Archives For Democratic National Convention

Right now the United States is immersed in a flurry of political wrangling, our two major parties wrapping up, or about to begin, major conventions that they hope will sell their candidate to an increasingly disaffected electorate. For those of us who exist on the margins of America’s tapestry of faith and religion, it can seem doubly alienating. A celebration of what we are not.

Certainly there have been inroads, the Republican National Convention invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation (albeit one you could only see on C-SPAN), and the Democratic National Convention has enshrined marriage equality in their national platform, but for the most part these events are exercises in affirming a certain bland, comfortable, (mostly) non-controversial all-American idiom (from different political lenses, to be sure). They are not, despite what activists from both sides desire, moments that dare confront or change the status quo. No one will be forced to confront, as Brian Jay Stanley was, their own prejudices or assumptions.

“Before college I was a skeptic and rationalist toward every religion except my own, Christianity. Like most of humanity, I had believed the religion I’d heard first, and on its authority dismissed all the religions I’d heard second. Seeing Muslims wearing turbans or Hindus bindis, I thought the oddity of their customs proved the error of their beliefs. Studying all faiths in one class in college, however, I saw my religion from the outside and realized that the rites of my Sundays — warbling choirs and smocked babies dipped in silver fonts and bread as the body of Christ — were as curious as what I had disparaged as myths. In class discussions I sometimes unwittingly revealed assumptions that I thought were axioms, and would read surprise in the eyes of a Hare Krishna or Bahai. My notion of normal was an accident of my birth and upbringing. Whomever I saw as strange saw me as strange. I had raised a doubtful brow at Buddhists bowing to golden statues, even as I prayed weekly to a crucified first-century Jew, not realizing that either all religions are bizarre or none is.”

As Jeffrey Weiss at RealClearReligion notes, the slow demographic shift away from institutional faiths, the rise of “nones,” those claiming to particular religion, have yet to be eagerly courted by either party, particularly the Republicans.

“Where religion came up in Tampa last week, at least among the best-known and prime-time speakers, it was mostly in reference to a fairly specific notion of God. The speakers used language most familiar to a particular reading of Christianity. To be fair, much of the language would also have been familiar in the mid-1700s, as America’s founders crafted their exquisite balance of freedoms and responsibilities. But today, as many as one American in five belongs to the religious “Nones,” depending on the polls you read. That’s a huge leap from a couple of decades ago. And members of this group are far more likely to describe themselves as political independents than people who say they ascribe to any particular religion. They may have been more turned off than inspired by the way the Republicans wove religion and politics together.”

This isn’t a uniquely Republican problem, as the Democrats aren’t exactly eager to give non-Christians a prime-time voice. Both seek to keep Christians in their base, while hoping their policy stances will appeal to non-Christians who will overlook all the monotheistic God talk. Change, it seems, happens in frustratingly small increments. No one is forced to deal with people who don’t have the slightest similarity to us,” even within the “big tent” of our national parties, and that’s a shame. That said, CNN believes the Democratic convention will be less “faith-y” (ie less Christian) than four years ago, but it’s all speculation at this point.

Happening in the shadow of the “values voter” election of 2004, the 2008 Democratic convention was something of a faith fest, especially when it came to evangelicals. Convention roles went to the Rev. Joel Hunter, a megapastor from Florida, and best-selling Christian author Don Miller. This year, some religious activists are quietly wondering if the convention will come off as more secular. Hunter, who remains close to Obama, is skipping Charlotte. “There’s no reason for me to be there,” he told us. “My relationship with the president is pastoral and not political.”

Let me be clear, this is not a “both parties are the same” argument, I think there are clear and definable differences in policy between the Democrats and Republicans. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to discern where their interests lie in those matters, as The Wild Hunt doesn’t endorse candidates. However, both parties do have a “religion” problem, and it isn’t the problem of appealing to Christians of various inclinations.

The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Both parties need to embrace the “communion of strangers,” and realize that pluralism is the core value regarding religion in America. Both parties need to either embrace the full tapestry of faith in their conventions, or they need to stop pandering to religious groups entirely. That isn’t so strange a notion, as it wasn’t until our modern era that faith became so politicized that we injected it into the very fabric of partisan politics. Of course, it used to be a given that we were all Christians, and that all “others” lived here by our sufferance. Still, one direction or another needs to be taken, or the parties will soon find themselves catering to ever-smaller slices of the demographic pie until it will a case of change or die. My hope is that secularism can stop being a dirty word, and we can simply get down to the business of rationally hashing out our policy differences without invoking divine backing to bolster an argument. If not now, then soon.

Quite a bit of attention has been paid to the closing Democratic National Convention benediction made by evangelical pastor Dr. Joel C. Hunter of Northland Church in Florida. Specifically the closing instruction made by Hunter.

“Now I interrupt this prayer for a closing instruction. I want to personalize this. I want this to be a participatory prayer. And so therefore, because we are in a country that is still welcoming all faiths, I would like all of us to close this prayer in the way your faith tradition would close your prayer.”

This openness to all faith traditions greatly moved many people, including Pagan delegate Rita Moran, who had this to say about the benediction.

“At the end of a wonderful, joyful night, complete with fireworks and confetti (including a cascade of white stars), came an invocation. Until the last, there was no hint of how it would close, but then it came: the minister said he would pause before the end of the prayer and encouraged everyone in Invesco Field to finish it as they would in their own faith tradition. And so the Gods came to that venue, as I completed the invocation with ‘by the Gods of my people, so mote it be!’”

But apparently not everyone was ecstatic about Republican Hunter’s careful prayer for the Democrats. Religion reporter and columnist Terry Mattingly points out that Hunter has posted an “open letter” explaining his prayer to those confused or upset at his unique closing instruction.

“I did not ask people to pray to another god; I asked them to finish a prayer according to their faith tradition. This may be a small point linguistically, but it is a huge point theologically.”

In other words, he meant you should pray to the Abrahamic God in any manner you please, but that shouldn’t be misconstrued as encouraging polytheism (or prayers to any other non-Abrahamic power). So it looks like a truly interfaith prayer has been “clarified” to exclude anyone Hunter’s congregation and co-religionists might find too far outside the “norm” to be acceptable. After all, we wouldn’t want to be caught praying with Pagans would we?

Just to remind my readers keeping track of the Democratic National Convention that our own embedded Pagan reporters over at Blue Pagans at the DNC will be sending in regular updates as everything unfolds. Maine delegate Rita Moran has already posted her impressions of the opening interfaith ceremony.

“The high point for me, where Rev. Daughtry proved how inclusive she had planned the service to be, came when she stated, “We are created in the image of our Creator, whatever we call Him or Her.” Acknowledgment of the feminine divine truly demonstrated how inclusive the Democratic Party is, and made me proud to be a Democrat.”

Be sure to read the entire post. You can keep track of future posts from Blue Pagans at the DNC in a number of ways. Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their feed at LiveJournal, place a widget on your site, subscribe to their syndication feed, or have the posts e-mailed to you. We here at The Wild Hunt will also be checking in with the Blue Pagans team as the convention progresses. I wish Rita, Ed, and other Pagans at the convention good luck, and hope this is just the beginnings of a Pagan presence within American politics.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 18, 2008 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

West African Vodun is taking an important step towards modernization as Togo passes new laws (with the blessing of the Vodun divinities) that forbids pressing young girls into the service of the priesthood after their initiation as adepts.

“After a three-year campaign, rights groups claimed victory over a way of life that they said cut the girls off from their own families, sometimes involved ritual scarring — and occasionally led to sexual abuse. But it took some intense lobbying of political and religious authorities in this small west African state — and, it would seem, the voodoo divinities — to get there … Voodoo priests say that several hundred young girls are baptised every year as voodoo adepts, or voodoosi, after lengthy initiation rites of between three months and two years. Under the old system, instead of rejoining their families after these ceremonies, they had to stay at voodoo convents to serve the gods.”

Under the new laws, it is a five-year prison sentence for anyone to take a child away from their family environment. This is a major shift in attitudes in one of the few countries where Vodun is still a major social and political power (60% of Togolese people are adherents of Vodun).

Speaking of Vodun, Speaking of Faith’s blog takes you behind the scenes of their recent episode on Vodou.

“About two years ago, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith wrote us a brief e-mail asking if we had produced shows on “African and African-derived traditional religions” and recommended several volumes that he’d edited on Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Candomble, and Umbanda. Our former associate producer Jessica Nordell called him asking for suggestions for people that he thought could speak about Vodou intimately. He was forthcoming and recommended many voices, including Claudine Michel. But we quickly realized that he was that voice — a Haitian aristocrat who was not only a scholar of the tradition but a practitioner who discovered Vodou in his early adulthood. We found his personal story about rediscovering his heritage and the spirit of the people of his country utterly captivating.”

Check out SOF’s archive of programs for a wealth of programming of interest to our faith communities.

In a town like Salem, even the cops are psychic!

“A retired Salem cop who swapped his badge for a crystal ball is still sleuthing – with backup from his friends from beyond the grave. Professional psychic medium Chuck Bergman, 57, spent 32 years pounding the beat in the Witch City, but says that since retiring five years ago he is finding old habits die hard. Initially skeptical of his “gift,” Bergman says he is now channeling the spirits to help police and desperate families find missing loved ones from coast to coast.”

Forget “Medium”, I want to see a police procedural set in Salem with a psychic cop! Maybe CSI: Salem? Forensics and Witchcraft, I’d watch it.

The Modesto Bee interviews a group of atheists about their struggles for tolerance and respect, including a self-described Pagan atheist.

“Shawna Amaral, a 22-year-old Modesto caregiver, said her parents and grandparents were Christians who never went to church or read the Bible when she was growing up. “They were too busy,” she said. “Since nobody was there to teach me basic religion, I just came to believe that I can’t believe in a god or a higher power or anything. “When I was 16 or 17, I discovered paganism, an earth-based religion. You don’t have to believe in in a god or goddess, so I still consider myself an atheist in that way.” Amaral said she lived in Alabama for a couple of years. When she told people she was an atheist, ‘they’d call me a devil worshipper and said I’d go to hell. I’d laugh at them and ask how I could go to hell if I didn’t believe in it to begin with.’”

I wonder if she has read Frederick Lamond’s “Religion without Beliefs”?

While an American Indian spiritual leader hasn’t been invited to the opening interfaith service at the Democratic National Convention, a gathering of Ute tribal leaders will be on hand for a “grand welcoming” ceremony.

“Colorado’s first residents will offer the first official welcome to the Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 23, when Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Northern Ute tribal leaders and other Indian notables in full regalia will lead the pageantry of a grand entry before officials address some 13,000 media representatives. “It’s the right thing to do, since they were the first people in the state of Colorado,” said Holly Arnold Kinney, co-chair of the entertainment committee for the media event at Elitch Gardens near the Pepsi Center. The Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribes are the only sovereign nations currently in Colorado, once considered home by the Northern Utes and many other tribes.”

Interesting that Native Americans performing dances and songs tied to their indigenous faith traditions will be handled by the entertainment committee, while representatives from “mainstream” religions are organized by the head of the Democratic Party’s Faith in Action initiative.

In a final note, the News Virginian reminds us that homeschooling comes in more flavors than right-wing Christian.

“For some reason, it’s gotten into the mindset of the public that homeschoolers are right-wing Christians,” said Ann Cameron Siegal, a homeschool mother and a volunteer for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. “Obviously, there are people under that label, but there are also Jewish homeschoolers, Muslim homeschoolers and pagan homeschoolers; it ranges from far left to far right. If there is any unifying thing, it is the idea of freedom – freedom to pursue education, much like people did in the Colonial period, to the depth and breadth of what you want to do.”

My wife’s youngest daughter was homeschooled, and is entering college this year as a sophomore. I’m proud to say I had a hand in her homeschooling, and there was nothing particularly Christian about it.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

Any illusion one might have had that the race for America’s chief executive is a secular affair was thoroughly shattered yesterday at the Saddleback Civil Forum on The Presidency. Evangelical superstar Rick “Purpose Driven Life” Warren got the two candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, to sit down individually in his church, submit to his questions, and expound on concerns most important to evangelical Christians.

“Now you’ve made no doubt about your faith in Jesus Christ, what does that mean to you? What does it mean to you to trust in Christ and what does it mean on a daily basis?”

The fact that several questions in the “civil” forum sounded more like a job interview for the pastor of a Christian church didn’t escape the notice of the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance.

“Some of the questions Pastor Warren posed crossed the line and promoted the fiction that the American people are electing a pastor-in-chief, rather than a commander-in-chief. Questions like ‘What does it mean to trust in Christ?’ create a religious test for public office and should have no place in the political discourse for a secular office. America is the most religiously diverse country in the world, and Christianity is only one of those faith traditions. Millions of voters who tuned in tonight will feel disenfranchised by some of the questions posed in this forum.”

Despite admonitions from interfaith activists, I doubt that the intense wooing of evangelicals will stop. With recent Presidential races being so evenly split, the “freestyle evangelicals” are portrayed as king-makers. Alienate them at your peril, and certainly don’t be anything other than Christian if you hope to win. It is little wonder that this year’s Democratic National Convention will commence with an interfaith service organized by a Pentecostal preacher, a first for the party, and a move that has troubled atheist and secular organizations.

“Democratic National Convention’s Aug. 24 interfaith service in Denver is supposed to be about unity. But to a Washington, D.C., coalition that supports nontheistic views, it’s about division. The Secular Coalition Group, a lobbying organization for church-and-state separation, is pushing to get an atheist on the speaker list, and contends the service is divisive because it alienates nonreligious Democrats at a time when the party needs to unite to support the presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.”

It should be interesting to see how this will be resolved. Because if the party isn’t ready to navigate a compromise between secularists and the monotheist (and token Buddhist “participant”) interfaith club, what will they do when Hindu, Pagan, Native, and Afro-Caribbean faiths start asking for a place at the interfaith podium? The post-Christian era is upon us, and the longer the two major political parties court 25% of America’s religious adherents to the near-exclusion of nearly everyone else, the sooner they experience irrelevance as that demographic becomes just one voice in a cacophony of faiths and philosophies.

I would like use this light news day to alert my readers to a new blog/project that I have a hand in coordinating. You may remember my interview with Maine Democratic Party official and out(ed) Pagan Rita Moran back in April. Ms. Moran, though losing her superdelegate status, has been chosen by the Maine Democratic Party to be a part of the delegation for that state. Realizing that this was a unique opportunity, she offered to report back from the Democratic National Convention and deliver a Pagan perspective on the proceedings. So Rita, along with fellow Democratic Party official and credentialed blogger ?Ed Lachowicz, have started a special blog to post their reports.

“We’ve got a great opportunity here, a chance to make our mark on a campaign for change, a chance to be a constant reminder that we expect “Change We Can Believe In” means an America that treats Pagans fairly and equally….from an ensured right to worship for military Pagans (including Pagan chaplains), to true enforcement of the separation of Church (Grove?) and State.”Rita Moran, Change Who Can Believe in?

I believe that this is a unique opportunity to have an embedded Pagan voice at a major political event, and The Wild Hunt will be posting links to their coverage of the convention. In the meantime, Rita and Ed have already started blogging in anticipation of the upcoming event, and there are a variety of subscription services and tools at the site that allow you to follow along and promote their posts. I hope those of you interested in the project will help promote Blue Pagans at the DNC by adding it to your blogrolls, telling your friends, and linking to the convention coverage later this month.

I would also like to take this opportunity to put out a call for openly Pagan Republican delegates or credentialed press who are planning to attend the Republican National Convention in September. If you would like to see a “Red Pagans at the RNC” blog happen, send me an e-mail. While I happen to “trend blue” personally, this site refrains from endorsing any political candidate or party, and remains a “neutral” ground open to Pagans of all political persuasions.