DENVER -- It's 4 PM in the Convention Center, and I've been churched, well churched, sitting through the first official event of the 2008 Democratic Convention, the two-hour "interfaith gathering." A lot of Democrats have passed on the opening event, for the Wells Fargo Theater in the center is only half full -- maybe a quarter full by the end of the event. I'm guessing that a parallel event in St. Paul would have better attendance.
From the second gospel song, however, there's drama. Over the harmonies of "Hear My Prayer," a man shouts "Obama supports the murder of children!" Minutes after the guy is hauled away, a second man jumps up, in his own fit of religious ecstasy, barking "Obama is a baby killer!" The gospel choir sings on. I return to my contemplation of the banners with the Obama Interfaith logo, a design like a quilt block, with encircled eight and ten point stars. I wonder what the 8 and 10 mean--if anything.
The Democratic Convention and the Obama Campaign have constructed a big faith tent, with three Catholics, three rabbis, two imams and two Muslim women, a Methodist, a Harvard divine, a Buddhist university student, a Pentecostalist and the Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ speaking to us. (The Rev. Jeremiah Wright presided over a C-in-C congregation.) Absent are white Evangelicals, Orthodox, Southern Baptists and some of the other mainstream Protestant faiths. A consequence of preacher abundance is that you notice who's not under the tent with you.
Forget their specific callings, however -- these men and women of the cloth sure can preach. The two hours are almost an embarrassment of riches. When the Rev. Leah Daughtry, the Pentecostal minister as well as the CEO of the Convention, says "We didn't need to bring faith to the Democratic Party -- faith is already here," in the Wells Fargo Theater she's not exaggerating. Quoting Isaiah, the Rev. Daughtry tells us that we "will be called the repairers of the broken wall, the restorers of cities in which to dwell."
Daughtry has set the bar high, and her fellow preachers meet it. Bishop Blake, the Presiding Bishop, in a different style of preaching but with essentially the same viewpoint as Rick Warren a week ago at the Saddleback civil forum, says that he is pro-life, but that there are too many issues at stake in this election to choose a candidate based on his stance on abortion alone.
The high point of the sermonizing is provided by Sister Helen Prejean (author of "Dead Man Walking"), whose evocation of the scene on death row in Texas, particularly the room where the mother of the condemned watches her child's execution, is powerful and moving.
The only note off-key comes from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, who, in trying to compliment Leah Daughtry, says, "It's wonderful to be working with a woman of faith." Does that mean he is less pleased with the secular women in the Democratic Party?