Boos, Jews, and Progressive Religion at DNC

In another post, I looked at some of the religious narratives surfacing around the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Let’s turn now to a view from within the convention—specifically, at the women who carried the face of faith on the convention’s opening night.

As has been widely noted, things got off to a rocky start. Rev. Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia got booed, loudly, for mentioning Hillary Clinton’s name in the opening prayer.

I wonder, first of all, who does this? Who heckles a prayer? I also wonder if the boo-birds had any idea who Hale is: the pioneering pastor of a 5100-member church in the strategically important Atlanta suburbs, a woman routinely included on lists of top black leaders, who’s mentored countless women in ministry, who’s given the invocation at Congress, who helped Pres. Obama celebrate his second inauguration?

Not that these bona fides should insulate a pastor from criticism, but perhaps it’s not so intelligent to insult someone who might be an important ally in a state the Democrats could actually win this fall?

Hale is a minister in the Disciples of Christ, a denomination in full communion with my own United Church of Christ. Another speaker, Pat Spearman of Nevada, bears a similar connection. Spearman stuck it to Republican VP nominee Mike Pence:

“Governor Pence signed a law that allows individuals and businesses to deny services to LGBTQ Americans, and he used religion as a weapon to discriminate. As a lesbian, that hurts me. As a person of faith, that offends me. And as a legislator working hard to create jobs, that baffles me.

Spearman is more than just “a person of faith.” She is the founder of Resurrection Faith Community Ministries, a gay-friendly black church in North Las Vegas. Though the congregation is independent, it’s affiliated with UCC minister Bishop Yvette Flunder’s The Fellowship, a network of “radically inclusive” African-American churches. This is an admittedly minor connection, but it’s interesting to see a) an out leader of a welcoming minority church speaking to a national convention, and b) how denominations like the Disciples or the UCC continue to influence the narratives of faith and politics, even if at something of a remove.

As David Gibson notes, after stirring speeches from Cory Booker, Michelle Obama, and Karla Ortiz, an 11-year-old child of undocumented workers who spoke out for immigration reform, the caustic tone of the convention settled down. By the end, when Rabbi Julie Schonfeld gave the closing benediction, it was almost sedate. Gibson says, rightly, that Schonfeld’s prayer was lovely:

In a season so filled with chatter of ‘Who is Great’ and ‘What is Great’ and ‘What Shall Be Great,’
Let us remember Scripture’s clear, simple explanation of greatness:
God is the great, the mighty and the awesome,
For God defends the cause of the widow and the orphan,
And loves the stranger residing among you.
This is God’s greatness and this is the greatness the American people must strive to imitate.

While I thought Pat Spearman was the most interesting religious speaker of the evening, Elizabeth Warren’s line that “We are not going to be Trump’s hate-filled America” might have been its most important religious statement.

Warren—a Methodist like Hillary Clinton—may not have name-checked God or cited scripture in her speech, but she did mention religious bigotry several times among Donald Trump’s other sins. I at least see an implied theology in her statement that refuses “the politics of fear and division” in favor of being a reconciled, if not exactly united, nation. You might see a statement of universalist humanism, and that’s okay. There’s no reason to fight about it. (Warren got booed too.)