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Why I Accepted, And Then Declined, An Invitation to Pray at the DNC

Why I Accepted, And Then Declined, An Invitation to Pray at the DNC

As many of you know, over the last couple of months I have had the opportunity to speak with Sen. Barack Obama a couple of times—even interviewing him here on the website last month.

His campaign has expressed a desire to have an ongoing dialogue with the Christian community, and I’ve gladly taken them up on that offer. I have regular conversations with his campaign staff about issues that are important to Christians, talking honestly about areas of disagreement and discussing ways we can work toward common goals. It’s a positive dialogue that, as a registered Republican, I have honestly been surprised by. Behind the scenes, Sen. Obama’s team has followed through on what they said they’d do—keep a wide range of Christian leaders involved as voices in the campaign. They have a staff of 10 solely focusing on faith issues.

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I’d be interested in possibly praying at the Democratic National Convention. Taken aback, but intrigued at the opportunity, I accepted. What better way to continue positive dialogue, show support for an emphasis on faith issues and pray in a forum where faith isn’t typically thought to be emphasized? To quote someone close to me—and meaning no disrespect whatsoever to Christian Democrats—it was a chance to bring “light in the darkness.” And hey, Jesus told us to pray, right?

They made clear they weren’t asking me to publicly endorse Sen. Obama. They also didn’t care that I was a pro-life Republican. I saw my participation as a tangible way to show that this generation of values voters doesn’t necessarily need to draw political battle lines the way previous generations have, and that we can work through areas of disagreement toward common goals—fighting systemic poverty; defending innocent lives lost to pre-emptive war, sex trafficking, torture, genocide, slavery and preventable disease; protecting the environment; and proactively working to reduce the number of abortions each year (not only through legislation, prevention and education, but by financial support for pregnant women and overhauling the adoption system—things are messed up when an abortion is $500 and an adoption is $25,000).

Then I found out the benediction was to be on the main stage, opening night of the DNC. Part of the national broadcast. Most people would jump at such an exposure opportunity, but it gave me serious pause.

Through RELEVANT I reach a demographic that has strong faith, morals and passion, but disagreements politically. It wouldn’t be wise for me to be seen as picking a political side, when I’ve consistently said both sides are right in some areas and wrong in some areas. (And truth be told, I haven’t yet made up my mind about who I’m going to vote for this November. There are a lot of specifics I’d like to hear the candidates talk about before my decision will be made.)

During this political process, my desire is to keep an open dialogue with both campaigns and talk about the issues that matter to my generation of Christians. If my praying on opening night at the DNC would be perceived as showing favoritism or incorrectly labeling me as endorsing one candidate over the other—rather than being the bridge-building gesture which I intended it to be—then I needed to rethink the decision.

So I brought that concern up to the DNC, and they graciously understood. They still desired to have someone participate who represented this new generation of Christian voters (which is awesome, by the way), and I thought, who better than Blue Like Jazz author Don Miller? I respect him immensely, and he’s a much better representative of our audience than I am. So, I gave him a ring and he was more than up for it. Likewise, the committee was thrilled to invite him to give the benediction in my place—a move I think will ultimately be much better for the DNC. Don Miller’s famous; I’m not.

The campaign and I still have positive dialogue, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve been invited to participate in a “Faith in the ’08 Election” panel on Thursday afternoon at the DNC, which seems to be a perfect fit. It will allow me to continue a conversation about the values and issues we strongly believe in, and be involved in a much lower-profile, positive way behind the scenes. I want to make sure our generation of Christians has a place at the table, so to speak, and this will afford us that chance—even more so than if I was to give a prayer onstage. I would relish a similar opportunity at the RNC.

As an aside, in a “put your money where your mouth is” move, this week I changed my party affiliation from Republican to Independent. I want to vote because of my values and convictions, not party affiliations. To me, that’s an important part of being a thinking, values-minded Christian.

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