On Tuesday the Faith in Action Panel at the Democratic National Convention tried to claim the language of faith for the Democratic Party. Stressing the idea of the “common good,” panelists discussed how churches, the government, and “people of faith” can help address the problems concerning the living wage, education, immigration, and prisoner rehabilitation.
Rev. Jim Wallis, Chief Executive Officer of Sojourners magazine, addressed the audience at a Colorado Convention Center ballroom before a wall covered in signs reading “Pro-family, Pro-Obama.” Wallis said that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, insisting that religious influence is “not just about gays and abortion.” He said religious values ought to be brought to bear upon issues like poverty, the environment, immigration, and what he called a “deeper, more consistent” appreciation of the sanctity of life.
“Religion has been abused,” he said, but he believed the “abuse” of religion on the right of the political spectrum requires a response from more progressive religious believers.
Rev. Leah D. Daughtry, CEO of the DNC and a pastor of a Pentecostal church in Washington, D.C., made an unscheduled visit to the panel session, saying it is a “great addition to the Democratic party.”
“It is so important that we added this so people of faith can come together.”
Daughtry explained her own faith life, saying that there is “no separation” of her faith and work.
“Faith is a part of who I am, it’s not something checked at the door,” she said.
Rev. Jennifer Kottler from the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Coalition began the panel titled “Common Ground on the Common Good.” She said that the “bottom line” of poverty is the dividing issue of the 21st century.
“Extreme poverty is a stain on democracy. It is also an affront to God,” she proclaimed.
According to Kottler, the minimum wage has lost 40 percent of its value due to inflation. Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would today be $10 per hour.
While advocating a raise of the minimum wage, she also endorsed skills training for those in need.
“The best economic stimulus is a good, paying job,” she added, claiming that present day twenty-somethings comprise the first generation likely to do economically worse than their parents.
She stated that there were at least 17 million Americans living in extreme poverty, which she called a “shame.” While granting the necessity of hard work, she said it is difficult to lift oneself up by one’s bootstraps without boots.
Panelist Rabbi Jack Moline, who heads the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia, examined the place of education in contemporary life. Explaining how much his parents valued education in his youth, Rabbi Moline said they recognized that education must not be just a “means to an end.”
“It was taken for granted that we were endowed by our Creator with certain responsibilities,” he said, making further allusions to the Declaration of Independence by claiming a fully funded education is part of the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
He added that study is more important than action, because “study moves us to action.”
Decrying what he saw as an anti-educational atmosphere “tantamount to neglect,” Rabbi Moline lamented “teaching to tests” done in place of teaching critical thinking. He also criticized the elimination of physical education, arts and music, and other electives. By ignoring their importance of education we “leave a vacuum in its place,” he asserted.
He further noted that without a solid high school education, young people are more inclined to crime, teen pregnancy, and thus abortion.
Turning to immigration, Bishop Wilfredo DeJesus, pastor of a Chicago mega-church and a member of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, criticized what he called a “broken” immigration system.
While granting that immigration issues are “highly debatable,” he insisted that it is necessary to “stand with all people.”
Bishop DeJesus described the effects of a massive ICE raid in Postville, Iowa in which he said 900 agents were involved.
Claiming the agents displayed an “excessive show of force” and used “heavy-handed tactics,” he said the raid displaced 400 families.
According to DeJesus, 43 women were arrested but could neither work nor return to their home country for months. He also protested the separation of nursing mothers from their children during such raids.
Saying over 2,000 immigrants have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years, DeJesus called for “comprehensive immigration reform” and claimed Sen. Barack Obama as a true “family values” candidate because of his immigration policy.
Rev. John Hunter from the First African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Los Angeles explained the need to help prisoners released from jail or prison re-enter society and rehabilitate themselves. Saying 13.5 million people are either in jail or in prison in the United States, he described how ex-felons face employment and housing problems.
In particular, he noted that federal laws generally prohibit funding housing for ex-felons.
Criticizing voting restrictions on felons, Rev. Hunter called them an obstacle to prisoner rehabilitation and endorsed Obama’s platform to alleviate such restrictions.
Further, Rev. Hunter told how fathers separated from their children for years had difficulty rejoining their families.
Delicately alluding to the problem of prison rape, he also said that many men are released from prisons with HIV/AIDS.
Hunter said he wanted the women in his family to be able to marry “strong men” who have been able to rehabilitate themselves, but he also warned that a lack of options for released prisoners only means a return to crime.
Rev. Wallis, an evangelical Protestant, concluded the session with quotations he attributed to the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ 2004 document “Faithful Citzenship.”
"Politics …should be about an old idea with new power - the common good. The central question should not be, 'Are you better off today than you were four years ago?' The central question should be, 'How can we - all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable - be better off in the years ahead?'"