The Republicans have had their week in Tampa, Fla., and the Democrats will have theirs next week in Charlotte, N.C., a back-to-back prospect prompting all but the most hardened political junkies to pray that the deity might send hurricane winds to cancel both political pep rallies.
But falling short of such a synchronized meteorological event, it might be instructive to highlight a prayerful approach that the faith communities of Tampa and Charlotte have crafted so to speak to both conventions.
A coalition of Tampa and Charlotte Christians, Muslims and Jews has signed the document “A Common Witness from the Clergy of Tampa and Charlotte” calling for prayerful support of the American political process while remaining aloof from any political party or movement. This noble interfaith effort stands out in these increasingly difficult days when Republicans and Democrat juggernauts seek legitimization by garnering religious trophy endorsements from national denominations and parachurch groups.
Each convention will employ holy men and women to invoke God’s presence at the opening and closing of the ceremonies, clothing their affairs in a veneer of piety and giving journalists and commentators one more thing to analyze. (“Does so-and-so’s attendance represent a coup for this political party? Will this person’s prayer subtly hint as an endorsement?”)
One example of this interplay of politics and religion was Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s acceptance (Archdiocese of New York) to pray at the Republican convention. The Catholic vote is crucial in the upcoming election; Vice President Biden and Vice Presidential nominee Ryan are Catholics.
Was Cardinal Dolan’s acceptance a coup for the GOP? Pity the cleric whose decision on whether to pray in public invites such scrutiny! To Cardinal Dolan’s credit, he told Democrats that he would pray at their convention, too. They quickly accepted and doubling down on the Republicans also invited Sister Simone Campbell, a nun who represents the social justice wing of the Catholic Church, to speak, too.
The Common Witness document signed in Charlotte and Tampa seeks to transcend partisanship by including signatories from Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Unitarian-Universalist, non-denominational, Jewish and Muslim faith communities, as well as various seminary leaders who pledge to pray for all who travel to their cities, the poor in each city and the city leaders who must host these huge undertakings.
Acknowledging that “conventions can bring out the worst in people,” they continue, “we believe it is possible to offer up non-partisan prayers ... and so we pray ... that we might be a nation where goodness matters, where justice and kindness are our passions, where truth matters, and is told.”
These words suggest a precarious balancing act, even in the faith community. Some congregations, fueled by the truth and determined to stand against sin, naturally gravitate toward a political party; other congregations, attempt to build bridges spanning various faith communities while overlooking political and theological differences. Both efforts represent one aspect of what makes America a great nation.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.