A lot has happened since I wrote my entry last week. The post about my decision to accept, and then decline, the opportunity to pray at the DNC not only caused some very heated discussion in the comments and blogosphere, it also got picked up by major media outlets. After the AP wrote a story about it, we got dozens and dozens of interview requests, out of which I accepted three. I spoke briefly to CNN last Friday (I later heard that Wolf Blitzer called me an “evangelist” â€” it’s called fact-checking, CNN), and then Fox News on Monday morning and Hannity & Colmes that night during the DNC. I accepted those not to promote RELEVANT or cause controversy, but to use the invitations to give national attention to what Christians like us believe, including areas of agreement and disagreement with both parties.
As I mentioned in my blog, after I turned down the opportunity to pray (it sounds weird typing that), the DNC asked if I’d participate in a forum Thursday called “Faith in the ’08 Election.” It was the final forum in the faith caucus seminars that had been going on all week. Faith issues were a major emphasis of this convention, and I was asked to come talk about younger Christians and the issues that matter to us. At the beginning of my session, Howard Dean came by to speak, emphasizing the Democratic’s party focus on faith in this election cycle.
My session included several Christian speakers, but also ones from other faiths, including Jewish and Muslim. I was the only non-minister, but I felt at home since several speakers emphasized being pro-life. They talked openly about being against abortion, and also defending innocent lives lost to systemic poverty, preventable disease, slavery and war. Hearing pro-life speakers at the DNC is definitely not something I expected.
After the session, I had the pleasure of hanging out for a while with Sarah Pullam from ChristianityToday.com and Steven Waldman from Beliefnet. We grabbed a sandwich before heading over to Invesco Field for Barack Obama’s acceptance speech extravaganza.
I had no idea what to expect, but out of sheer curiosity I knew I wanted to be there. And I’m glad I was. It’s a rare opportunity to experience something and while you’re in the middle of it know that you’re experiencing history. That happened while I was watching the morning news on Sept. 11, 2001, and while watching Barack Obama accept his party’s nomination in person. (In no way am I equating the two; I’m merely saying I had the same realization both times.)
There were 90,000 people there, and I heard people who had tickets were turned away. The scene was hilarious — a mixture of a football game (rabid fans decked out head-to-toe), a carnival and trade show. There was cheesy merchandise vendors everywhere, from the DNC “time for change” watch, to flip-flops with Obama’s head on them (I don’t know if they thought through the messaging on that one), your standard shirts and banners. And with all of the A-list music (will.i.am, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crowe, Michael McDonald), it kind of felt like I was back at Lollapalooza.
I was originally issued a ticket for the third level, but I happened to share a cab with some very nice senior DNC staffers who actually gave me a staff pass that allowed me access pretty much anywhere. I settled into section 100, which was a great seat.
While I was walking around looking for a hot dog, I actually ran into Dr. Joel Hunter and his wife. He was there giving the benediction. We talked for a few minutes, and it turns out he’s been catching as much or more flak as I had been about praying there, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact he’s a self-professed pro-life Republican and was viewing his participation as a bridge-building effort. You’re scorned if you do, I guess, and scorned if you don’t.
Barack Obama’s speech was special. Whether or not you agree with his politics, the significance of him giving that speech on that stage on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech cannot be overstated. Whether or not he wins, it was good for America.
Obama’s personal story, which I learned a lot more about, is inspiring, and the entire event was a sight to behold. From a Christian perspective, Obama did raise some very important points on the biggest stage of his life â€” not only the expected education, healthcare, energy, etc. â€” but talking about the poor, preventing unnecessary war and proactively reducing the number of abortions.
When he closed his speech and his family joined him on stage, the crowd was deeply moved. An older African-American couple sitting next to me was openly weeping.
Dr. Hunter’s prayer to close the evening was profound. He didn’t just pray, he actually spoke to the crowd before and during the prayer. And yes, he worked protecting all life into the prayer. It was carefully crafted, God-focused, unifying and well received.
All in all, it was a very encouraging end to what was, for me, a very difficult week. I think it’s great that the Obama campaign is putting such an emphasis on faith and values, even though I’m fully aware of the political motivations, and I’m looking forward to a continued spotlight on those values and topics during the Republican convention next week. While it’s always tricky when politics and faith intertwine, we shouldn’t be deterred. Our generation of Christians can and should let the world know what we stand for, and challenge both parties to work together for the greater good. What I witnessed first-hand at the DNC was definitely a step in the right direction.