United Methodist pastors in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., have taken the lead in drafting and getting clergy signatures for an interfaith prayer statement aimed at the presidential nominating conventions about to occur there.
The page-and-a-half statement is called “The Conventions: A Common Witness from the Clergy of Tampa and Charlotte,” and speaks generally and specifically to the need for prayer, while carefully avoiding taking sides on who should be president.
“Amid all the noisy, conflicted voices that will be heard in our two cities, we wanted to bear witness to a way of living together that seeks common ground and is focused on the welfare of our communities,” said the Rev. Jim Harnish, pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa. “We wanted to model a witness of faith that does not prostitute prayer for a political agenda. It felt like something the spirit of Christ was calling us to do.”
The Republican National Convention occurs Aug. 27-30, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, only about a mile from Hyde Park UMC. The Democratic Party counterpart will be Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, at Time Warner Cable Arena and Bank of America Stadium, a few miles from Myers Park UMC.
The pastor of that church, the Rev. James Howell, said he and some clergy friends in Charlotte had batted around ideas for how to respond.
An early idea was to have a prayer service downtown.
“That’s actually a bad idea,” Dr. Howell said. “You can’t get downtown.” Further discussion yielded the idea of issuing a prayer statement for the Democratic Party gathering.
“Some people got excited about it, but a couple of people said that’s a partisan thing,” Dr. Howell said.
One of the pastors involved suggested that if clergy in both Charlotte and Tampa signed on, with a single statement aimed at both conventions, then the partisanship objection would be removed. Dr. Howell contacted Dr. Harnish, who eagerly agreed to recruit clergy in Tampa.
Dr. Howell worked up the document and said it came quickly, thanks to earlier interfaith efforts he’s been part of in Charlotte. It circulated in both cities, but revision was light.
“The draft I started with probably had six words that changed by the final draft,” Dr. Howell said.
The statement acknowledges right away the risks of praying for political conventions, noting that both Democratic and Republican politicians “have played the religion card” to get votes.
“But we do believe it is possible to offer up non-partisan prayers,” the statement continues, “especially during these anxious days in our world. And so we pray for our country, that we might be a nation where goodness matters, where justice and kindness are our passions, where truth matters, and is told.”
The clergy go on to pray for wisdom and good judgment on the part of delegates, the media, protesters and other visitors. They pray that people in both host cities might be patient and hospitable.
The statement acknowledges that both cities will be “striving to look impressive on this stage of history,” but will have among them the poor and the homeless, as well as unappreciated teachers, police officers, firefighters and garbage collectors.
For them, too, the statement offers prayers, as well as for a “renewed sense of citizenship.”
“We pray that we might tap into our dreams for better lives, and a better world, and that because of these conventions, and the simple goodness of being alive to see it all unfold, we might stretch upward,” the statement says.
In both cities, the statement has been signed onto by Catholic and Protestant clergy and by rabbis, and the Charlotte list includes an imam.
“The response was immediate and positive from the clergy I was able to reach with only a few exceptions,” Dr. Harnish said. “It helps that the clergy in the urban core of our city have ongoing relationships which create understanding and trust.”
Congregations whose clergy signed on have begun to share the statement via their websites, and Dr. Howell said coverage by the Charlotte and Tampa newspapers has followed as well.
There’s considerable UM involvement in at least one other convention-related effort, a screening of Gospel Without Borders.
That documentary, about faith and immigration, will show on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, near where delegates will be meeting.
UM Bishop Minerva Carcaño will be part of a post-screening panel discussion, joined by a Catholic and a Lutheran bishop.
“I think it is an excellent video that educates on the issue of immigration in the U.S. context,” Bishop Carcaño said.
“It also thoughtfully shares the gospel truth about the critical work of immigration reform and the important compassionate ministries with immigrant brothers and sisters the church must be involved in if it truly is the church of Christ Jesus.”
The documentary was largely financed by the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, and featured in it are clergy and members of Las Americas Comunidad de Fe, a Hispanic congregation that’s part of Trinity UMC in Des Moines, Iowa.
Bishop Charles Crutchfield of the Arkansas Conference and Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at UMC-affiliated Iliff School of Theology in Denver, also are interviewed.
EthicsDaily.Com, a division of the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics, produced the film and is sponsoring the screening.
“We want this to be a moral challenge to the Obama Administration and to Democratic officials,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
The screening is not sanctioned by the Democratic Party. Logistical challenges in Tampa, as well as lack of funds, account for the decision not to have a screening tied to the GOP event, EthicsDaily.com said in a press release.