Democrats here in Denver held today what was billed as their first-ever “Faith Caucus” meeting. Delegates and guests heard from leading religious leaders about issues of concern to America’s diverse faith community: poverty, abortion, Iraq, and health care were among the topics addressed.
Former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer, now aligned with a Roman Catholic public policy group, talked about the need to find “common ground” on the issue of abortion. He endorsed legislation that would provide more health care for pregnant women and quipped that Republicans were pro-life only until the child was born. Roemer, quoting Robert Kennedy, urged increases in programs – like health care and child care.
The Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite concurred. Thistlethwaite, professor at Chicago Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, told the assembled that she was a pro-choice pastor. But she argued it wasn’t really a choice when woman were forced to make a decision about abortion because of financial considerations. She went on to endorse Barack Obama’s pro-choice position – one that is in line with what Roemer and Thistlewaite articulated.
A protester briefly interrupted Thistlethwaite's presentation. The Rev. Jim Wallis, who was moderating the discussion, said to the crowd there had been enough yelling on this issue over the years and that now we needed real dialogue. Wallis is an evangelical whose beliefs fall into that pro-life category. The discussion around abortion may have generated the most heat but, as mentioned earlier, other issues were discussed. A second panel met directly after the first to talk about Obama’s faith-based initiative plans.
In many ways, the second panel was (to me anyway) more interesting than the first. There was a thoughtful discussion among Wallis, Rabbi David Saperstein, Prof. John Dilulio, and The Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. that boiled down to this: how can religious institutions truly maintain their prophetic voice if they take government funding? All agreed, however, that Senator Obama’s faith-based and neighborhood initiative plan was light-years ahead of President Bush’s failed effort. Rabbi Saperstein said that Bush’s efforts failed because it didn’t respect the separation of church and state (money is being used for proselytizing under Bush) and because the program had quickly become politicized (churches whose clergy or members supported Bush got grants while others didn’t).
On a personal note, this was the first time that I was able to meet many friends who I talk with and / or e-mail with on a regular basis. That included Susan Thistlethwaite, Joshua DuBois, Paul Monteiro and Paul Raushenbush. There was also time to talk with two Oregon delegates highly involved in faith outreach efforts back home.
After the faith caucus had ended, I walked the 10 blocks to the Trick or Vote VIP Happy Hour hosted by Oregon’s own Mandate Media and The Bus Project (along the way I ran into Al Franken). While there I got to speak briefly with friends Jefferson Smith and Chisholm.
Tonight Hillary Clinton will be speaking at the Pepsi Center. I'll be watching from my hotel tonight instead of inside the center to make room for additional Clinton supports. Many Obama supporters are giving up their seats to Clinton fans as a sign of respect for her historic race. I watched two young women break into tears this morning when talking about how much Clinton’s race meant to them as women who want to be in public service.
The Faith Caucus will resume meeting on Thursday. i've been invited to sit on one of the panels.