- The Washington Times - Friday, July 30, 2004

BOSTON — This week’s Democratic convention featured invocations and benedictions from a Greek Orthodox archbishop, a Muslim imam, a rabbi, black preachers, a progressive Catholic priest and a few female pastors as well.

Democratic delegates interviewed here were comfortable with the level of religious faith expressed this week — precisely because it included a range of faiths.

“We believe in God, we believe in this country, but we do not believe in shoving God down peoples’ throats; everybody has different beliefs,” explained delegate Julia Hicks, a retired college professor and Southern Baptist from Westminster, Colo.

She added that the racial diversity in the Democratic Party compared with the Republican Party makes her think that, “God must be a Democrat,” because he “made a rainbow of people.”

Despite the growth of secular voters, the Democrats remain committed to talking about faith, and in his acceptance speech last night, Mr. Kerry said he won’t shy away from that.

“I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday,” he said. “I don’t want to claim God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side.”

The convention featured a range of religious leaders opening and closing each days’ events, including last night’s benediction given by the Rev. John Ardis, director of the Paulist Center Community, a progressive Catholic church and outreach center in Boston that Mr. Kerry and his wife frequent.

The Democrats’ 2004 party platform mentions “God” and “faith” a few times, including near the end, where it acknowledges that although there are, “deeply held and differing views on some matters of conscience and faith” among Democrats, “we view diversity of views as a source of strength, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who seek to build a stronger America.”

“It’s all faiths, all views … it’s the most inclusive group you can come up with in this country,” said Gary Hamer, a delegate and retired federal employee from Columbia, Md.

But, Mr. Hamer said the role of faith in the Democratic Party goes beyond the invocations and benedictions, to include religious leaders who are part of party leadership and speaking out for Mr. Kerry. Specifically, he noted David Alston, a South Carolina minister and Vietnam swift boat crew mate of Mr. Kerry’s, who spoke Tuesday night at the convention.

Mr. Alston praised Mr. Kerry as “a man of faith” and told the audience, “I stand here before you only because almighty God saw our boat safely through those rivers of death and destruction, by giving us a brave, wise and decisive leader named John Kerry.”

A few Democratic speakers this week, including rising star Barack Obama, also made that very clear in their remarks that Republicans are not the only ones who value religious faith.

“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday. “But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states ….”

For years, pundits assumed white evangelical voters supported Republicans, providing a strong advantage for the party. But Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg said this week that Mr. Kerry has made solid inroads among those voters.

More notably, voters who he called “secular warriors,” or “no guns, no prayer” voters, are becoming a bigger force in Democratic politics.

Mr. Greenberg said they make up 15 percent of the overall electorate, nearly equaling the 17 percent of voters nationwide who are white evangelicals.

And those secular warriors “have gone dramatically against Bush ? a dramatic shift against him,” Mr. Greenberg said.

In their 2004 platform, Democrats say they “recommit to the ideal of a people united in helping one another, an ideal as old as the faiths we follow and as great as the country we love.”

Later, in calling for greater equality in a diverse society, Democrats refer back to the civil rights movements of the 1960s and the strides made toward racial equality, stating that their platform reiterates the belief that “each of us should be as equal in the eyes of the law as we are in the eyes of God.”

Jewell Williams, a delegate and Pennsylvania state representative from Philadelphia, said the Democratic commitment to helping the less fortunate — a theme he said was highlighted in speeches this week — also stems from religious faith, noting that the major religions “always lean towards the downtrodden.”

“The Democratic Party represents, in my opinion, the people who are most in need,” he said.

Ann Knollman, a delegate and retired teacher from Arvada, Colo., said that the “do-unto-others” mentality is part of the reason she became a Democrat, and that’s what she wrote on her delegate application when asked why she is a member of the party.

The Democratic platform also states that Democrats “honor the central place of faith in the lives of our people,” and will strengthen the role of faith-based organizations, while also pledging to “honor the First Amendment” by not allowing public funds to go toward proselytizing or discrimination — a reference to President Bush’s efforts to fund faith-based organizations, while allowing them to hire only those of their own faith.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.



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