, I wanted to highlight a very comprehensive piece looking at the Democratic convention’s religious angles. Reported by Religion & Ethics’ Kim Lawton, she nailed what religious outreach means to Democrats. Watch it all. Leah Daughtry’s commanding presence is highlighted. She quotes people talking about moral issues facing the nation. She shows the prominent display of religion, beginning with the interfaith gathering:
LAWTON: The gathering was part of a new Democratic strategy to incorporate religion and more aggressively reach out to faith-based voters. Observers say it’s a sea change from 2004, when the Democrats appeared reluctant to address issues of faith.
Reverend ROMAL TUNE (Clergy Strategic Alliances): Four years ago, the party was still gaining momentum in terms of the outreach in the religious community. But now the party is more willing to express its views as people of faith, the diversity of the faiths represented by the Democratic Party.
Lawton notes the polling data that suggest Democratic problems with religious outreach. Only 38 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion. But she shows how the efforts are playing out and how they are completely different than the way that Republicans reach out:
LAWTON: In addition, for the first time ever the Democrats created special caucus meetings where people of faith could come together as other affinity groups do. At a series of four separate faith caucus meetings, national religious leaders held panel discussions about key issues. In another first, Muslims organized the American Muslim Democratic Caucus. Fifty-five Muslim caucus members were delegates at this year’s convention. Former Muslim Army chaplain James Yee was a delegate from Washington State. After working in Guantanamo Bay, Yee was detained in 2003 and accused of spying. The charges were later dropped, and now Yee is mobilizing Muslims to get involved in politics.
Chaplain JAMES YEE (Washington Delegate): The values of justice, diversity, equality, religious freedom — these are all values that are not only reflected in our Constitution, but they are also reflected in the teachings of the Qur’an. . . .
LAWTON: Joe Turnham was gratified to see the many expressions of Democratic faith at this convention. Turnham is chair of the Alabama Democratic Party and a lifelong evangelical Christian. He has been deeply frustrated by the Democrats’ recent image on issues of faith.
JOE TURNHAM (Chair, Alabama Democratic Party): Democrats are people that pray. They are people that seek forgiveness. They are people that seek for higher meaning and truth in life and that really do follow scriptural precepts for how we live our lives. And it’s a barometer of how we may govern.
As someone who was there, these quotes resonate perfectly with the tone of the various events. It’s nice to be able to compare a piece against actual events and Lawton nailed it.
The big ghost of the religious outreach efforts was definitely the abortion issue. And not just because of the protests. Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, was given a prominent speaking slot whereas Democrats for Life met in a small room blocks away from the convention.
NANCY KEENAN (President, NARAL Pro-Choice America, during speech): I am proud to say that my party, the Democratic Party, is a party of many faiths and backgrounds united behind these core moral values: we support and defend a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion.
LAWTON: The party maintained its strong support for abortion rights. But this year, delegates also approved support for measures to reduce the number of abortions. Denver Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput called the measure a “distraction.”
Archbishop CHARLES CHAPUT (Archdiocese of Denver): The fact that there’s a part of the platform that calls for that doesn’t blind me to the other part of the platform that is unconditionally committed to the right to abortion. So, quite honestly, I’m not impressed by it.
The piece also mentions that it’s a delicate line between reaching out to religious believers and alienating some of the party’s secularists. Clergy and other religious adherents were clearly enthused about the new approach being taken. Lawton managed to present that enthusiasm without overselling what is happening. As we usually say when looking at that fine show, great work.