Clergy giving invocations or benedictions at the Republican and Democratic Conventions this season have gotten more than their usual attention.
Most in the spotlight has been New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, an outspoken critic of Obamacare’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate, who will close the Republican Convention in Tampa this evening sometime after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. The attention lavished on Dolan’s GOP appearance has resulted in his scheduling to appear also at next week’s Democratic Convention, where he will again deliver a closing benediction on the final night.
The other clergy or church officiates appearing before the Republicans this week have included a rabbi, a Mormon, a Sikh (clearly in solidarity with the murders at the Wisconsin Sikh temple), an archbishop of the (Greek) Orthodox Church in America, an Episcopal priest from the Houston church of the elder Bushes, and Hispanic evangelical activist and pastor Sammy Rodriguez. Rodriguez is outspokenly for liberalized immigration policies but more recently has been under attack for his pro-life and pro traditional marriage views.
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios of Boston gave last night’s Republican benediction. If I recall correctly, Greek senior prelates, often the primate (who was out of the country this week), in the past have delivered prayers to both Republican and Democratic Conventions within a few weeks of each other, as happened in 1988, when the Democratic nominee was Michael Dukakis, a Greek Orthodox. So it won’t be surprising if Methodios or another Greek Orthodox bishop shows up next week in Charlotte with the Democrats.
Here is Metropolitan Methodios’ prayer from last evening (as transmitted by a Greek Orthodox blogger relying on C-SPAN), which notes the Orthodox faith of the Republican National Chairman, and which is typical of the politically careful and theologically inclusive tone of such benedictions:
Let us pray,
“O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth Who is ever present and fills all things, the Treasure of all blessings and source of life, we beseech you to dwell in our hearts” as we hold in prayer our brethren who suffer the ravages of Hurricane Isaac. Embrace them in your love and keep them safe. Enable us to reach out to them in acts of philanthropy and generosity.
As we close this evening’s program, we pray that You bless and inspire the delegates of this Republican Convention to be your devoted servants and dedicated citizens of our great country. They have nominated two of your faithful sons, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, to serve the highest offices of this beloved land, a nation which has always opened its embrace to welcome “the tired, the poor and the huddled masses, all the tempest tossed to breathe free” a nation that has always been a model of peace, justice and the rule of law. Shine in the hearts of the nominees of this convention the radiant light of Your divine will. Imbue them and Chairman Reince Priebus, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with insight, wisdom, and boldness, with courage, compassion and competence.
Tonight, we remember the intrepid members of our armed forces who place themselves in harm’s way in defense of our freedom, and like our Founding Fathers, are steadfast in keeping America the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
May every American be more sensitive:
To the neglected and forgotten
To those who have been victims of discrimination and crime
To those who are hungry and homeless
To those with no jobs and little hope
Help us, Lord, to break down the walls of enmity and distrust, and show us the way to a new era of peace, equality and opportunity. Strengthen the hand of America as it reaches out to clasp the hands of our brethren throughout the world to build bridges of understanding. May we rediscover the path that leads one to another, and all to You. Amen.
Although we are supposedly in a hyper secular, post-Christian age, clergy and faith talk still seem very prominent in American political discourse. These political convention prayers, with other aspects of American civil religion, sometimes mocked by the purists and cynics, are somewhat reassuring. America, for all its failures and hypocrisies, remains an overwhelmingly religious country. By contrast, I’m guessing most European political parties don’t open and close with prayers by prominent clergy. If anything, religion’s political role in America seems as paramount as ever.
The first political convention I ever watched was at age 11 in 1976, when I viewed both Republicans and Democrats. The prayers don’t stick in my mind except for the powerful, rafter shacking one delivered by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Senior (father of the late civil rights leader) at the Democratic Convention, which I believe was sort of a tradition for him, at least for several conventions. He was a Baptist preacher and orator of the old school whose benediction was unabashedly dramatic.
Neither Cardinal Dolan nor the other clergy are likely to shake any rafters this year. But their presence is deeply important and symbolic of America’s continued if uneven religiosity.