Last week, I looked at the use of religion at the Republican national convention and concluded that the GOP had made no effort to shore up a political weakness. Religious independents tend to be political independents who tend not to vote Republican.
But I could find not a crumb tossed in the direction of the religious "Nones" by the GOP's major speakers who, when they talked religion, were specific and overwhelmingly Christian in their linkages between faith and politics.
Looking at the Democrats this past week, the story is a bit different. Where the Dems went with religion it was also mostly specific and Christian. But the speakers tossed a couple of crumbs toward the Nones. And where the GOP made no pivot toward the center, the Democrats made a major effort to reach out to the specifically religious who, the more religious they say they are, are more likely to vote for the GOP.
Particularly on the first day of the Democratic convention, there were enough personal testimonies and Bible verses for a Billy Graham altar call. Speaker after speaker affirmed their Christian faith and tied it to their political positions.
But it wasn't unanimous.
Colorado congressman Jared Polis pointed out that he was Jewish and gay. And he made this point about diversity:
"Now is our chance to tell the dividers no, to tell the special interests and cynical Washington insiders 'no', tell the lobbyists and PACs 'no', and tell our fellow countrymen and women, 'gay and straight', 'Christians', 'Jews', 'Mormons', 'Muslims' and 'nonbelievers', 'rich' and 'poor', 'black and white', 'Latino and Asian', 'east and west', 'north and south'; it is time to tell them 'yes', together we are stronger, together we are better, together we are America."
Did you spot the shout-out to the non-believers?
A silent shout-out to the non-religious might be found in what was not heard in some of the prominent speeches in Charlotte.
Michelle Obama was all about the values that motivate her husband. Religion got not a single mention. Ditto for the extended and detailed jazz riff delivered by former president Bill Clinton. Clinton has always been good at weaving in biblical references into his speeches. Not this time. Vice President Joe Biden, who frequently mentions his Catholic faith and upbringing, passed on those topics during his speech.
But the faithful could find plenty of specific nods in their direction.
From former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland:
"Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps. In Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, the scriptures teach us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
From Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts:
"I grew up in the Methodist Church and taught Sunday school. And one of my favorite passages of Scripture is: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," Matthew 25:40. The passage teaches about God in each of us, that we are bound to each other and called to act, not to sit, not to wait, but to act -- all of us together."
From the keynote address delivered by San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro:
"By the time my brother and I came along, this incredible woman had taught herself to read and write in both Spanish and English. I can still see her in the room that Joaquin and I shared with her, reading her Agatha Christie novels late into the night. And I can still remember her, every morning as Joaquin and I walked out the door to school, making the sign of the cross behind us, saying, ‘Que dios los bendiga.' 'May God bless you.'"
From South Carolina congressman James Clyburn:
"Romans 13, verse 12 tells us: 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand: Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.' Let us go from this place, lighting candles all across this great country and re-elect President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden so they can continue moving our country forward into the light."
President Barack Obama, as is his wont, talked about religion and the religious several times in his address:
"From Burma to Libya to South Sudan, we have advanced the rights and dignity of all human beings, men and women; Christians and Muslims and Jews..."
"As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away..."
"We know that churches and charities can often make more of a difference than a poverty program alone..."
"I don't know what party these men and women belong to. I don't know if they'll vote for me. But I know that their spirit defines us. They remind me, in the words of Scripture, that ours is a 'future filled with hope.'"
I'll admit I had no clue what bible passage he was referring to, there. Mr. Google showed me it was from one particular modern translation of a passage in Jeremiah.
Oh, and there was the deal with the Democratic platform. Party platforms tend to matter for about 10 minutes every four years, and I don't expect this cycle to be much different. This year, the Dems included a section about faith -- mostly an acknowledgement of the proper role of faith-based organizations. (The GOP didn't have a separate section on faith for its platform. Instead, religion and faith were mentioned in almost every section.)
What the Democrats didn't do this time was use the word "God." The GOP had sprinkled the term "God-given" through its platform. And the lack of similar acknowledgement by the Dems came under attack from those who found the missing reference offensive. What passes for a floor fight at these scripted events ended up putting one mention of "God-given" back into the Democratic platform.
And yeah, while a bunch of delegates shouted in favor of re-inserting a perfunctory mention of "God," lots of delegates voted against it. Some, no doubt, were actually opposed to the word "God." Many others, I figure, didn't like getting muscled by outsiders.
Will it matter? As much as any platform fight ever does.
Finally, I'll draw attention to the actual prayers said at the Democratic convention. As with the GOP, there were the benedictions and invocations. In Charlotte we had representatives of the Greek Orthodox, African Methodist Episcopal Church, a couple of independent Christian organizations and Conservative Judaism.
(An aside: both the GOP and Dems had prayers offered by an Greek Orthodox clergyman. Given that total Eastern Orthodox membership in the US is just above rounding error in most national surveys -- less than a million -- and there are many more Muslims in this country, I wonder why both conventions chose Orthodox and passed on an imam? Just asking.)
And then there was the closing benediction by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. He was the closer for the GOP, also. Which is surely an acknowledgement that there are more Catholic voters in the US, by far, than any other religious affiliation.
As the Democrats surely expected, Dolan gently chided them for the party position on abortion and gay marriage. He got a polite hearing in the hall, somewhat less so from some in the Democratic blogosphere.
I wonder what the reaction would have been in Tampa if the GOP had invited, say, a bishop from the Episcopal Church (USA) to offer a prayer. What are the odds that such would ever happen? And would a gentle admonishment in favor of gay marriage have been politely received?
Left to argue is whether the use of religion (or lack) at either convention will matter on election day. My favorite commentary on such is a quote attributed to Knute Rockne. The iconic Notre Dame football coach was asked about the prayers his team offered before every game. Did they help?
"I've found that prayers work best," the coach replied, "when you have big players."