Texas Faith: Religion's role at the Democratic National Convention
10:05 AM Tue, Aug 26, 2008
Welcome to Texas Faith, our new discussion of religion, politics and culture. Texas Faith is a weekly online feature that will draw upon the expertise of clergy, laity and academics in Texas to debate, discuss and define the intersection of these volatile topics.
Our opening topic of the week revolves around the Democratic convention. We put this question to our panel:
From Faith Caucus meetings to panel discussions on morality to debates about an Obama administration and religion, the Democratic convention is spotlighting an enormous amount of explicit religious content. What does this mean? Is this appropriate?
Answers this week come from:
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and professor, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; GEOFFREY DENNIS, Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami, Flower Mound; KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer and progressive Episcopalian activist, Fort Worth; LYNN GODSEY, Pastor, Temple of Power Ministries, Ennis, and founder, Alliance of Hispanic Evangelical Ministers; DARRELL BOCK, Dallas Theological Seminary professor; JOE CLIFFORD, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas; DEAL HUDSON, director, The Morley Publishing Group, Washington, D.C.; TREY GRAHAM, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Melissa, ; CYNTHIA RIGBY, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary professor; BRIAN SCHMISEK, University of Dallas professor; MATTHEW WILSON, Southern Methodist University professor; GERALD BRITT, vice president, Central Dallas Ministries; LILLIAN PINKUS, Community volunteer and executive committee member of the Dallas Anti-Defamation League; LARRY BETHUNE, Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin, ; BOB DEAN, executive director, Dallas Baptist Association; ROBIN LOVIN, professor, Southern Methodist University and Perkins School of Theology; AMY MARTIN, executive director, Earth Rhythms, Dallas, ; MOHAMED ELIBIARY, President and CEO, The Freedom and Justice Foundation, Dallas; GEORGE MASON, Pastor, Wilshire Avenue Baptist Church, Dallas.
You can read their answers below. And, please, chime in and let us know your thoughts about this topic and what the panelists say about it!
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and professor, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
The question about whether it is appropriate for Mr. Obama's convention to include an enormous amount of explicit religious content is itself disingenuous. After all, this is a man who has been compelled, in the face of false accusations and deceptive assertions, to explain his personal faith.
He has had to clarify that he is a Christian, not a Muslim. He has had to defend the content of the sermons that were delivered by his former pastor. In the face of egregious attacks that affected his family and his local church, he has been forced to resign from membership in a congregation where he worshiped for decades.
Meanwhile, he is the candidate of a political party that, until very recently, has resisted any conversation about religion in the public sphere--ceding that topic to its opposition, and letting the other party define terms like "Christian" and "evangelical" and "religion" as they apply to great public issues. Mr. Obama is trying to broaden the conversation about religion, to signal that his party is no longer afraid to discuss it, and to help the electorate discuss religion from a perspective of tolerance rather than fear.
GEOFFREY DENNIS, Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami, Flower Mound; University of North Texas professor
Frankly, I have been disillusioned by the divisive role religion has played in this election so far. I view the growing focus on the explicit beliefs of the candidates with great unease.
Whether Democrat or Republican, candidates feeling obligated to offer creedal statements about their Christian faith (or denials of Moslem faith) is driving us back to the pre-Kennedy era where a candidate's doctrinal confession is a greater political concern than his or her competence in statecraft.
I fear this trend means the political process is stacking the deck against capable people of minority faith, or no faith at all, successfully running for office. I regard this as a grave threat to the long-term health of our body politic.
So much for specificity. I also find applying religious generalizations to political problems equally troubling.
Pastor Warren asked each candidate, "Does evil exist, and if it does, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it or do we defeat it?" The theologically thoughtful answer is, "Every sane person combats evil policies, but the president can't 'defeat' evil." No mortal can. This was a question better suited for someone who is running for super-hero rather than for president.
KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer; progressive Episcopalian activist, Fort Worth
It means the Democrats are trying to beat the Republicans at their holier-than-thou game.
Is it appropriate? It is always appropriate for individuals to talk about their faith and how that faith informs their lives, relationships, decisions. It is appropriate for Barack Obama and John McCain to talk about their faith and its impact on their lives and their decisions.
I do, though, have a a problem with having any minister, priest, pastor, imam, or rabbi conduct nationally--televised interviews with the candidates to "vet' their faith. I think that job still belongs to God.
It is not appropriate for a political organization to use faith/religion/God to "sell" their candidate and their policies. The implication is that God is on their side, and therefore, not on the "other" side. It is off-putting when the Republicans do it and it will be off-putting for the Democrats to do it.
It is as offensive as ads that use anichthys (the fish symbol for Christianity) or that declare something "a Christian business." One is using God as a shill to make money and the other is using God to shill for a candidate.
Read it all at here or go to www.dallasnews.com/texasfaith each Tuesday.