“Faith is an integral part of the Democratic Party,” the Reverend Derrick Harkins proclaimed Wednesday as he kicked off a panel on religion at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. “Don’t put any credence to the lie that somehow faith is not an integral part of who we are as Democrats—somebody ought to say, ‘Amen!’” Applause filled the forum. The event, the second that Harkins helped organize this week in addition to a daily morning prayer series, is the most recent attempt by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to rally the faith vote for President Obama in November. And Harkins is the man behind the mission.
The first time Harkins met the president was six years ago, when then-Senator Obama gave his Call to Renewal speech—perhaps his most openly Christian public address—at Washington’s National City Christian Church. “If we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at, to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own,” Obama said, “then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.” At the time, Harkins was on the board of the progressive evangelical organization Sojourners, which was hosting the conference. From the pews, he listened carefully as the young congressman outlined how his Christian commitments informed his progressive agenda. “Even then, when people were just beginning to buzz about his possibly running for president, I was struck by the depth and authenticity of his own understanding of his personal faith,” Harkins recalls.