09/13/2012 09:19 am ET Updated Nov 13, 2012

Finding God in the Party Platforms

Republicans did their level best to slow down the Democrats' momentum last week by picking a fight on perhaps the only remaining issue on which they still think they have the upper hand with voters: faith.

The lack of the word "God" in the Democrats' platform, they contended, was proof of the "hostility President Obama and the Democratic Party establishment have toward religion and people of faith." So determined to create trouble around the initial absence of the word "God," Republican pundits missed the greater point: the Democratic platform was, in important ways, far more consistent with the Word of God than their own platform.

One of the indelible lessons from my time at Yale Divinity School and a lifetime of devotion to the Christian faith is that there is more to honoring God than reciting His name. If we're going to try to measure the Godliness of our politics, it shouldn't be by the number of times the word "God" is used, but by the strength of the values put forth in our policies.

It was striking to see how much the Democratic National Convention had matured in welcoming public expressions of faith since my first convention in 1988. The open embrace of faith by convention planners and party leaders was on display each day last week with opening and closing prayers offered by leaders of many faiths, delegate prayer gatherings each morning, and gatherings of the Faith Caucus throughout the week.

On the sidewalks of Charlotte, though, caricatures of faith leaders berated delegates, journalists, and bystanders. Occasional summer showers only barely cooled the heated exchanges. On several corners, angry street preachers stood on boxes with bullhorns, waving Bibles and shouting calls for repentance amidst graphic posters condemning Democrats to Hell with photos of aborted fetuses and placards proclaiming "God hates fags!"

Back inside the arena, Democrats' strong commitment to faith was on full display at the podium, too, with loud cheers from the floor Wednesday night for Sister Simone Campbell -- one of the "Nuns on the Bus" -- who declared "I am my sister's keeper" and repeated the declaration of the Catholic Bishops Conference that Congressman Ryan's budget failed a basic moral test because of the harm it would do to families living in poverty.

Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, himself a Methodist clergyman, lifted up the discussion and brought down the house with a positive, passionate, faith-filled call for bipartisanship and principled progress that elicited not only applause, but pronounced exclamations of "Amen!"

People of faith have long played a central role in shaping the values of the Democratic Party, even during its most tumultuous times. From Dr. Martin Luther King and African American churches' leadership in the civil rights movement to Rev. William Sloane Coffin and the anti-war movement, a faith-inspired focus on justice and peace, tolerance and inclusion have long driven the Democratic Party.

What matters more than whether in the party's platform the word "faith" was followed by the phrase "in God" was whether the values reflected in the platform showed an intention to honor God's call to us for action that shows His preference for the poor, His demands that we care for each other as neighbors and work to heal the sick, feed the hungry and protect those in need.

The Democratic platform fully embraces those values, but they are hard to find in the Republican platform.

Psalm 72 teaches us that to defend the cause of the poor and to give deliverance to the needy is one of our highest callings -- a call that is repeated throughout books of the Torah and the New Testament. To reject the great tradition of a circle of protection defies God's will and undermines America's values.

As the last night of the convention came to a close, the soaring rhetoric of our President had barely finished echoing from the hall when the final benediction was offered by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, the same head of the Catholic Bishops Conference who had famously battled with Obama over access to contraception and religious liberty just months earlier. He'd offered the closing prayer at the Republican Convention in Tampa, too.

The patience and reverence showed by the thousands of delegates who prayed calmly with the Archbishop showed a party inclined to respect rather than conflict. Even when his reflection turned to explicit advocacy against abortion and marriage equality, the convention hall remained quiet. I held my breath in fear of a shouted objection or disrespecting catcall that would overshadow the positive tenor of the whole week, but none was uttered.

Ours has grown into a party, a platform and a convention that highlights the best of our values -- traditions of respect for one another, of tolerance, of inclusion, and of a willingness to fight for a path forward that embraces our obligation to invest in each others' education, opportunity and prosperity.