How was God lost and found at the DNC? Why it matters for all of us.

Sep 07, 2012

Whether it's fiery rhetoric from speakers such as Sister Simone Campbell or ruction caused by the removal of the word "God" and omission of a reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital from the platform subsequent reinsertion - matters of faith have been ever-present throughout the Democratic National Convention.

What do you think? What kind of chord did President Obama strike in appealing to a religiously diverse Democratic base?

Throughout the week, was faith's presence something expected and does it have a place in politics?

Brad Hirschfield will live chat with readers at 1 p.m. ET about this topic. Submit questions and opinions for Brad to respond to now.

Follow @OnFaith and @BradHirschfield on Twitter

For more information spirituality, ethics and related topics, visit On Faith

Each party has now concluded in national convention and in each case religion played a role, but clearly the biggest story in that regard was the disappearance and reappearance of God in Charlotte.  What happened and why it matters -- whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, a person of faith or not -- is among the questions we will look at today.


Let's get started!

I welcome a campaign free of claiming God's endorsement. Both candidates have good reason not to talk about their religious affiliation. President Obama spent 20 years in a congregation not to be proud of; Mitt Romney's church is one that engenders well-deserved suspicion about its doctrines and organization. I thought the Republicans handled religion well last Thursday -- not talking about their candidate's affiliation, but in what kind of communitarian it makes him.

We agree about the dangers of the "God's endorsement game".  It is not only a problematic, and potentially dangerous, use of public faith, but it borders on idolatry -- making God quite small by shrinking an infinite being to the size of a finite platform.  That said, I find another part of what you wrote to be disturbing.


While President Obama spent years in the pews of a church lead by a pastor who said some prety terrible things, I don't think that people can be measured only by the worst of what they say, and I certainly don't think that all congregants should be measured only based on the preachers in front of whom they sit.  Do you?


And on the Mitt Romney front, you claim that Mormonism "engender well-derserved suspicion" sounds like little more than rank bigotry.  What is that claim based on? 


There is no doubt that the LDS church can be quite opaque about Temple rituals, but if we limit our judgement to what we know and not what we might like to know more about, then quite to the contrary of your claim, it is a faith about which is members have much to be proud both in terms of it's success at nurtuing community and in terms of global humanitarian service.

I didn't feel that there were any chords struck- maybe just my opinion- but that's perfectly all right to me. I prefer my politics to be my politics and my religion to be my religion, and never the twain shall meet. I thought the GOP was much more God oriented, with the Oak Ridge Boys singing "Amazing Grace" in the middle one night and just about everyone mentioning God at one point or another.

NOt sure what you mean by no chords being struck.  Seems to me that the Democratic platform which removed the only remaining use of the word God struck a pretty powerful chord -- one of rejection!  Not that is wasn't consistant with their trend, having gone from 7 to 4 to 1 to none over the past number of platforms.


That is a powerful trend which may be bad for Democrats themselves as it fails to reflect where the vast majortiy of  Americans are on the issue of belief.  We are largely a nation which believes in God, and when you add language of "higher power", the number tops 90%! 


Certainly the Republicans were and are much more comfortable with God talk and while they often use it ways that are overly narrow as far as I can tell, they at least speak with a sensitivity to people's need for and belief in the transcendant as understood by those three letters: G, O, D.

I wonder if the reinsertion of "God" and Jerusalem was an attempt to pander to politically conservative Christians who have misgivings about the increasing extremism of the GOP. "God" doesn't belong in the platform of any political party because it's sectarian and exclusionary. As a matter of principle, the word as a name applies only to monotheistic religions, and not to religions such as Hinduism or Shintoism or animism. And as a practical matter, the vast majority of Americans would hear someone profess a belief in "God" and assume the person to be Christian. There's plenty of room for a party to acknowledge the importance of different faiths to different Americans without endorsing any particular faiths. It's dangerous to equate any sectarian concept with nationalism, because the obvious implication is that people of other faiths are not full Americans.

Three intersting and separate points.


Regarding the notion that "God" and "Jerusalem" were put back in to reach out to conservative Christians who see the GOP as getting too extreme, I think you might be engaging in wishful thinking.  While there is some evidence among some young Evangelical Christians that they combine their faith with a more liberal politics than their parents, the number is pretty small.  I think they put the language back in because they realized that in taking it out, it was the platform committee that had become extreme, to use your word.


On the limitations of God language, you are technically correct, but practically not.  In fact, God language is suffieciently broad that people can understand it in multiple and competing ways, and actually all be correct.  It's kind of like God it/her/him self!


And your asserrtion about the the dangers of equating any sectarian concept with nationalism is so important and true, that it cannot be reapeted enough.  Thank you for doing so.  We can however, remain cogninzant of that challenge and still allow the faiths we follow to be a part of the politcs we practice -- as long as none is ever exclusive and all are welcome.

Whether or not you believe God should be involved in politics, politicians certainly use God for their own gain. The Democrats omitting and then re-submitting the word "God" in their party platform was a political move. So was the increasing use of "God" in the Republican platform. Are there people in both parties who have strong feelings about whether or not religion and politics should mix? Yes, definitely. But, would the word "God" be added or deleted from a political document if it meant losing votes? My guess is probably not.

I think we agree, but am not sure, so let me see if I understand your point.


Do you object to people using God language when they don't really mean it but hope to mollify those who do?  then we DO agree.  If however you object to the fact that some people find it easier to follow a person of faith (or of no faith, for that matter) then we may or may not agree.


For me, it's a functionality deal.  If the faith, or no-faith, followed by a politician helps them to pursue the goals and policies which I believe are good for the community, then I want to hear about them.  If their faith compells them to pursue policies which would impose their faith on others, then not only do I not want to hear about their faith, I want them out of politcs!  How's that?


Bottom line, neither faith nor faithlessness should be dirty words in politics, and too often each of them is.  THAT is something which should concern all of us who care about freedom of thought and expression.

Romney didn't approve everything in the Republican platform and Obama didn't approve everything in the Democratic platform. I don't think these platforms mean anything anymore--so who cares what they say? I just care about action, and Obama has performed just the way I voted for him to perform.

You are cetainly correct that we ought not directly equate a party platform with its presidential candidate, but we should pay attention to the document as an indicator of where each party's idealogues are pushing their party, their candidate and the the nation, if the win.


If the President has performed as you would have hoped, then by all means, you should vote for him again.  I am curious about that as a basis for your support though given that PResident Obama gave himself an "incomplete" and it hard for me to imagine that was what you were hoping for.


Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good arguments to support the President getting another term, but having met our greatest hopes and expectations just doesn't seem like one of them, to me at least.

The first is just ridiculous - like any god that might exist cares about our political parties. Note: the don't say which god or whose god they are talking about; nor do they mention ethics, morals, and values (yes one can have those with or without any kind of god; and they are actually more important than having a religious believe in a deity.) The second is such a blantant attempt to say I like Jews, that is is actually kind of offensive. We don't go around stating the ownership of other disputed lands/cities in contention (Tiawan, Chechnya, Kashmir) so why do we list this one specifically?

Your anger is showing, and it's kind of a shame because it obscures an important insight sandwiched betwen the hostility.


The reason that God language -- be it its presence or its absence -- matters is the same reason any language or item in a platfor matters: it reflects the goals, values and direction in which the party wants to take the nation.  Whether one believes in God or not, for a party which celebrates how in touch it is with the "average American", taking out all mentions of God is actually pretty out of touch!


You are certainly correct that the larger issue is on of values and ethics, and they can be rooted ion any number of God-centered faiths and also in systems which posit no God at all.  That is the powerful and valuable insight which gets lost when you say things like there is not mention of ethics and values in the paltforms, which is simply not true.


Finally, you assumption that Jerusalem is simply a "Jewish issue" is minimally false and borders on hostile to Jews.  The issue of Jersalem is important, whatever decision is made, because Israel remains the best ally the US has in the region, not to mention the culture of freedom and openess which most closely reseembles our own.  There is plenty of room to acknowledge both dispute about what the future should bring in order for peace to be achieved while recognizing current reality.

Frankly, I would really rather that the parties appeal more to reason and common sense than religion. Maybe we would get more enlightened policy proposals that way, instead of ideas that seem to come off as "what would Jesus/Buddha/Vishnu/Mother Earth do."

When it get to that level, we agree!  But of course what counts as reasonable and what we think of a common sense is not uniform by any means.  If it were, we would not have so many fights!


In fact, our sense of reason and CS is informed by many things, including the tradtions which animate our lives --  faith tradtions, familiy tradtions, national tradtions, etc.  It seems to me to make the most sense to acknowledge that fact, appreciate that we don't all have the same understanding of such things and try and learn from others on the assumption that no one system, tradition or party is ever 100% right OR 100% wrong.

The Democratic platform mentioned faith and religious communities a number of times. Taking out the phrase "God-fearing" wasn't that big a deal until the Right made it so and the Left became defensive. The fear of God may be the beginning of wisdom but wisdom was sorely lacking on both sides.

First, let's get the fact right.  The language was never "God-fearing", it was "God-given", and referred to the talents which people have and should make the best use of.


Second, the use of faith is actually equally problematic in that it was always reduced to nothing more than a specific way to achieve a set of social goals which Democrats want to achieve any way.  In other words, there was, and still is not, any reference to faith as either an independant value/variable in people lives, nor any recognition of the transcendant aspects of faith which are cursial to so many Americans. 

I cringed when boos were heard after the mention of God was reinstated in the platform. I've been saying for years that removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance is about keeping government neutral among religions, not making government hostile to all religions. A vocal minority at the convention gave the mistaken impression that their entire party is atheist, just like the religious right would have the nation believe. Way to go in ruining it for everyone.

You have identified the failing perfectly.  Diversity, neutrality, and many other sacred concepts when it comes to the healthy use of religion in public life are NOT the same as hostility, but that is something too many people fail to grasp, especially among Democrats.  But to maintain balance, too many believers fail to appreciate that authentic faith in God comes in as many shapes and sizes as there are believers, something not well understood by a disproportionate number of Republicans!  Oh well, we have work to do on both sides.

Ok, so now your response is disturbing ... Having God in a platform should not be a litmus test. This country was founded on religious freedom and we should be able to have all, or no, religion in our politics. We are all saavy enough to decide for ourselves and support parties that we choose accordingly. Your comments (copied below) are accusatory and seem designed to advance your beliefs through this forum ... "Seems to me that the Democratic platform which removed the only remaining use of the word God struck a pretty powerful chord -- one of rejection! Not that is wasn't consistant with their trend, having gone from 7 to 4 to 1 to none over the past number of platforms." I just want to make sure that I understood you correctly when you said the Democratic party has rejected religion.

Based on your writing, I think it fair to assume you are more than smart enough to know that is NOT what I meant at all, but don't worry, I don't get easily bothered and will clarify it anyway.


By taking out the last reference to God, I think that the Democratic platform Committee reflected an extreme view, not held by most Democrats, and demonstrated a lack of awareness regarding what most American believe.  You are certainly correct about the freedom to have no religion in our politcs, and as I wrote earlier, I find it sad that athiest is still a politcal "dirty word" for most Americans.  That said, politics is about people and most people in this country are people of faith, so if you want their vote, why not speak their language?

Can you define what you intended by "we" in your comments? Seems pretty broad ... "It seems to me to make the most sense to acknowledge that fact, appreciate that we don't all have the same understanding of such things and try and learn from others on the assumption that no one system, tradition or party is ever 100% right OR 100% wrong."

You are correct about it being a broad we.  I meant both "we" Americans and "we" humans.  My point is that whatever beliefs we hold most dear and/or sacred, I know of no system which is always right, all of the time.  In fact, it is the belief that one's system is that proves deadly in both politcs and religion.


We can and must take strong positions about those issues that are dear to us, but when they push out everybody else, we come to no good, no matter how much good we set out to do.


Hope that helps

Well, the time is at hand and yes, my hands are tired, so we have to wrap up.


Once again, your questions and comments were great and you proved why this is one of the web's most interesting hours.


Don't forget that we can continue the conversation if your follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield and find me on facebook.


"Til next week,



"Borders on hostile to Jews." I think this is why it's so hard to discuss the Israel issue. I am not the OP. I am in no way hostile to Jews, but I do think that America sometimes puts Israel's interests above its own. But whenever I make this political statement, I get accused of everything from being against Jews to supporting terrorists, to very nasty things that I don't wish to repeat. Any real discussion about the issue is silenced because if you're not 200% in support of everything Israel does, you're labeled as anti-Jewish.

I genuinely appreciate your concern, and actually hesitated to write that part of my answer, so although we are formally concluded, I want to respond.


You can and question anything you like, and although you may be surprised by this, we agree that too often questions of Israel are silenced, and it's especially unfair when the Jew-hatred card is the only reason.  What provoked that response from me was your narrowing Israel to a "Jewish issue".  In fact, the security of Israel is a US national security issue which matters to far more people than there are Jews in the entire United States.


I encourage you to raise any questions and concerns you have, and certainly agree that one can object to plenty that Israel does and still be both supportive of Jews and even of Israel itself.  When one makes relgious and ethnic presumptions however, they are treading in dangerous territory which trades on hostility to the group in question as a way to avoid more substantive critique.  It's an important issue about which I hope you will think.

In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
Recent Chats
  • Next: