Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told the National Baptist Convention last week in Philadelphia the tide is turning for faithful Democrats.
“Democrats are strong people of faith and convictions, but for too long we have allowed others to define our values and what we stand for,” Dean said, according to excerpts of his remarks posted online.
Dean said Democratic candidates running for president “are comfortable with talking about their faith and have made it clear that their faith informs their values, which informs their decisions.”
With an estimated membership of 7.5 million, the National Baptist Convention is the oldest and largest African-American religious convention in America.
Dean said Republican candidates “continue the pattern of the last eight years, which is to divide Americans by race, ethnicity and gender.” Democrats, on the other hand, he promised, “will heal America.”
The Sept. 3-7 annual session wasn’t last week’s only major Baptist meeting. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., former President Bill Clinton addressed a crowd of more than 2,000 attending this year’s meeting of the 5 million-member National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
Clinton used the platform to put in a good word for his wife, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. He described the former first lady as the “best qualified, most prepared” non-incumbent presidential candidate he has seen in the 40 years he’s been voting.
According to the Myrtle Beach Sun-News, Clinton said he loves this year’s election, because he likes all the Democrats who are running for president. “It’s a joy to have an election where you like and respect everybody running,” he said. “Shoot, I even like some of the Republicans running. This is a happy time for us.”
Contrasted to the Religious Right, Dean told National Baptists meeting in Philadelphia that Democrats “know that moral issues are about more than two things.”
“As Democrats we believe that no child should go to bed hungry,” he said. “As Democrats we believe that it is a moral issue that we no longer be the last industrialized country on the face of the earth that doesn’t have a health care for every single person.”
Other moral issues for Democrats, he said, are “that war should be a last resort only after diplomacy has been exhausted, that we should properly equip our troops before we send them to war, that we should take care of our veterans when they come home, that everyone deserves equal rights under the law, that we should be good stewards of the earth, that hard-working people should earn a living wage and be able to take care of their families, that we shouldn’t pass debt onto our children and our grandchildren.”
Finally, he said, Democrats believe “that faith should not be used to divide people” and “that you and I have more in common than we have differences.”
Dean updated delegates on the DNC’s “Faith in Action” initiative, under which he said he has been meeting over the past two years with religious leaders about matters important to the faith community.
“As part of our 50-state strategy we are a new kind of campaign, a two-way campaign,” Dean said. “We do not go into states and into communities to talk at people. We listen first.”
Dean said Democrats “now have a year-round outreach effort which involves prominent members of the faith community in the activities of the Party.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said he found Dean’s remarks “encouraging on two fronts, especially given the secular wing of the Democratic Party.” The Nashville-based BCE just release an educational DVD, “Golden Rule Politics,” that examines the rightful role of faith in politics.
First, Parham said, Dean “appears committed to listening to authentic people of faith, rather than to ask faith leaders for their membership rolls to turn out voters or to offer faith leaders false promises for religious blessings.”
“Democrats should listen a lot more to faith leaders who care equally about personal and social conduct,” Parham said.
Second, Parham said, Dean “hasn’t made the theological mistake of claiming that the divine is on the side of Democrats.”
“As long as Dean is willing to listen and to understand that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, that God transcends political parties and that Golden Rule politics is the high, moral standard for which politicians should strive,” Parham said, “then he will find a receptive audience among people of faith.”
As a presidential candidate in 2004, Dean was criticized for injecting religion into Democratic politics, especially after a famous gaffe in which he said his favorite book in the New Testament was Job. He later corrected his mistake, which came in response to a reporter’s question, noting that Job is in the Old Testament.
Dean praised National Baptists for their role in helping people on the GulfCoast get back on their feet in the two years since Hurricane Katrina. “People of faith turned around New Orleans,” he said. “Your efforts are a great example of the important role that churches play in bringing aid and comfort to the sick and displaced in society.”
Both the National Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention of America are among partner organizations in next year’s New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta.
NBC President William Shaw, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia, is a confirmed plenary speaker, along with former presidents Clinton and Carter and other preachers and politicians.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.