Democrats' Exaggerated Claim to Faith Mirrors GOP's Error


Democrats' Exaggerated Claim to Faith Mirrors GOP's Error | Robert Parham, DNC, Democrats, Faith

A cross at Saint Peter's Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C., across the street from the site of the Democratic National Convention. Saint Peter's hosted a screening of "Gospel Without Borders." (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
The claim that the Democratic Party is a party of faith is as strikingly exaggerated as the claim that the GOP stands for God's Only Party.

The Baptist Center for Ethics has long covered and constantly challenged the dangerous ties between the Christian Right and the Republican Party.

"The rightful role of faith in politics is not the wrongful road of the Christian Right, which has constructed and promulgated over a 25-year period the myth that the GOP is God's Only Party," I wrote in September 2007, explaining why we had produced the documentary-styled DVD "Golden Rule Politics."

The editorial noted that Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority fashioned that myth while "campaigning against one of the few presidents who actually attended church and read the Bible" – Jimmy Carter.

About "Golden Rule Politics," I wrote: "Democratic politicians share their Christian witness, without ever making an exclusive claim to the politics of providence. Clergy caution that political parties are neither thoroughly moral nor completely immoral, that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, that sin is a universal reality and that God transcends human finitude."

Our nonpartisan approach to faith and politics is radically different from the Southern Baptist Convention agency head who sought to wed conservative Christianity to the Republican Party.

''The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,'' he told the New York Times discussing the GOP in 1998.

''No more engagement," said Richard Land. "We want a wedding ring. We want a ceremony. We want a consummation of the marriage.''

Our nonpartisan approach to faith and politics is much different from Rick Warren, who endorsed President Bush less than a week before the 2004 election. Warren claimed the Bible was on his side.

"For those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word ... there are five issues that are non-negotiable," wrote Warren, a Southern Baptist, to fellow pastors across the country. "To me, they're not even debatable, because God's Word is clear on these issues."

Abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual marriage, human cloning and euthanasia were non-negotiable issues about which Warren said the Bible was clear.

He said social programs, the economy and the war in Iraq were basically morally negotiable.

When Franklin Graham questioned on Easter Sunday morning 2011 President Obama's Christian faith, an EthicsDaily.com editorial cried foul.

EthicsDaily.com has provided extensive – and often breaking-news stories – about the Christian leaders who plotted to replace Obama in September 2010, reconvened in June 2011 (also see here) and met with presidential candidate Rick Perry.

Other pieces covered Perry's claim of divine calling to run for the presidency and told about evangelicals lining up support for presidential contender Rick Santorum as the faith candidate.

These examples are but a few of the editorials, columns and news stories that explore the flawed faith relationship between the Christian Right and the Republican Party.

What became clear at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, N.C., was that the Democratic Party is struggling to become a mirror image of the Republican Party – on faith.

Like the Republicans, the Democrats have played the faith card badly.

The most visible example from the DNC is the flip-flop on God, a move that was political, not pious.

The national Democrats first removed a reference to God from their 2012 platform. Then, after being widely criticized, they rationalized why that removal didn't matter and claimed that they were a faith party.

When the party finally restored the God reference, the body required three roll-call votes.

The convention was evenly split between those who opposed the additions and those who favored the restoration of the words "God" and "Jerusalem." When the convention chair ruled that the words had been restored, delegates booed.

But that debacle was only the most visible one.

More morally problematic were the DNC's Morning Prayer Gatherings and Faith Council meetings – designed to show that "faith is an integral part of the Democratic Party."

At these events, one panelist placed a political symbol on a religious symbol – the Obama campaign logo on a yarmulke – and another one placed Obama in a biblical narrative, suggesting that he had been divinely chosen.

Still another panelist, who was on the program twice, stamped the Democratic Party as Christian – Christian Democrats of America, an organization unheard of by seasoned religion observers prior to Charlotte.

The fact that the DNC would place on its program an individual of a little-known organization with a name that advances the DNC's message speaks to the inauthentic nature of the party's faith outreach.

Other faith panelists spoke about how to use faith to argue for supporting Obama, as did former U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper and DNC advisor Regena Thomas.

The question here is not the faith authenticity of DNC panelists. The question is the use of faith to sanctify the secular, to equate the political with the pious, to manipulate religion for electoral gain.

And the national Democratic Party appears to be walking a similarly rocky road as the GOP with one significant difference.

According to a new report from Pew Research Center, Democrats are much more secular than Republicans, especially among white Democrats.

If not for people of color in the Democratic Party, the God-gap between the two parties would be more pronounced.

Nonetheless, both parties have similar approaches to misusing faith.

A much different approach to connecting faith and politics appeared in comments by Minerva Carcaño, the Los Angeles-area bishop for the United Methodist Church, during our faith and immigration event at Saint Peter's Catholic Church.

Interviewed by a TV news crew from Odyssey Networks, she said: "I have not experienced either political party taking a clear, bold leadership role on the issue of immigration. I've experienced both parties playing around the politics, afraid to lose votes, unable to move in this direction of comprehensive immigration reform, which is so critically needed. There doesn't seem to be the political will to do something about immigration. And it's time. It truly is time."

Such an authentic moral critique from a genuine faith leader is vastly different from those who misuse faith to consecrate a candidate.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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