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Religion raises divisive specter at Democratic National Convention

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Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa calls for a vote to amend the platform the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa calls for a vote to amend the platform the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Associated Press

In prayers, speeches and intra-party politics, religion has played a prominent, and unpleasant, role in the first two days of the Democratic party's convention in the Bible-belt city of Charlotte, N.C.

President Barak Obama quelled a storm Wednesday when he ordered party leaders to restore a reference to God as well as a statement declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to the party's 2012 platform document.

"I am here to attest and affirm that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we've expressed in our party's platform," said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who chaired the party's platform committee and proposed the changes Wednesday evening. "In addition, President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and our party's platform should as well."

The amendments came after Republicans seized an opportunity for more than 24 hours to cast Dems and Obama as out of touch with mainstream Americans.

"GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took to the airwaves early Wednesday to blast the change from the Democrats’ 2008 platform. 'I guess I would just put the onus and the burden on them to explain why they did all this, these purges of God,' Ryan said on “Fox & Friends,” according to Religion News Service.

"Ryan also attacked the Democratic platform’s initial failure to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an issue important to some American Jews and conservative Christians."

The Christian Broadcasting Network broke the news Tuesday that the sole reference to God was removed from the Democratic platform.

In 2008, the platform read:

“We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

That paragraph was rewritten for the 2012 convention to say:

“We gather to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth — the simple principle that in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.”

The change, approved by a chaotic and questionable voice vote Wednesday, inserts "God-given talent" to the platform.

Before amending the platform, party officials defended the 2012 document when asked to explain the deleted references to God and Jerusalem. Poltiico reported that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin blew up during a Fox News interview when asked about it.

"If the narrative that’s being presented on your station and through your channel and your network is that Democrats are godless people, they ought to know better," Durbin fumed. "God is not a franchise of the Republican Party."

Stories and blogs that made the comparisons proved the Illinois Democrat correct.

The Blaze pointed out that the 2012 GOP platform mentions God 12 times. "A simple comparison to past years’ platforms shows a disparity. In 2008, the Democrats had only one mention (the aforementioned ”God-given”), but in 2004, God was mentioned seven times."

Media Matters blasted Fox for the network's comparison graphic, saying it omitted the fact that the Dems mentioned God more times in their party platform than the GOP in 2004 and 2000.

"Does this mean that the Democrats of Al Gore and John Kerry's conventions were more God-fearing than the Republicans of George W. Bush's? Does Mitt Romney's convention love God more than the last three GOP conventions combined? Of course not," the website said. "As Durbin points out, trying to draw conclusions from this exercise is either malicious or deeply stupid."

In addition to the platform's lengthy section on faith, a party official told CNN that the Dems document contains the word "faith" 11 times, "religion" or "religious" nine times, "church" two times (one time appearing within a quote), and "clergy" one time.

Still, Obama reportedly wondered himself why the politically disasterous changes were made from 2008.

"When he learned of the absence of the word God from the platform, Obama reacted by saying, 'Why on earth would that have been taken out?' three Democratic sources told CNN," the network reported.

Get Religion's Mollie Ziegler Hemingway had an answer and urged journalists to look deeper into intra-party politics over faith.

"Religious activists in the Democratic Party after 2004 fought for greater inclusion and got it in 2008. They have been complaining about how the party handles religious outreach and they would be willing to speak on the record and have done just that for interested reporters in recent years. I believe that they would look at this platform issue less as a major problem and more as indicative of how sometimes party leaders are tone deaf to how religious adherents feel they are treated."

The voice vote to restore God and Jerusalem to the 2012 platform was an indication of the divisions within the party, although most of the delegates quoted in news stories were more upset over the Jerusalem inclusion than a reference to the Almighty.

"It took three attempts from Democratic National Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa before the platform was amended, and a loud chorus of delegates yelling 'no' met each attempt to pass the changes by voice vote," CNN reported.

Beyond the platform flap, stories and blogs were monitoring the religious tone of the respective conventions.

After watching the first night of the DNC gathering, Zeigler wrote that "it included quite a bit of God talk. In fact, the speakers were far more likely to discuss God than at the Republican Convention — one even mentioned making the sign of the cross — even if they were also discussing abortion, which was the theme of the first part of the evening."

The Religion News Service noted Strickland's "Old Testament jeremiad against Mitt Romney’s offshore wealth: 'In Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, the scriptures teach us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. My friends, any man who aspires to be our president should keep both his treasure and his heart in the United States of America.'”

Jacques Berlinerblau, an associate professor and director of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, wrote in the Washington Post that the second night of the convention "was a coming out party for the New Democratic Theology, a liberal theology, a theology of togetherness (and a theology whose internal tensions were evident in a disastrous day two)."

"Perhaps the 2012 Democratic National Convention will be remembered as the moment that a liberal theological worldview roared. That it did so having to shout down longstanding divisions about godlessness and Israel is altogether fascinating."