The Chicago Tribune reports that faith has a very high profile at the Democratic National Convention now meeting in Denver, especially when compared to four years ago.
At the first official event Sunday of the Democratic National Convention, a choir belted out a gospel song and was followed by a rabbi reciting a Torah reading about forgiveness and the future.
Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun who wrote "Dead Man Walking," assailed the death penalty and the use of torture.
Young Muslim women in headscarves sat near older African-American women in their finest Sunday hats.
Four years ago, such a scene would have been unthinkable at a Democratic National Convention. In 2004, there was one interfaith lunch at the Democratic gala in Boston.
But that same year, "values voters" helped re-elect President Bush, giving Democrats of faith the opening they needed to make party leaders listen to them.
The result was on display at Sunday's interfaith service, staged in a theater inside the Colorado Convention Center, and will be evident throughout the convention agenda and on the sidelines.
There will be four "faith caucus" meetings, blessings to open and close each night, and panels and parties run by Democratic-leaning religious advocacy groups that didn't even exist in 2004 — not to mention protests from religious groups and leaders opposed to the Democratic platform.
Other challenges may come from within. At Sunday's service, Bishop Charles Blake, head of the predominantly black Church of God in Christ and a self-described pro-life Democrat, said Barack Obama should be pressed to "elaborate upon his stated intention to reduce the number of abortions by providing alternative programs."
One hallmark of Democratic faith efforts at the convention is diversity, which might soften objections from party activists wary of the Christian right or any mixing of religion and politics. Behind the scenes, efforts to attract the religious vote will concentrate largely on Christian "values voters."
"If we create or become a mirror image of the religious right, we have failed," said Burns Strider, who ran religious outreach for Hillary Clinton's campaign and now does faith-based political consulting. "But if we have increased the number of chairs around the table, ... then we've succeeded."
One reason religion is playing such a prominent role at this week's convention is that Obama has made faith outreach prominent in his campaign.
"People of faith are being engaged in the convention in a new and robust way ,and it's because of Senator Obama's acknowledgment that people of faith and values have an important place in American public life," said Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign's religious affairs director.
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