Those who have watched much of the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer cannot have missed the clergy sightings that have become a routine feature of these otherwise worldly gatherings. They’re everywhere, these clergy, showing up during the day, at night, at the beginning, at the end …
From the safe distance of my Atlanta home today, I would like to invite readers to dig into five simple questions I want to ask about ministers and political conventions.
You are invited to play along at home. Add up your score at the end to see how you did.
Question 1: Why do political parties invite ministers to pray at their conventions?
- They genuinely want (to feel that they are receiving) God’s presence and blessing on what they are doing.
- They want to be seen as a party whose piety/ies match those of the American people.
- They are appealing to specific demographic groups.
- They are paying political debts.
- They are hoping to mobilize specific ministers for (quasi) endorsements and thinly veiled electioneering come November.
Question 2: Why do ministers agree to pray at (their favored party’s) political conventions?
- They genuinely want God’s blessing to come to this party as it does its work and are not motivated by partisan loyalty.
- They believe this party’s agenda closely aligns with their faith’s values and they want to lift up those values.
- They want to help this party or politician win the election.
- They think that this kind of political access can be valuable to them.
- They are flattered by the invitation and know it can enhance their clout and visibility back in their religious communities.
Question 3: Is it a good thing for our politics that ministers pray at political conventions?
- Yes, because God hears and answers sincere prayers.
- Yes, they can help Americans ground their politics in a deeper transcendent reference point in faith.
- No, because they explicitly or implicitly marginalize those citizens whose faiths are not included in such prayers.
- No, because they tempt politicians and activists to absolutize their policies and values as if they are God’s policies and values.
- No, because they completely undermine the separation of church and state.
Question 4: Is it a good thing for our religion/s that ministers pray at political conventions?
- Yes, because it keeps our country from becoming entirely secular.
- Yes, because a profound ministerial prayer brings glory to God and respect for the religion being practiced.
- No, because it invites ministers to compromise their independence in return for access to powerful politicians.
- No, because it risks turning ministers into house prophets of their favored party.
- No, because certain kinds of ministers can truly embarrass their religion by offering hopelessly partisan or otherwise idiotic prayers.
Question 5: Can you imagine a situation in which the same minister could be invited to pray at both major party conventions?
- Yes, because religion unites people and can overcome partisan divisions.
- Yes, but you would have to find just the right minister.
- No, because the parties are so divided they could never agree on the same minister.
- No, because America’s religions are so weak that there could never be someone of sufficient stature.
- No, because ministers who pray at conventions are all partisan hacks.
5-7: Congratulations, you are truly an optimist. Your faith is touching.
8-11: You are optimistic but nuanced. Here’s hoping you are right.
12-15: Uh, oh, looking a little grim. But still, not without hope.
16-21: You have seen too much, I am afraid.
22-25: Please turn off your TV immediately and take a very long rest.