In working on our two new shows about faith — the Left and the Right — in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, we were struck by the fact that the 2008 Democratic National Convention was the first modern DNC that began each day with an invocation and ended each night with a benediction. Our guest Amy Sullivan said, “As I was watching it, what I felt was less kind of a sense that I was witnessing something new and more a disbelief that this hadn’t existed before.” By contrast, Republican conventions have long included invocations and benedictions.

The final benediction of the DNC was delivered by Joel Hunter, a pro-life Evangelical and a registered Republican who serves as the senior pastor to a 12,000-member congregation in Florida. The final benediction at the Republican National Convention was delivered by Dan Yeary, a Southern Baptist pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, where John McCain’s wife is a member.

Let us know what you think of these two prayers. Does this religious language ennoble the sometimes less than noble sentiments of these political gatherings? Or do you agree with one of our previous guests, Steve Waldman, that injecting religion into politics can actually hurt religion, by sullying it with the baggage that political figures carry?

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The value of prayer in my life rests on whether it promotes my sense of serenity, acceptance and willingness to act humanely and honestly. Both of these prayers failed me on that kind of personal level. Because the nature of what faith I do have is so uncertain about what a higher power might or might not be, or even if there is such a one, I found the inclusiveness of Hunter's remarks more to my liking, though if either Yeary or Hunter were standing next to me, I would hold their hands, listen to their words and try to put them to useful purpose in my life. I pray spiritually rather than religiously. Prayer is a discipline that fosters balance, understanding and compassion in me. It is a practice that helps me stay in closer contact with my better self. Maybe I am a praying atheist, as I have sometimes been described. In the context of the convention, I'm not sure that either prayer could escape the spectacle. The RNC, in particular, seemed in a raucous mood. All prayer, however, expresses humility in that it admits that all of the answers and needs cannot be met by a single individual or group. Prayer expressed communally reinforces that community. Prayer impedes our natural tendency to compare to rather than identify with others. Concern about politics scullying religion strikes me as almost comical. Institutions of such magnitude don't belong in any contest of purity. My guess is that most religious figures carry as much "baggage" as most political figures.

These two benedictions give us two very different views of faith. For I have met people who’s faith view, that being a Democrat (and worse a possible supporter of Obama) and a Christian were antithetical – the Republican benediction alludes to this. The difficulty of finding “open minded” Christians who even admit to the possibility that a person can be a Democrat and a faithful Christian leaves me frustrated.
Let me be clear, in this post. I am not endorsing any candidate, I believe both major party candidates are qualified to be president. It is my view that pastors are called to speak to values, challenge assumptions, and encourage their parishioners to make up their own minds about politics. However, I am speaking out about the perception (as stated in this week’s Speaking of Faith program) that “…if you are religious then you must be a conservative.”
The Democratic Party, in my view, has better exemplified the teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 25:44-45 (NRSV):
44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Whenever anyone starts quizzing me about my relationship to Jesus (because I am a democrat) , my mind reflected to all the times in my 20 years plus of pastoral ministry that I had ministered to the people talked about in the verses above. I also began to question the hubris people who have reduced Christianity to a series of propositional statements instead of a faith that calls one to practice “another way of living.” For Jesus also states in Matthew 7:21 (NRSV)

21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

I believe Jesus calls us to love and accept one another and to exemplify our faith through words and deeds. I am proud to have friends who are of all political persuasions. It is much healthier, in my opinion, to engage in open, honest, loving dialogues with those who differ from you…it is the best way to grow! I need to be clear though, whenever we as Christians begin to “judge” one another based on other standards then those found in the New Testament - then we are in danger of diminishing the faith. The worst case of this is in when I find someone who insists that Barak Obama is secretly a Muslim and not a real Christian (he is giving a false confession. I find such talk shocking and can only conclude that the prejudice, hatred, and ignorance found in such a statement to be a result of a heart that is far from Jesus. Obama and McCain have spoke eloquently of their faith and it saddens me to see such bigotry on display.

Though many of the thoughts expressed were understandable, the place, setting, and deliverance were not congruous for a political campaign.