On first glance, the DNC’s Interfaith Gathering at the Wells Fargo Theatre in the Convention Center in Denver was underwhelming. Clumps of churchy looking people wafted towards the entrance, and by the designated starting time of 2pm the large theatre was only about a fifth full. Booring, I predicted. Well, religion is almost never boring, and add politics and you produce what may be the the most passionate, unscripted, and politically dangerous event that this convention will see. The format of the event was simple – four scripture readings from four different traditions followed by four speakers, who addressed the issues of our sacred responsibility to our children, our neighbor, our nation and our world. While the format may have been simple, what was said was not.
I already posted that the beginning of the service was interrupted by three male protestors shouting that Obama was a baby killer. These anti-abortion activist might have done better to keep their mouths shut and stick around so they could hear the first major speaker, Bishop Charles E. Blake, announce himself as a pro-life democrat. While he clearly stated his anti-abortion message he went on to pointedly say to our now absent hecklers that those most loudly proclaiming their advocacy for those who have not been born noticeably refuse to speak for those who have been born and about the conditions of poverty which often lead to the choice of abortion, and the reality of those born as a result of unplanned pregnancies.
The other speakers who followed offered similarly inspired and controversial addresses blending religious beliefs with personal political objectives.
On the subject of our sacred responsibility to our neighbor, Rabbi Tzvi Hesch Weinreb managed, among other things, to advocate somewhat obliquely for school vouchers saying that people have the right to go to a school that taught the specific values of the community. Again, not a standard line for Democrats. Sister Helen Prejean of ‘Dead Man Walking’ fame was next and she brought down the house with her impassioned argument against the death penalty as the root of our nation’s challenge of violence that leads to torture and war. Of all the speakers,, Prejean was most likely to deliver on the YouTube treat that conservatives will be looking for to prove the spiritual dangers of the Democratic party and radicalism of Barack Obama. The most reasoned voice came from Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, who praised America as being the best place to practice Islam in the world, while urging us to know more about the world, and show the world more about what is best about America.
By the end of the event their appeared to be close to 3,000 people present and showing their appreciation through repeated standing ovations. Sister Prejean told us that there had been no restrictions of what the speakers could say and no vetting of their religious freedom of expression. This made this event far from boring, in fact it was one of the most electric interfaith gatherings I have ever attended. It showed the religious and political diversity within the Democratic party and testified to the ability to gather together even with our differences. However the potency of the event left me wondering if the event will remain so unscripted in the future. As the power of religion increases, so will the desire to harness it for very specific political goals of the party. It will be safer, but less powerful, and less religious.