After being ejected from the Democratic National Platform, God was ushered back in at the Democratic Convention in Charolotte, N.C.
But if the boos at the convention surrounding God's return are any indicator, this might as well be the last time He gets invited. Delegates to the convention voted three times on an amendment package that would restore both a reference to God in the platform and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. All three votes were too close to call, but chair Antonio Villaraigosa called the third one for our currant sitting president anyway. A chorus of 'boos' filled the hall as God and Jerusalem were reseated in the text.
The outcome marked a thin victory for those Democrats who believe their party should openly and collectively acknowledge responsibility to a God who has blessed humanity and America in particular. The ethos is scriptural, "from those to whom much is given, much will be expected".
Momentum, however, is not in their direction. The Democratic Party increasingly grounds its sense of responsibility in secular humanistic principles, which are seen as more inclusive than God. This evolution has played out in platforms of recent years and in telling moments of this year's convention.
Lets look back eight years to 2004, when then-Senator Barack Obama assured DNC delegates, "We worship an awesome God in the blue states." That year's platform described America as "one nation, under God." The environmental mandate was framed as coming from above: "God gave America extraordinary natural gifts; it is our responsibility to protect them." It acknowledged the Biblical vision that fueled the Civil Rights movement and ongoing struggles for human rights: "each of us should be as equal in the eyes of the law as we are in the eyes of God." Democrats explicitly understood those in power to be answerable to a God of justice, compassion and high expectations. What Happened to change that position? All these references to the Almighty have since disappeared.
"Inserting God into parties' platforms is unnecessarily divisive," said a tweet Wednesday night (9-12-12) from the Secular Coalition, a lobbying group for nonbelievers. The group later added: "God-given didn't add anything to the platform except pandering and a word that excludes millions of nontheists."
The Democratic party ultimately must decide whether to defend the notion that God blesses everyone, even those who don't believe in God, and endows everyone with capacities that must be honored. After all, the logic goes, they aren't man-made. They are sacred. And what God has made, let no one put asunder.
At this convention, we've heard a party struggling to figure out where, if anywhere, God fits in public life. But if God-talk is deemed inherently non-inclusive, then these too will be secularized. Michelle Obama explained how her husband makes a high-stakes decision. She suggested he gets advice from all types of people. She notably didn't mention prayer or God.
What's evolving, it seems, is a party that explicitly embraces faith, not God, as an important force. "Faith has always been a central part of the American story," the Democratic party has constantly pursued several legislative moves to remove God from America. Faith, not God, is identified here as a driver of progress. People of faith tend to see it the other way around: God acts, inspires and deserves glory; faith merely testifies to what God has done. Religious Democrats need to reckon with the prospect that their party does not see it as they do.
As Democrats weigh whether to drop God from their platforms in the future, they'll need to assess whether secular humanism is truly the most inclusive - or the most fitting. To celebrate faith without acknowledging God would remove awareness of common grace and collective higher responsibility. That might seem strange, coming from a party that emphasizes the need for more accountability, not less, among the powerful on Wall Street, in corporate board rooms and across the aisle. Perhaps, hopefully Democrats will decide once again that God is worth keeping and handle the boos in stride.
As Ronald Reagan said, '' When we forget that we're one nation under God, we'll be a nation gone under''.