Democrats’ altar call in Charlotte

Charlie Neibergall AP President Obama addresses the delegates in Charlotte on Sept. 6. After more than 30 years of teaching … Continued

Charlie Neibergall

AP

President Obama addresses the delegates in Charlotte on Sept. 6.

After more than 30 years of teaching religion, I have concluded that all religion, not just my own Christian faith, is about finding answers to two questions: Am I alone and what can I trust?

By that measure the Democratic National Convention, just completed in Charlotte, was the most religious in my memory.

The Democrats asked us to consider whether we are all just on our own, alone in both our successes and failures, or are we together? They also hit the theme of whether voters can trust the “fact-challenged” Republicans; some speakers made that point more forcefully than others.

Explicit God-language, on the other hand, didn’t do so well, at least in the platform. That issue, as it emerged, is an accurate reflection of our national divisions on whether religious freedom includes freedom from religious dominance. It is not, however, reason to imply that Democrats are “godless,” as Republicans have tried to do.

President Obama, in his nomination acceptance speech, reframed this issue, folding all of our protected freedoms into the spiritual grounding they have in our Constitution, “We believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights – rights that no man or government can take away.”


View Photo Gallery: Faith is on display at the gathering of delegates in Charlotte.

This freedom, the president intoned, is not a selfish freedom, “a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism.” That kind of freedom “is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”

And then the president quoted the Bible, saying “They remind me, in the words of Scripture, that ours is a “future filled with hope.”

That’s not just scripture, but biblical theology. That’s why I know Democrats aren’t “godless” because biblical theology was alive and well at the DNC, not only in the president’s acceptance speech, but amazingly well represented by Sister Simon Campbell of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour. Campbell demonstrated why nuns are such good religious teachers: she taught a lesson in budgets and morality for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan. She said “they’re wrong” about their budget commitments because, simply, “I am my sister’s keeper, I am my brother’s keeper.”

Biblical text and biblical theology made it to the Democratic National Convention. But it was former President Bill Clinton who preached. As Episcopal priest the Rev. Susan Russell tweeted, “Overheard in the @ABC News booth: @donnabrazile on Clinton: “That was church, y’all. I don’t have to go for two weeks.”

Clinton hit both these religious themes: “We believe that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’ The former president also took on GOP’s statements and ads about both Medicare and welfare reform, saying that they were “’just not true.” He went on to say: “But I am telling you, the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true. But they keep on running ads claiming it.”

Clinton outlined a stark choice between the Democratic and Republican visions. “If you want a ‘you’re on your own, winner take all society’ you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities – a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

I had thought, when this convention began, that it would be the first “women’s political convention” since the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention in 1848. As it turned out, this was not a “women’s convention,” but at times it came quite close. On the first night, there were so many women speakers, including the warm and powerful speech by first lady Michelle Obama, that I felt as a woman and a citizen I was truly being seen and heard.

While women speakers dominated the platform addresses, there was astonishing denigration of these speakers. CNN contributor Erick Erickson tweeted: ”First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.”An online petition sprang up, calling on CNN to fire Erickson. It reportedly has “tens of thousands” of signatures.

How many times do we have to prove that women are equal human beings, and, as I as a Christian believe, created in the image of God? How many times?

At least at the DNC, women didn’t have to prove over and over that they are human. And it was a cause for great celebration that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender Americans did not have to prove that either. This was decisively demonstrated on the last and important night of the convention when speakers included Wis. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, an openly gay member of the House who is running to be the first openly gay senator, spoke, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the first openly gay member of Congress.

Women of all ages and walks of life spoke during the convention, as evidenced by addresses that ranged from Campbell to the newly minted law school graduate Sandra Fluke. Fluke, of course, was famously kept from testifying on a House panel on contraception, a panel that then included only men. “Many women are shut out and silenced” by Republicans, Fluke noted, but the Democrats instead gave “me a microphone.”

Women’s presentations were not confined to issues of reproduction, however, important as those are. Tammy Duckworth, a disabled Iraq combat veteran and U.S. House candidate, spoke about veterans issues, and Elizabeth Warren, the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who is running for Senate against Scott Brown in Massachusetts, spoke powerfully about contrast between the Republican and Democratic visions: “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.”

Warren laid it on the line: “We don’t run this country for corporations. We run it for people,” she said, and “we build it together.”

Together. There it is. The answer to that question that has such resonance through so many religions: “Am I alone?” No, you are not alone. We are together. To build on Campbell’s call for us to be our “sister’s and brother’s keeper,” we can also have confidence that we are supported by one another.

I believe we are not, indeed, created to be alone as the first chapters of Genesis testify. Even when human community is not perfect, in fact, especially when human community is not perfect, we need each other.

The myth of the isolated individual who is alone in facing the issues of decent wages, safe working conditions, and proper health care is just that, a myth. As a person of faith, I believe we are created by God, and also by each other, as co-creators with God, by the way we treat one another in community. We are communal as well as individual creations.

So, are we all together, or not? As President Obama said, it’s up to “you.”

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • UglyAmerican2001

    Freedom of religion would necessarily include freedom from religion. I am free to worship (or not worship) any God I chose without someone else being free to impose their beliefs on me.
    The founders really did mean that the government should be free of systems of faith in a higher power because too often, blending the two has lead to loss of freedom for those who didn’t share the faith of the government. For example in older times, the Church of England. In modern times Saudi Arabia takes the prize.
    Anyone is either party should have freedom to believe whatever they like but “GOD” has no place in an American political platform. That doesn’t make the platforms any more “evil” than science, which also seeks to steer clear of matters of theology.

  • Ian15002

    Why did Gabby Giffords lead a pledge of allegiance to God and the Republic for the Democrats if religion shouldn’t be a part of government? The Democrats are not a united party. They cannot agree on religion or the Jews for that matter. They are just a huge melting pot of society’s freaks, academics and municipal union leaches.

    What’s interesting about this speech is Obama replacing the word “unalienable” with “inalienable” when he references the delclaration of independence. I say replace because it is no mistake my friends. It’s the sound of your liberty evaporating under the democratic plantation rule of environmental laws (cronyism) and politcal correctness (hypocrisy) of the left: Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines unalienable as “not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as in unalienable rights” and inalienable as “cannot be legally or justly alienated or transferred to another.” The Declaration of Independence reads:
    “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
    This means that human beings are imbued with unalienable rights which cannot be altered by law whereas inalienable rights are subject to remaking or revocation in accordance with man-made law. Inalienable rights are subject to changes in the law such as when property rights are given a back seat to emerging environmental law or free speech rights give way to political correctness.

  • sixthromeo

    Amen.

  • dorndiego

    Amen, again.

  • Jerry2000

    This incident just highlighted the already in place not so subtle disassociation the Democrats have with the Creator and religion in general. The explanation by Stephanie Cutter and Debbie W Shultz was comical. As of now they have yet to say WHO is responsible for taking the God/Jerusalem plank out of the Democrat convention platform. They expect us to believe that it was a “technical mistake” and have gone on the talking head shows with this fairy tale. The Democrats assault on the Catholic Church progresses unabated. Obama is the first President in memory that doesn’t attend church on a regular basis. This appears to make his atheist base voters happy. It seems that this segment of voter is more important than believers. We’ll see how it pans out in November.

  • Zion1King

    I posted a long winded response to your comment a few minutes ago but it seems to have not gone through. Basically what I was saying was that if those who take an oath to support and uphold the Constitution actually do not believe in a “creator” as mentioned in it’s contents then they are either lying when they take the oath or don’t have a clue as to what they gave an oath to. The amendments to the constitution are written as being given by our “creator” and if those who promise to uphold that constitution today don’t believe in such a concept of a “creator” then they could simply choose to ignore their responsibility to uphold and defend those Constitutional principles based on their agnostic beliefs. How can someone defend something the founding principles of which they do not actually believe?

  • Zion1King

    Sorry, I meant to say “guaranteed” not “given” by our creator…

  • IHate66

    Unfortunately, biblical theology is not something ecletic whereby you can pick and choose a verse here and there and claim that’s God’s will. What about the DNC platform on abortion and homosexuality? These ARE not God’s will as many verses (yes, in the New Testament as well) in the Bible will attest.

    I guess the DNC can just conveniently forget about sin and think that socialism and big government is what God had in mind.

  • Carstonio

    Thistlethewaite’s laudatory point that “we are all together” shouldn’t depend on holding any particular beliefs about the existence or non-existence of gods. The word “God” in a political platform is exclusionary because it applies only to monotheistic religions and not to religions that have many gods or other types of supernatural beings. Leaving out any sectarian words like “God” is an important part of achieving unity and not division. It’s not an atheist rejection of religion, it’s a neutrality among religions. An atheist mention in the platform would have been something like “there are no gods.”

  • JimthePuritan

    It was deeply shocking to see the Democrats officially deny and then boo God–not once, but three times.

  • quiensabe

    Yes, Susan, as Christians we should care for the poor. But you also stated quite well why the government should NOT take it from some and give it to others: “…And it was a cause for great celebration that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender Americans did not have to prove [anything.]”

    Plus, Susan, you didn’t mention as well, Democrats continue to lead the assualt on the unborn. Christians, of the born-again specie, cannot, and will not allow tax dollars to even drip toward this wholesale genocide Democrats wage against defenseless children.

  • jimfoxvog

    Where in the Constitution is “creator” mentioned? Doing a search in an online version comes up with zero results. Could you be thinking of the Declaration of Independence, Zion1King? By the way, I’d support a true theocracy, a people ruled by God.

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