Ethicist skeptical of DNC platform change

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics says Democrats can do more to connect with people of faith.

By Bob Allen

A moderate Baptist ethicist said Wednesday’s Democratic Party vote to put “God” back in its platform appeared to be more about politics than an authentic profession of faith.

robert parham“The Democrats' flip-flop on faith looks more like politics than piety, very inauthentic,” Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and, said in a Sept. 6 news story in the The Tennessean. “They remove God from the platform. Then, after criticism, they return God to the platform.”

Controversy erupted on the floor of the Sept. 4-6 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., when delegates booed a ruling that a voice vote to reinstate platform references to “God-given potential” and specifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel received a required two-thirds majority.

“As an ordained United Methodist minister, I am here to attest and affirm that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values that we’ve expressed in our party’s platform,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, chairman of the Democrats’ platform drafting committee, said in proposing amendments to platform language approved by delegates the previous day. “In addition, President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and our party’s platform should as well.”

Prior to that vote, Democratic Director of Faith Outreach Derrick Harkins denied charges by Republicans that removing a non-theological reference to “God” indicated a change of faith for Democrats.

Harkins, senior pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said that unlike the GOP, the Democratic Party does not try to use faith as “a litmus test.”

“There is not a sense of 'unless you are a part of a specific religious group or stripe of a religious group you won't fall into the framework,’" Harkins told the Huffington Post. "I don't want to indict the Republican Party, but I feel that is part of the reception."

Seeking to compensate for a perceived “God gap” in the 2004 election, the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver gave a high profile to people of faith. This year, Harkins said, the emphasis is lower key, but there is still plenty of religious language both in platform speeches and auxiliary events including morning prayers and caucus sessions for the party’s faith council.

But Parham, in Charlotte for screenings of a BCE-produced documentary on immigration reform, said Democrats need to do more to connect with people who share the party’s values but are motivated by a commitment to their faith.

“Some faith leaders feel that oftentimes the National Democratic Party on the faith front is all hat and no cattle,” Parham said on CNN radio Sept. 5. “I think faith leaders want an authentic relationship with the Democratic Party that’s based on synergistic mutuality for the common good.”

Founded in 1991 and based in Nashville, Tenn., the Baptist Center for Ethics is a ministry partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Party officials said earlier they dropped the reference to Jerusalem in the platform because they didn’t want to tie the non-binding document to any particular Mideast peace proposal. According to the New York Times, President Obama directed party leaders to restore the language in an attempt to quiet criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups.