On Monday, I wrote that one of the things I would be looking for at the political conventions was "whether the people of faith who are here are able to offer that prophetic role that faithfulness requires, that would hold politics accountable to real moral values, and would offer the best hope of social change."
I'm happy to report that is indeed the case. The first indication of how prophetic faith might be at this convention came at the Sunday afternoon interfaith service that opened the Democratic National Convention -- another first. I attended, and I was eager to hear the tone that would be adopted by the speakers at the "Faith and Action" service. The theme was "Responsibility -- to our children, our neighbor, our nation, and our world." The speakers focused more on their own religious traditions than on politics, for which I was grateful, and then applied their faith to the moral issues of our time.
Yesterday, I moderated the first "Faith Forum." An AP story this morning caught the tone of the meeting just right. "People of faith challenge Democrats" began:
Religious leaders and people of faith who've been invited to the table at this week's Democratic National Convention are not sitting quietly with their hands in their laps.
The head of a large African-American denomination challenged the party on abortion. An Orthodox Jewish rabbi raised his voice about school choice. A thirty-something evangelical Christian author warned against Democrats who mock believers. ...
"Let's be honest: Religion has been used and abused by politics," said Jim Wallis, an evangelical and editor of Sojourners magazine. People of faith, he said, "should speak prophetically more than in a partisan way." Wallis is not endorsing a candidate and will also appear on a panel in St. Paul, Minn., next week during the Republican convention.
The story notes that one speaker "credited Democratic officials for putting no restrictions on what speakers could say," and then went on:
That freedom also was evident when Bishop Charles Blake, head of the 6 million-member Church of God in Christ, spoke of "disregard for the lives of the unborn." Blake, who called himself a pro-life Democrat, challenged Obama to adopt policies to reduce abortions and chided Republicans for not caring about "those who have been born."
Bishop Blake said the same thing at Sunday's interfaith service, where I spoke to him afterward and thanked him for his courage to speak prophetically. He told me, "I could do nothing else but be faithful to my religious convictions and my constituency of faith."
It was a good first sign of prophetic religion at the Democratic Convention.