If you can't write anything about the Democratic National Convention, don't write anything at all
New York University's religion blog, The Revealer, has a series examining what presidential campaign reporting would look like if it were covered by religion reporters. Well, it's not that the Revealer's dreams have come true, it's just that convention news seems to have squeezed religion reporting out of the rest of the newspapers today. We've talked about Boston Tuesday and Wednesday, and we'll probably hit Kerry's speech in tomorrow's posting. So ideally today we should turn our attention to other matters today.

But there are few matters to note. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on Thomas and Babette Hankin's lawsuit against the Bristol Township School District. The couple say the state has no right to monitor the home education of their seven children. The Inquirer says it's "a test case watched by homeschoolers nationwide," but then suggests that Pennsylvania's statute, "which require parents to register their child with the local school district, submit detailed course objectives, keep a log and portfolio for each child, and have a third party evaluate the child's progress at the end of the year," is far more stringent than those elsewhere in the country. Better late than never for the Inquirer, but the case was filed back in April, and so far no trial date has been set.

Other than that, um … The Orlando Sentinel has a nice profile of Campus Crusade for Christ's Vonette Bright, one year after the death of her husband. But there's not much news in it.

Okay. So, reluctantly, let's go back to Boston. Yesterday marked the Democratic Party's first convention caucus for "people of faith. It was scheduled concurrently with the gay and lesbian caucus, which brought such luminaries as Ben Affleck and Teresa Heinz Kerry. The presidential candidate's wife told the homosexual delegates, "You're pushing the envelope, and we, as a country, have to respond with policies and cultural acceptance." (All in good time, though: The Sacramento Bee notes that you won't hear much on gay marriage from the podium, nor will you see much of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, even though he's being welcomed as a hero by delegates.)

Not too many big names or calls for acceptance at the people of faith caucus, though. The Boston Globe suggests that the key speaker was Ron Sparks, Massachusetts's commissioner of agriculture and industries. "Let me say this one thing," Sparks said. "It really aggravates me every time one of those Republicans tell me that I don't know anything about Jesus Christ."

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Republicans are saying that he doesn't know anything about Jesus Christ? Man, they should really stop that. Who are these Republicans? That's really inappropriate. Can we have their names and the times in which they told Mr. Sparks that he doesn't know Jesus? Because I'd think that both Democrats and Republicans would agree that such comments are inappropriate.

But that doesn't mean that we can't talk about—and even debate lively about—what Jesus really said. Take a look at such a debate between Manchurian Candidate actors Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep on Dateline NBC:

Katie Couric: "I know you were there. And in fact, I read your quote. You said—you talked about President Bush and his invocation of religion and you said—"
Streep: "No, of Jesus."
Couric: "Of Jesus, sorry. 'Through the shock and awe, I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad.'"
Streep: "It was a question about when you put Jesus on the campaign bus to stump for you, you have to really listen to what he says, because he says, 'If a man smite thee on the cheek, let you turn the other that he may smite it also.' And he says, 'He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.' And he says, 'Love thine enemy.' Jesus could have raised an army against the people that persecuted him. He didn't. So that's what I was pointing out in my speech, and I couldn't really imagine Jesus, like I couldn't imagine how Jesus would vote. Jesus was the Prince of Peace. Would the Prince of Peace vote for a war President?"
Washington: "And it's open to interpretation. Jesus also went into the temple and kicked everybody out."
Streep: "That's kicking the money-changers out of the temple."
Washington: "Well, you're right. So—"
Streep: "The money-changers should get out of Congress, I agree. And I agree, but he didn't—"
Washington: "He didn't. He didn't only say turn the other cheek though. You've got to read the whole book. That's not what all he said."
Streep: "Oh, I do read the whole book."
Washington: "I do too. And that's not all he said."
Streep: "What does he say that said 'pick up a stick and kill somebody?'"
Washington: "Like I said, he did go into the temple and cleared the place well—"
Streep: "Of money, yeah."
Washington: "Okay, well, we're all—"
Streep: "Money's bad."
Washington: "We all make money. So does that make us bad? Maybe he's talking about us?"
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Streep: "Well, yeah, maybe."

So is this the kind of conversation that Sparks supports or opposes?

Another speaker was New York Rabbi Joshua Plaut, who, according to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, said that those opposed to abortion and gay marriage should consider other moral issues. "I would argue that there is a strong religious tradition in the United States for other values, and I would describe them as the need and desire for access to jobs, education and health care," he said. "I would describe them as basic human rights. And I would argue that the Democratic Party traditionally, and I believe now at this convention, are embracing those moral concerns."

Still, it's kinda hard to exercise your "basic human right" of employment, education, and health care if you're not allowed to be born.

Beliefnet's Steven Waldman reports, "The most common issue cited is the importance of fighting poverty, which is interesting because that's not one that Kerry talks much about."

He also says of the caucus, "These folks show a combination of urgency and frustration. They believe that by refusing to talk about their religious motivations, they have allowed the Republicans to lay claim to religion as being, inherently, conservative."

Former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry told Waldman that there's a few reasons that Democrats in general and Kerry in specific haven't been talking about religious motivations. "That type of Northeastern Catholic just doesn't like talking about personal spirituality," he said. "You ask a Northeast Catholic to talk about his faith and he says, 'Eh, no. What is this, catechism?'" He added, "Because we want to be politically correct, in particular being sensitive to Jews, that's taken the party to a direction where faith language is soft and opaque."

"We deserve leaders who allow their faith and moral core—our faiths and moral core—to draw us closer together, not drive us farther apart," Elizabeth Edwards said last night. Is this what McCurry means by soft and opaque? The Revealer's Jeff Sharlet thinks so. "It's one thing to engage in bland political speech, but it's another to implicitly claim spiritual authority without providing a clue as to the nature of its source," he says.

As for Edwards's speech itself, Waldman says, "It was interesting that Edwards, who can talk 'Southern Christian' as well as Bush and Clinton, chose not to. In fact, it was practically the only major convention speech so far that didn't have a biblical reference."

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Other tidbits: Yesterday's invocation was by Suzan Johnson-Cook of New York's Bronx Christian Fellowship. The benediction was from Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. (The only invocation/benediction text Weblog has seen so far is that of Roberta Hestenes, who prayed "In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Amy Sullivan has gone AWOL for more than a day, though you'd think she'd have something to say about the caucus yesterday. Has she been silenced again?

This week's Sojourners newsletter doesn't have a word about the Democratic National Convention, which is unfortunate since Jim Wallis was a speaker at the caucus.

Lots of folks (including today's New York Times) are suggesting or saying outright and that Ron Reagan's stem-cell speech was deceptive, but former New York Times religion reporter Gustav Niebuhr has another take on the speech in an article for Beliefnet: "Does his prime-time appearance at a national political event represent a political breakthrough for non-believers?" Few avowed atheists have been asked to address conventions, he suggests.

And The Boston Globe fires back on those implying that Paulist Center director John Ardis, who gives tonight's benediction, is soft on abortion. "Ardis said he expects to allude to the abortion issue with a call to 'respect for life in all of its forms,'" Michael Paulson reports. "Make no mistake: … [Ardis] opposes abortion. But he also opposes capital punishment, the war in Iraq, and public policies he views as unjust toward the poor or hungry."

Ardis complains, "Neither party holds to a consistent ethic of life. The bishops and the Holy Father have been outspoken about the war and about the death penalty, and yet my sense is that there will be people that will be invoking God's name at the Republican National Convention in another month."

Oh man. You mean we've got to do this God-talk-watch thing again?

More articles

Religion & politics:

  • Nation's Catholics have largely evolved into conservatives | But in the 40-plus years since Kennedy, Catholics have become increasingly conservative in their politics (Midland Reporter-Telegram, Tex.)
  • Political drive puts focus on values | IVoteValues, a nationwide effort to get more Americans to vote, in the shape of a computer-filled tractor trailer, made a stop Wednesday in the Holland area (The Holland Sentinel, Mi.)
  • Cross spurs petition drive | If signature gathering leads to voter approval, an ACLU lawsuit will likely follow (The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Ca.)
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  • Be a faithful citizen, help renew our nation's morals | In today's climate, many believers have abdicated their responsibility to be nice or not rock the boat, or exercise their personal freedom without regard to the common go (William Holtzinger, The Oregonian)
  • Just how would Jesus vote? | Lately, I get the feeling GOP stands for God's Only People, and Democratic is evangelical for Demonic (Wendi C. Thomas, Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.)
  • St. Sabina gets out the vote | St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in the city's Auburn-Gresham neighborhood has put four full-time employees on the payroll for the summer to register people to vote (Chicago Sun-Times)

Church & state:

  • Autocracy or theocracy? | Is Russia becoming a theocracy? The country's increasingly monolithic political structure seems to call for a monolithic ideology, and the strongest available candidate is Russian Orthodox Christianity (Lawrence A. Uzzell, The Moscow Times)
  • Minister urges schools to drop religion | A Church of Scotland minister has called for the term "religious observance" to be dropped in Scottish schools and replaced with a "time for reflection" (The Scotsman)

Religious freedom:

  • Government-Christian groups lock horns over anti-conversion bill | Christian groups are strongly opposing Sri Lanka's move to introduce a Bill banning religious conversions, with the Supreme Court also receiving 25 petitions in its favor and 21 against it, placing the government in a tight spot (OneWorld)
  • Magazine for Christian Arabs fills market niche | Al-Maghtas neither denominational nor theological, focuses on socioeconomic issues (The Daily Star, Beirut Lebanon)
  • Mormon renewal creates a stir in an Illinois town | As record numbers of Mormons move to and visit Nauvoo, once the center of the Mormon world, they have reshaped the Midwestern town (The New York Times)


  • US abortion fight set to escalate | More than 30 years after the US Supreme Court made abortion legal, womens' groups are warning this right could be taken away if President Bush is re-elected (BBC)
  • Divided 8th Circuit upholds arrest of anti-abortion activists | Dissenting judge says police asked protesters to move signs because of complaints from motorists about graphic nature of the pictures (Associated Press)


  • Congress takes lead in condemning Darfur violence | Some lawmakers join protests against Sudan (The Boston Globe)
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  • U.S. presses for action on Darfur crisis | U.S. officials said yesterday they were pressing ahead for tough international action against Sudan for the growing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, despite resistance from Egypt and other Arab states (The Washington Times)
  • Public pressure drives US push on Sudan crisis | Jewish, Christian and black activist groups are driving U.S. Sudan policy but Washington may fail to end what Congress calls genocide because it refuses to back the use of troops, analysts said on Wednesday (Reuters)

Sexual ethics:

  • Federal court okays ban on sale of sex toys | Federal appeals court says Constitution doesn't include a right to sexual privacy (Associated Press)
  • Let me marry in church of beliefs | Why can the church that believes the same as I not be allowed to sanctify the relationship between my partner and I? (Lisa Dralle, Springfield News-Leader, Mo.)
  • Judge shifts roles in alleged SoCal clergy abuse lawsuits | A judge who had served as court-appointed mediator will instead act as a settlement judge for hundreds of alleged Roman Catholic clergy molestation cases in Southern California (Associated Press)

Missions & ministry:

  • Faith-based groups discuss federal grants | About 100 in area represented at event (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
  • Spreading the word | With Bibles, four-wheel-drives and many cups of tea, two ministers carry the Good News to Australia's remote outback (Time Pacific)
  • She helped change a church's view of Jews | Sister Mary Rose Thering, 83, has spent a lifetime battling anti-Semitism within the Roman Catholic Church (The New York Times)
  • They see open churches but find closed doors | Lay group in Weymouth looks for a home (The Boston Globe)


  • Fuller Seminary expansion proposed | $80 million plan includes housing, mixed-use chapel (Pasadena Star News, Ca.)
  • Mission of restoring Great Stone Church is accomplished | The 17-year project retrofits what remains of the 200-year- old Orange County structure (Los Angeles Times)

Arabs in U.S.:

  • Arab Americans report abuse | U.-Mich. study finds nearly 60 percent fear for families (The Washington Post)
  • Feds warn county about limits on mosque | Sarasota County Commission ruled in February that the mosque could be no taller than 40 feet — a restriction not placed on 14 other houses of worship approved by the county since 2002 (Associated Press)
  • Resolution on Islam questioned | Dearborn Heights councilman says it will foster unity, but critics wonder about timing (The Detroit News)
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  • Charges: Two scam artists can't stop scamming | Middle-aged couple allegedly continues to push phony investment schemes (Mobile Register, Ala.)
  • Church says 'weeping' statues are fakes | The Catholic Church has officially declared the oil-seeping and "bleeding" artefacts at the Inala Vietnamese Catholic Centre as fakes (The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Australia)


  • 'Amish in The City': Hollywood's urban desert | The first, two-hour episode of "Amish in the City" is, in fact, harder on the six city kids with whom the five Amish youth are forced to live in a vast, postmodern nightmare house in the Hollywood Hills (The Washington Post)
  • Man of God who fell from grace | The rise, fall, and rise of Clark Taylor, our first tele-evangelist (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

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