Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
In working on our two new shows about faith — the Left and the Right — in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, we were struck by the fact that the 2008 Democratic National Convention was the first modern DNC that began each day with an invocation and ended each night with a benediction. Our guest Amy Sullivan said, “As I was watching it, what I felt was less kind of a sense that I was witnessing something new and more a disbelief that this hadn’t existed before.” By contrast, Republican conventions have long included invocations and benedictions.
The final benediction of the DNC was delivered by Joel Hunter, a pro-life Evangelical and a registered Republican who serves as the senior pastor to a 12,000-member congregation in Florida. The final benediction at the Republican National Convention was delivered by Dan Yeary, a Southern Baptist pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, where John McCain’s wife is a member.
Let us know what you think of these two prayers. Does this religious language ennoble the sometimes less than noble sentiments of these political gatherings? Or do you agree with one of our previous guests, Steve Waldman, that injecting religion into politics can actually hurt religion, by sullying it with the baggage that political figures carry?
Makes Me Wanna Jump & Shout: Religion, Ecstasy & Race
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
We had a cuts-n-copy session this week for an upcoming show on Democrats and religion, with Time Magazine editor Amy Sullivan, herself an Evangelical Christian. Mitch had placed some fabulous music in the rough version of the show: the Campbell Brothers performing Sam Cooke’s yearning "A Change Is Gonna Come". But it gave me pause, because one of the points Amy Sullivan makes in the course of her interview with Krista is that liberal Democrats have historically “delegated” religion to black churches, and have been uninterested in engaging with white Christian piety in this country. Sullivan argues that in 2008 this changed, with much more evidence of a vibrant religious presence — albeit a self-conscious & studiously interfaith one — at the DNC.
Still, it seems to me there is not only a political but a racial divide in how we members of the media, and the liberal “intelligentsia,” perceive devotional practices that fall outside the mainline habit of sitting up straight in church while being lectured.
Sarah Palin, a white person who was at least at one time associated with the energetic devotions of Pentecostal worship is handily dismissed by many liberals as — therefore — a kook. Apparently white people are dismissible if they engage in ecstatic devotion, at least for Jesus. But the same liberal sensibility finds the ecstatic worship of African-American Pentecostalism charming, authentic, and soulful. What gives? I think this is racism of a pernicious variety.
We accept the full-bodied worship of African-Americans because, at least subliminally, they are still The Other — that is, they are other than the dominant, hyper-rational, majority white culture.
I’m not an apologist for Palin or any candidate, nor am I an apologist for Pentecostalism, though I do sometimes find Pentecostalism’s fervor and emotionalism persuasive, beautiful, and deep. I just don’t like what I smell underneath the high-toned dismissal of Palin’s Pentecostal roots, when it’s accompanied by the wholesale enthusiasm for our cultural appropriation of gospel music, blues, and soul.
Democrats of Faith, Then and Now
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
While doing research for our upcoming shows about religion and politics, I tracked down a 1980 advertisement for Jimmy Carter (above), which seemed to make a more explicit religious appeal than any campaign advertisement I’d ever seen before. Carter was one of the first modern politicans to make a big issue of his religious faith, and one of the few Democrats on the national stage to do so. Then today I ran across a radio ad for Obama, produced by the Political Action Committee Matthew 25 Network, which is also surprisingly direct in its religious appeal.
What do you think? Are you one of the 46% of Americans, according to the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life, who feels uncomfortable when politicians talk about their own religion? Or do you think we’re better off when both sides of the campaign are addressing religious values in the presidential election?
Pentecostals Have a Home in Both Parties
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
With all the press that Sarah Palin is getting over statements she made at her former Pentecostal church in Wasilla, I failed to notice that the Democratic Party has its own influential leader in Rev. Leah Daughtry (watch a video report with her preaching), a Pentecostal minister from Brooklyn who was the CEO of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Of course, Krista knew.
We’re continually trying to find new relevancy for programs we felt didn’t get the attention or garner the audience that perhaps they deserved. We did so more than a month ago when Rick Warren triumphantly convinced Obama and McCain to appear jointly on stage in his church — before the nominating conventions. News pegs really do matter, and we wanted to contribute to people’s understanding of this mega-church pastor and his impact on the Evangelical community and politics as well. So, we made a decision to preempt our scheduled programming to rebroadcast Krista’s interview with Rick and Kay Warren, which was conducted in their personal offices at Saddleback Church. The results were tremendous and we were proud to serve you in our distinct way.
The same can be said of this week’s program. We wanted to help you understand the importance of this burgeoning religious tradition of Pentecostalism. Not only did we want to point out that influential Pentecostals are involved in the highest levels of Democratic and Republican Party leadership, we wanted to give you a better understanding of Pentecostalism at its lived center.
Two years ago, we covered the centennial celebration of Pentecostalism, returning to its foundational roots on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Krista spoke to the foremost authority on Pentecostalism’s history and significance, Mel Robeck; she spoke at length with a Latina scholar who brings a fresh set of eyes to the tradition, Arlene Sanchez-Walsh. Both practice the faith they study: Robeck descended from parents who were both ministers with the Assemblies of God — Sarah Palin’s former denomination — while Sanchez-Walsh’s story of leaving the Catholic Church and finding a more charismatic tradition in a small church echoes the experience of many Latinos in the U.S. and in their native countries.
Experiencing Pentecostal worship and approaches to life was somewhat of a shocker for a boy raised in a pretty stiff and reserved Roman Catholic Church in central North Dakota. But, after talking to so many Pentecostals from around the world who told such touching, personal testimonies of how the Spirit changed them and “saved” them, I could no longer be so skeptical, so cynical. Pure authenticity. Now when I pass by that Assemblies of God church on Summit Avenue, I don’t just see a standing-seam metal roof but think of the charismatic worship going on inside and the ecstatic forms of expression and lives being lived more fully, even if I’ll never belong. Maybe this program will help your understanding too.
(photo: Alessandra Petlin for The New York Times)
Amy Sullivan on Moral Leadership
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Having grown up in Canada, I look at the presidential campaign with a bit of befuddlement. The issues in Canadian politics are different, and the parliamentary system lessens the impact of a leader’s biography and charisma. No campaigning politician ever feels the need to explain his or her religious convictions (or lack thereof).
But in this segment of Krista’s interview with TIME Magazine editor Amy Sullivan, I finally heard a compelling historical explanation for this fascination with the personality and religion of the President of the United States. In October, this will be the first part of a two-part look at religion in the current election. More on that second part in a few days.