Following a whirlwind of Republican speeches and surprises in Tampa, the Democrats launch their national convention tonight in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a lineup that includes a musical performance by Ledisi, a tribute to President Jimmy Carter, a speech from First Lady Michelle Obama (along with appearances by her brother Craig Robinson and sister-in-law Maya Soetoro-ng), San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivering the first keynote from a Hispanic, an appearance by African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie, and a benediction by Jena Lee Nardella, founder and executive director of Blood: Water Mission.
In a roundup on people praying at the convention, CNN’s religion editor Dan Gilgoff says Nardella is important because she “represents the young evangelical demographic that the Obama campaign is targeting in this election, knowing that older evangelicals are largely locked up for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.” Gilgoff says McKenzie, who prays the invocation on Wednesday, is significant because she is an Obama campaign co-chair and “the first woman elected bishop in the AME Church, the country’s oldest black religious denomination.”
Before the convention even got underway, “thousands of Christians converged in Charlotte on Sunday to repent and pray for revival in the face of what they see as a ‘national crisis,'” The Christian Post reported.
But did they pray for more prose and less poetry?
In an Associated Press op-ed, veteran reporter Michael Oreskes says Romney has the easier task this election season. “He gets to campaign in poetry. But Obama must now explain the governing prose of the last four years,” said Oreskes. Need proof? “The last president to win re-election with unemployment over 8 percent was Franklin D. Roosevelt,” he said.
As to tonight’s historic keynoter Julian Castro, in 2010, he reportedly told The New York Times that affirmative action helped pave the way for the success he and his twin brother ( a Texas state representative) have enjoyed. “Joaquin and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action. I scored 1,210 on my SATs, which was lower than the median matriculating student … But I did fine in college and in law school. So did Joaquin.”
Speaking of inclusion, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CBN News that the convention “is going to be the most inclusive, participatory, open-to-the-public affair of any presidential nominating convention in history.”
But will it be friendly to conservtive Democrats?
CBN asked Shultz if the DNC’s new party platform affirming same-sex marriage might alienate them. “Applying the law equally — whether you’re talking about marriage or anything else — is not a political issue. It’s a values issue,” said Schultz. She went on to say that religious institutions’ treatment of marriage is “a separate issue.”
What do you think?
What do you want to hear from the Democrats this week?
Correction: The Jimmy Carter video was not a tribute, but videotaped remarks by the former president. PBS commentators reported that Carter was not invited to speak in person at the convention.
Yesterday, UrbanFaith columnist Andrew Wilkes expressed his opinion about President Obama’s decision last week not to require religious employers to pay for contraception as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Today, we add the voices of Christian thinkers Cheryl J. Sanders, Charles C. Camosy, and Lisa Sharon Harper to the discussion.
Sanders: ‘The Public Policy Priority Is Justice’
Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders
“The first rule that had to be retracted and reversed was an unfortunate miscalculation on the president’s part. I give him credit for tweaking the agreement. What I lament is something that I don’t just blame him for, but which occurs from time to time, particularly in the federal government, where there’s a misunderstanding, a misreading, of religion and people’s religious sensibilities. Some things can be legislated, but there are some beliefs and practices that people have that are grounded in faith rather than a particular notion of rights.
My ethical perspective is that the priority in public policy should be given to justice. The purpose of justice is to ensure the well being of people and to impose those restraints and requirements that give people equal access to justice and to fair treatment, because they’re not exactly the same. Sometimes those justice matters are subjective, but the outcome of justice should be the best quality of life that any individual person or group can have.
Some people make very questionable decisions about their sexuality, about child bearing, but they have a right to their own bodies and their own relationships, so it’s good for government to stay out of that. When it comes to federal funding of religious institutions, there are goods and services that go to people consistent with this notion of quality of life that are rightly funded by the government. However, the government has to be respectful of the particular moral teachings of a particular religious community that would not necessarily square with the morality of the general public.
I don’t say that’s an easy calculation to make. The government is much more comfortable funding big corporate entities like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, even the Salvation Army, because they’re organized in a way that matches with the dominant culture’s way of doing business, whereas with black churches and smaller organizations, it’s always a problem. For African Americans, the role that religion and churches play in the society is construed differently. There’s less of a distinction between faith and public policy. That’s why the civil rights movement and many of the strongest voices advocating for legislation or for particular government initiatives are coming from religious leaders in the African American community. You don’t find that same situation in the dominant culture unless it’s something like this where there’s a rule imposed that contradicts church teaching.”
—Cheryl J. Sanders, Th.D., professor of Christian Ethics, Howard University
Camosy: ‘Perhaps Both Sides Were Disingenuous’
Dr. Charles C. Camosy
“The reason this became a serious public issue from which the administration had to backtrack was because ‘liberal’ Catholics were objecting and they were afraid they might lose significant Catholic support in important swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin. The objection of most ‘liberal’ Catholics was related to religious freedom of institutions. They don’t really see contraception (especially letting women make a decision about how to use contraception–either for health reasons or something else or both) as a morally significant issue.
‘Conservative’ Catholics, however, always objected to the mandate in a broad sense because they see especially abortifacient contraception as a very important moral issue–something which all people, regardless of religion or status as a religious employer, should be able to object to providing on the basis of conscience. Unfortunately for this point of view, in order to get “heard” by the administration and the left-leaning Catholics in the media, the line of argument had to be explicitly about the freedom of religious institutions with respect to the federal government. That makes the objections now being raised by the bishops less persuasive because it looks like the goal posts have shifted.
Something that doesn’t get talked about enough in all this is that Catholic teaching, and the U.S. bishops, consider health care to be a fundamental right. A woman can get the pill if she is taking it for what we would understand health reasons—she has an issue with her cycle, ovarian cysts/cancer, she has a condition which makes pregnancy threaten her life, etc. Why can’t a physician simply code a script for a patient in a way that treats a specific health condition? This is totally allowed under Catholic teaching. Unless, of course, the real issue is not about women’s health, but about having sex without having babies. Perhaps both ‘sides’ were disingenuous in speaking about ‘religious freedom’ and ‘women’s health’ when they actually meant something else.”
—Charles C. Camosy, Ph.D., assistant professor of Christian Ethics, Fordham University
Harper: ‘Commitment to Women Doesn’t Trump Religious Liberty’
Lisa Sharon Harper
“At the core of this issue is a debate between worldviews. These worldviews are held most dearly by the people who have the most interest in them. In one worldview, the debate is about the freedom of conscience for religious organizations, in particular hospitals and universities because other religious bodies were exempt from Obama’s ruling. It’s a legitimate concern. There were legitimate counter arguments on the other side, where you had the worldview of women and also people who are deeply invested in issues of poverty.
What I like about what I’ve seen, not only in Obama, but also in the country, is that around this issue, it’s not been a question of ideology, but a question of practicality. What will work to actually continue to protect the religious liberty of religious institutions and at the same time protect the liberty of individual women in America to access contraception? That is not only a right in America because it has to do with an individual’s body and ability to hold liberty over their own body, but also it has to do with the right to life, because we know that contraception is one of the biggest ways to help lessen the number of abortions in America. Sojourners put out a statement saying we like what we’ve seen and we agree with the overwhelming response of the religious community. Our nation is committed to standing behind the needs of women, in particular poor women. That commitment does not have to trump the American commitment to preserving religious liberty. It’s a brilliant compromise.”
—Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing, Sojourners
What do you think?
Was this a brilliant compromise, a matter of justice, or a disingenuous debate?
*Please note: Participant comments have been edited for length and clarity.
RESPECTING THE OTHER: Author and social activist Lisa Sharon Harper.
Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing for Sojourners and was the founding executive director of New York Faith & Justice. She holds a master’s degree in Human Rights from Columbia University and an MFA in Playwrighting from the University of Southern California. UrbanFaith talked to Harper about Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, in which she and co-author D.C. Innes discuss sometimes controversial issues from different political and biblical persuasions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
URBAN FAITH: From reading your book, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, it seems that you and your co-author D.C. Innes hold fundamentally different views about the role of government. What are the essential differences in your positions and/or your views on the role of government?
LISA SHARON HARPER: We debated on Patheos.com and one of the things that we discovered in the midst of this is that our differences on the role of government and also on the role of business actually stem from our differences in the way that we approach Scripture.
For me, Scripture is not supposed to be used as a formulaic, how-to textbook where you can pick a verse and it tells you exactly what you’re supposed to do, out of context. What we have is lots of stories, histories, poems, poetry, song, prose, and together they tell a meta-narrative. They tell the story of the fall, the reconciliation of all relationships that God created.
So, I think the fundamental difference between us is the way that we view the Scripture and in particular the story of what is the gospel, what is the good news, then I think it really permeates the way that we approach the Scripture for our understanding of those basic questions of the role of government.
UrbanFaith columnist Andrew Wilkes wrote about a panel discussion that you participated in with Innes and others. He noted that you tended to draw from the Old Testament and Innes drew from the New Testament. Was that coincidental?
Yes, I think so. If you look at the book and at discussions that Innes and I have had since then, the foundation of my argument is based in the biblical concept of shalom, which has its foundation in the very beginning, in Genesis 1, but it’s woven through the entirety of Scripture. We find the establishment of the people of Israel and the law and government of Israel in the Old Testament, but then we see Jesus’ priorities on who needs to be protected in our society when he gives his very first speech in Luke 4, where he proclaims that he has come to pronounce freedom for the captives, good news to the poor, and sight for the blind.
The last speech he gives before he faces the cross is Matthew 25. When someone asks me what my political agenda is, I say, “Look at Matthew 25.” You actually see there the things and the people that Jesus was most concerned with. He’s looking at hunger. He’s asking the questions of food distribution. He’s looking at thirst. Who has access to water? I’m not just imposing that on the text. Jesus says, “The righteous will say, ‘When did we do all of this for you Jesus?’” What that word righteous means is “ones of equitable action and character.” It means “the just ones.”
When you start talking about equity, you’re talking about systems, the way things work. And so what Jesus is really saying is the ones of equitable action will say, “When did we do this?” And Jesus will say, “When you did it to the least of these.” Also, we have legislatures that will one day stand before Jesus, and Jesus will ask them, “What did you do for the hungry? What did you do for the thirsty? What did you do for the stranger, for the immigrant in our borders? Did they feel welcomed? What did you do for the sick? Is there an equitable distribution of health in our society? What about the prisoner? Is there equitable distribution of justice in our society? How about the destitute, those who are naked? What did you do for them?”
We are all going to be held to account for the ways that we treated the most vulnerable, and not just on an individual level, but on a societal level, and in the way that we create our systems.
Continued on page 2.