Sister Simone Campbell addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012.
“We believe,” thundered former President Bill Clinton in his epic, wonky, off-roading oration, “that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’” True that, and it’s a far better theology than anything the Democrats have ever come up with–ever!–in their past few years of faith and values politicking.
In many ways night two of the Democratic National Convention was a coming out party for the New Democratic Theology, a liberal theology, a theology of togetherness (and a theology whose internal tensions were evident in a disastrous day two).
It was evident in the words of Sister Simone Campbell who, once she had finished thoroughly wrapping Wis. Congressman Paul Ryan’s knuckles (with a ruler of love, of course), then proceeded to declare: “our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another.”
But Campbell, who killed Wednesday night (again with a ruler of love) wasn’t done with the togetherness stuff. “I am my sister’s keeper, I am my brother’s keeper,” she averred. And, yes, the biblical scholar in me does draw your attention to the gendered gloss she placed on Genesis 4:9. That is to say, she feminized the verse in the context of a roiling conflict between many American nuns and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All of which is a nun’s polite and understated way, if you ask me, of saying “it’s on.”
She would continue to speak of “shared responsibility,” and “shared faith.” Lest some one out there miss the point, she invited her audience to “join us together” in the task of caring for the “one hundred percent.”
The togetherness theme pervaded and reinvigorated even the stalest clichés in the Blue Faith and Values Handbook. Massachusetts’ Democratic candidate for Senate Elizabeth Warren did what Democratic speakers have done for years and cited Matthew 25: 40. But then she did something different and offered this exegesis of the verse: “The passage teaches about God in each of us, that we are bound to each other and called to act. Not to sit, not to wait, but to act — all of us together.”
All of this nocturnal togetherness came on the heels of division in the light of day. The party, as I noted earlier, felt it might be a swell idea to revisit ructions concerning the absence of the terms “God” and “Jerusalem” in the platform. Interestingly, the floor fight that the Democrats helpfully staged (and filmed) for their Republican adversaries Wednesday afternoon, touches on a fault line all too well known to liberal theology.
As is noted in Gary Dorrien’s three-volume study, “The Making of American Liberal Theology,” liberal theologians have often been tarred as being shameful allies of nonbelievers (if not nonbelievers themselves) by their conservative brethren. As for Jerusalem, suffice it to say that recent liberal theological coalitions have been shattered by the anti-Zionist positions of groups who otherwise share every imaginable political position with pro-Israel Jews in the liberal denominations.
Perhaps the 2012 Democratic National Convention will be remembered as the moment that a liberal theological worldview roared. That it did so having to shout down longstanding divisions about godlessness and Israel is altogether fascinating.
Jacques Berlinerblau is associate professor and director of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. His next book “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom” will be released in September. He is also the host of SecularCenter. Follow him on Twitter @Berlinerblau