Conventional Wisdom

DNC Day 1: Inside the Interfaith Worship Service


Each day, during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, our two guest bloggers will be offering insight and reporting from the convention floor. First up is author and Columbia University professor Farah Jasmine Griffin. Here, she writes about the "jarring but not surprising" aspects of yesterday's interfaith worship service.

Farah Griffin

This will be a convention of firsts: it will showcase the New Democratic Party — one led by the first African American, Barack Obama, to receive the nomination of a major party. And yet, we know it is a convention that will be marked by tension as well, particularly the tensions and challenges brought by those who supported his fiercest rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, ironically, who is the first woman to have been a serious contender for the office of President of the United States.

Sunday saw the first official activity of the Convention, the Faith in Action Interfaith worship service, conceived of and hosted by Leah D. Daughtry, CEO of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, herself a Pentecostal minister. This event was scripted to demonstrate unity in diversity. It was the first such faith event to be held at a Democratic Convention, a kind of culmination of the party's recent efforts to win over and welcome people of faith. There are millions of religious people who vehemently disagree with the religious right on economic issues, the war and the environment (though many do share with the Right convictions against a woman's right to choose and homosexuality). The forum provided a platform for airing some of these countering views.

It was jarring but not surprising that a few anti-choice protestors sought to disrupt the service. What was surprising was when one of the most effective and compelling speakers pronounced from the podium that he is a dedicated pro-life Democrat. Bishop Charles Blake is the Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, one of the largest and most powerful Pentecostal denominations. In one powerful gesture, he both proclaimed his opposition to a major part of the Democratic Party Platform (choice), while at the same time launching a scathing critique of the Religious Right's disregard for the lives of children already born who live in poverty and hunger today.

Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking, was perhaps the most powerful and passionate of the speakers. She urged us to consider the dignity of those we send to death row; linked our disregard for their lives to our nation's disregard for the rights of poor people and people of color; and made a connection between our practice of state sanctioned murder and our willingness to turn a blind eye to state sanctioned torture against our enemies. Hers was also a pro-life stance, guided by a vision of her faith not shared by the religious right.

There was Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb — who advocates educational vouchers — and Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, who spoke of Muslim Patriotism and acknowledged the role of Christians and Jews in helping to ensure the Muslim Civil Liberties in the wake of intense scrutiny and harassment faced by Muslims since 9/11.

Though the service was ecumenical, it was largely focused on the three Abrahamic faiths. There was one Buddhist reading by a student, Kathryn Ida. Although the speakers represented a diversity of faiths, the service itself seemed largely Christian because of the musical selections and the exuberant shouts of "Amen!" from the audience. Nonetheless, it successfully showcased the religious diversity of the party, articulated a common vision of justice and equality and painted a portrait of the party as a place welcoming of religious people.

However, left unspoken were the challenges that this new direction will pose for a party that has long supported the right of women to choose what happens to our bodies by opposing state intervention in this most personal matter. Also left unspoken were the rights of gay people who have found the party a place welcoming of them and supportive of many, if not all, of their legal and civil rights. Although this latter issue was not raised yesterday, it is surely yet another point of difference and tension between Democrats at this convention and in the future.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Faith, like love, is a shared human experience. As long as we limit it by completely identifying it with our doctrines and, in more recent decades, our political positions, the interfaith movement can only proceed so far.

Sent by Paul Maurice Martin | 4:29 PM | 8-25-2008

I am a pro-life Democrat, one of many. This blogger refers to pro-life protestors as "anti-choice protestors", which is as biased as it would be if pro-choice protestors were referred to as anti-life protestors. Then she refers to legal abortion in this way:" the right of women to choose what happens to our bodies by opposing state intervention in this most personal matter". This is a really biased blogger. I love NPR, so I care enough to point this out.

Sent by THE_TRUTH | 5:24 PM | 8-25-2008

@THE_TRUTH, I love NPR, too. Unfortunately, as a pro-life Democrat, myself --contributing member of Democrats for Life of America and Web rabbi for the California chapter's site-- I must tell you that this is about as good as it's ever going to get for NPR.

It's not their fault, necessarily; they just don't know anyone who's pro-life, much less knows someone who knows someone who's pro-life. Maybe, if they ever got to know any of us, they might be more even handed.

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 6:13 PM | 8-25-2008

Rev. Leah D. Daughtry has a history of giving money to "right-wing" organizations that have printed "Right" leaning information for voter's education; anti-gay, anti-pro-choice, anti-everything that the "Left" stands for.

This is just another reason that this two-party control over our lives needs to be abolished and religion needs to be 100% completely removed from politics.

Anyone of us can become a legal "church" and get money for some faith-based initiative. Do not be fooled by religious leaders who say they want to "help people".

Ask them about their homes, their cars and wardrobes, what "gifts" they get and give and what taxes they have to pay.

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion". ~ Thomas Paine

"The number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church and the State."
~ James Madison

"The United States of America should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy."
~ George Washington

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."~ JFK

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."
~ Thomas Jefferson

"Religion is finely designed to divide and seperate; spirituality brings unity and forgiveness and compassion."
~ Carlos Santana 'Earth Star' magazine, August/September 2005

"When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion."
~ Abraham Lincoln

Corey Mondello
Boston, Massachusetts

Sent by Corey Mondello | 6:57 AM | 8-26-2008

I agree that the protesters should have been called pro-life (our chosen term for promoting the sanctity and dignity of all human life from conception to natural death) instead of the more biased anti-choice. The word choice is just an euphemism for the deliberate biological warfare and dismemberment on innocent pre-born persons.

I am actually surprised that the pro-life protesters were mentioned at all. The Annual March for Life gathers 250,000 in Washington DC and 25,000 in San Francisco and more elsewhere but you do not hear a peep out of the news media. However if 10 anti-war protesters get together, they are all over it.

I used to vote more democratic. I fail to understand how they reconcile all their rhetoric on family values, civil rights, children's health care, etc. with the fact that the party discriminates against a large class of people - the million pre-born babies who are killed every year in this country. Where is the justice for these children and parents who have been hurt by abortion?

Don't give me that safe, legal, and rare bit. It is a fraud. Legalizing abortion has not made it rarer or safer. The 40+ years of a contraceptive culture has not led to a decrease in abortions but an increase.

Sent by Veritas omnia vincit | 6:02 PM | 8-26-2008


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