In DNC prayer room, lots of quiet time

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If you want to escape religion at the Democratic National Convention, there is only one place to go: the official Charlotte Convention Center prayer room.

Located above a row of vending machines on the building’s second floor, the prayer room is a designated spiritual oasis amid a ceaseless churn of harried delegates, half-heard cellphone conversations and clattering laptop keyboards.

Mostly, the room is empty.

A dormitory-room-sized box made of album-thin white plastic panels and silver aluminum framing, the room contains 16 banquet chairs, which largely have remained unoccupied over the course of the week.

During a two-hour-plus stretch Thursday afternoon, the room’s sole inhabitants were a newspaper advertorial insert, a promotional card for American Muslim Alliance Foundation policy seminars and, briefly, two delegates from North Dakota.

A designated Prayer Room in the Charlotte Convention Center during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, September 6, 2012. (Barbara Salisbury/ The Washington Times)

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A designated Prayer Room in the Charlotte Convention Center during the Democratic ... more >

“I’m here to pray,” said one of the delegates, who declined to give his name — and then spent most of his abbreviated time in the room conversing with his colleague.

Still, it’s probably a mistake to read too much into the symbolism of the oft-empty prayer room.

Sure, Democrats squabbled over including the word “God” in their party platform and long have struggled to connect with evangelical voters — a June survey by the Pew Forum found that 35 percent of Americans view Democrats as friendly toward religion, while 54 percent felt the same way about Republicans.

But expressions of belief in and around the Charlotte convention are nearly as commonplace as President Obama buttons.

God is everywhere

In addition to a morning prayer gathering, DNC organizers staged two well-attended meetings of its Faith Council. As attendees shouted “Amen” and “Hallelujah,” council head James Salt closed Wednesday’s gathering by recalling the biblical decision of Solomon regarding the claims of two women to the same baby.

Barack Obama, Mr. Salt heavily implied, was the candidate in the race most like the mother ready to do anything to save the life of the child.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in the District and national director of faith and outreach for the party since October, told delegates at the first prayer gathering: “We begin every single morning of this 2012 convention in prayer because faith in God is not a strange concept to Democrats. It’s woven into the fabric of who we are.”

On Tuesday, Democratic delegates and politicians from 10 states could be found at the nearby St. Peter’s Bliss Hall, a 161-year-old church that hosted Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic bishops and two screenings of the immigration-themed documentary film “Gospel Without Borders.”

The next morning, the Coalition of African-American Pastors held a news conference to protest the Democratic National Committee’s endorsement of same-sex marriage. On Wednesday evening, by contrast, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat, delivered a stem-winding, largely ad-libbed address to delegates at Time Warner Cable Arena, drawing on his background as a United Methodist pastor to defend Democratic Party ideals and call for Mr. Obama’s re-election.

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