Democratic Party leaders attempted to rally the faith vote last week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., with much of the rhetoric focused on President Barack Obama as a divinely chosen leader.
Additionally, numerous speakers attacked Republicans for being inauthentic or too narrow on faith matters.
During various Democratic National Committee (DNC) faith events at the convention, DNC’s Faith Outreach Director Derrick Harkins and other speakers offered partisan comments defending and elevating Obama as a faith leader.
These statements came during the DNC Faith Council Meetings on Monday and Wednesday as well as during the daily DNC Morning Prayer Gatherings that Harkins claimed were not to be about political strategizing like the Faith Council meetings.
Michael Blake, deputy director for Operation Vote and a lay African Methodist Episcopal minister, argued at Monday’s Faith Council that Obama was divinely chosen to lead the nation.
“[Deborah] looked out and needed a new leader, she needed a new commander, the word says,” Blake said as he retold the biblical story from Judges 4. “Now the new commander could’ve had any name that could’ve been out there, but surprisingly and appropriately his name was Barak.”
“Barak was the commander that Deborah called out and said ‘I need you to help lead this army’ and the people were glad,” Blake said to applause and cheers. “And there were many thousands that were against them but they were not afraid about the tens of thousands against them because they had an assignment. … I’m just hoping, Democrats, that we will say that we are the ones who will accept our assignment and stand in Barack’s army.”
During the Wednesday Morning Prayer Gathering, Rob Taber, national coordinator of Mormons for Obama, praised the Obama campaign for living out biblical values. Other speakers during the various faith events praised Obama’s policies as an embodiment of their faith beliefs.
DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz similarly said during Monday’s Faith Council meeting that Obama “has lived every single day of his life” in a manner embodying the policies that should make people of faith support him.
“President Obama’s commitment to helping everyone achieve the American dream – that if you work hard and play by the rules that everyone should have a chance to be successful – that … makes being a Democrat and supporting Barack Obama the natural political choice for the faith community,” she added.
During Monday’s Faith Council meeting, Rabbi Fred Guttman fired up the crowd with proclamations as to why Jewish beliefs aligned more closely with voting for Obama than Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
As he spoke, he showed off his “Rabbis for Obama” button and his “Obama Yarmulke” – or as he called it, “Obamulke.”
As Guttman and some other Jews took their sacred symbols and stamped them with Obama’s name and campaign logo, others at the DNC insisted on stamping Christianity with the Democratic name.
Christina Forrester, executive director of Christian Democrats of America, spoke during a Morning Prayer Gathering and a Faith Council meeting.
The little-known group that got top billing at the DNC contends that the Democratic Party embodies biblical teachings.
“Christian Democrats of America is a group dedicated to giving a voice to those, especially Christians, who believe the basic platform of the Democratic Party epitomizes the important values of core Christianity,” the group’s website says. “As Christians we are called, as Jesus clearly states in the Great Commission, to act on behalf of and be a voice for the poor, in-need and vulnerable in our society. This is a calling that includes loving your neighbor, standing against injustice and exhibiting compassion in not only our individual daily lives, but on a national, social and political level as well – overall, the policies the Democratic platform supports best exemplifies these values.”
Rev. Leah Daughtry, former CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, kicked off the first Morning Prayer Gathering with a prayer invoking Obama’s 2008 campaign words of “hope” and “change.”
“We thank you for our President, Barack Obama,” Daughtry prayed on Monday, “our Vice President, Joe Biden, our candidates across the country, our delegates, and our volunteers who give so freely of their time, their talent and their treasure for a cause and a purpose that is greater than themselves. For them and for ourselves, for the work that we must do, for the choices that we must make, for the hope that we must restore, for the change that we must bring, for the last, the least, and the lost, for the dispossessed, the distressed, and the discouraged, for the left out, the locked out, and the left behind, for our seniors, for our parents, for our children, for our future, we ask for strength for the journey, clarity of thought, singleness of purpose, and the courage of our convictions to make the promise of America the practice of America so that in generations to come we shall be called ‘the repairers of the breach.'”
During the panel discussion, Daughtry attacked Republicans on issues of faith.
“If I wanted to be in a place where everybody thought the same, looked the same, sounded the same, said the same thing, I’d be with the elephants,” she said while praising the Democratic Party for being “tolerant” of diverse beliefs. “When we move to the place where we’re intolerant of difference inside our own party, then we become like the other side. And that’s not why we’re Democrats. … Nobody’s going to put you out like they do on the other side if you don’t believe the same thing.”
Shortly after her remarks, Harkins echoed the criticism of Republicans.
“I genuinely believe that this kind of conversation with the expanse of what we’ve heard this morning would not have taken place last week,” Harkins said referring to the Republican National Convention.
Attacks of Republicans also populated the speeches in the Faith Council meetings.
Wasserman Schultz spoke about her Jewish upbringing on Monday before launching into criticism of Republicans.
Shortly after her remarks, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, compared those who questioned the faith of Democrats to the biblical Pharisees.
James Forbes, senior minister emeritus of Riverside Church in New York, suggested at the Wednesday Faith Council that Republicans were still struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder after a black man was elected president.
He added that they also seemed to be suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder at the thought Obama would win re-election.
As the rhetoric against Republicans heated up, Rabbi Judi Schindler urged Democrats at the Tuesday Morning Prayer Gathering not to “other” Republicans. She offered her admonition after explaining that “the essence of the Democratic Party” is to help the “other” and those left out.
“But if we create the ‘other’ as the Republican Party, that’s a problem because we’re doing that what we are striving not to,” she said. “So to create and speak in a language that embraces the ‘other’ rather than alienates and outcasts the ‘other,’ I think we will go a lot further.”
Immediately after Schindler’s remarks, Harkins started criticizing those who “disparage” the ideas of “hope” and “change,” even as he insisted he was “not making that Democratic-Republican line of demarcation.”
As EthicsDaily.com reported yesterday, the DNC faith outreach efforts have drawn criticism for disorganization and the lack of grassroots depth.
With the faith outreach rhetoric at the convention centering on the persona of Obama – and not merely the Democratic Party and its values – more questions may arise concerning the depth of the outreach.
Four years ago, Republican presidential nominee John McCain ran an online ad mocking Obama’s rhetoric as over-the-top and depicting the Democratic standard-bearer as “The One.”
The ad lampooned Obama as a wannabe-Mosaic figure with a messianic complex.
Similar criticisms of Obama were offered by this year’s Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Democrat-turned-Republican Artur Davis at the Republican National Convention as they singled out Obama’s claim about healing the planet and his 2008 acceptance speech amid Greek columns.
As Obama gave a more subdued acceptance speech a week after the recent Republican criticism, many of his faith supporters continued to offer lofty religious rhetoric about him.
Democratic faith leaders remain focused on praising the persona of Obama and attacking the personalities of the Republican Party in hopes of finding political redemption on election day.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.