>The Rev. James Forbes told convention delegates in Boston in 2004 that the Democratic Party had not really spent a lot of time talking about faith and politics.
That won't be a problem in Charlotte.
Forbes will be part of a sweeping series of spiritual events tied to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. From mass prayer gatherings by Christians and Muslims to speeches and programs, the City of Churches plans to live up to its name.
Several congregations will offer special sermons or panels on issues ranging from immigration to economic justice. Others will host nationally acclaimed speakers such as Forbes and Marian Wright-Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund. In keeping with the suddenly voguish theme of Radical Hospitality, First Presbyterian Church will give away lemonade and cookies from its lawn on Trade Street.
While some businesses will be cutting operations or closing down the first week of September, many faith groups will be working overtime, competing for the attention of tens of thousands of visitors.
Republicans and Democrats are both divided on social issues, and that's a good thing, says the Rev. Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church. We live in a culture and society where it's important for First Baptist Church of Charlotte to be in the center of the city at such an historic time.
Forbes, a North Carolina native and pastor emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City, will give the 10 a.m. sermon Sept. 2 at Myers Park Baptist. His topic: The Spiritual State of the Country. One of his messages: What houses of worship must do to combat the country's spiritual depression.
I'm calling on the religious community of America to acknowledge that we do have a crisis and what we can do to restore hope, says Forbes, who will give the same sermon at a Tampa, Fla., church for the Republican Convention this month.
A diverse lineup
Based on the spiritual agenda in Charlotte, some groups have already put their shoulders to the task.
Thousands of Muslims will flock to Marshall Park on Aug. 31 for their traditional Friday, or Jumah, prayer.
Two days later, Charlotte714 could draw thousands of Christians to Verizon Wireless Amphitheater for what is billed as a nonpartisan, interdenominational Sunday afternoon of prayer for the city and the country. Some 60 congregations have signed up in support, says businessman David Benham, who is organizing the event with his brother Jason.
If all the churches who say they are coming give us their full support, we won't have enough space, Benham says.
One of those churches is First Baptist, which Harris says fully welcomes the convention, though it disagrees with Democrats on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
On Sept. 2, Harris will turn over his pulpit to New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a minister, a social conservative on many faith-related issues and a Democratic delegate. Between now and the convention, Harris also is leading prayer walks to different convention sites. First Baptist members are praying for God's protection of our city and all who visit.
This is Democracy in action, says Harris, who last week hosted a workshop of almost 300 ministers on staying politically active. We are welcoming the DNC with open arms. We are praying for a peaceful meeting. We pray regularly for our president and any direction our Lord can give him.
He also draws a line: There are issues in our culture you cannot cloak as Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative, he says. They're just biblical.
Prime real estate
The convention will cause some logistical problems for the uptown churches.
First Presbyterian, for example, will suspend most operations for the week, including school and its child-development center.
Rather than hold Sunday services, St. Peter's Episcopal on North Tryon will celebrate a few miles away with St. Martin's Episcopal on Seventh Street.
Inconveniences aside, the convention gives religious groups an international stage for their messages and ministries. And no local church is using that stage more often than St. Peter's Catholic on South Tryon Street.
Situated on one of the convention's main drags, the city's oldest Catholic parish will highlight its longstanding social-gospel agenda.
We're on prime real estate, says Roxana Bendezu, of St. Peter's social justice committee, and we're hoping to get a number of issues in front of a very, very large number of people.
St. Peter's will host an invitation-only showing of a film on immigration. It has two programs headlined by Sister Simone Campbell, head of an office of nuns who advocate for economic justice and the poor.
It will also have displays on various topics, including the environment, human trafficking, the death penalty, economic justice.
Will it get an audience?
Hopefully, some people will be here who realize how important it is to raise social-justice issues and start talking about them a little bit more, Bendezu says. With that, they might stop by and listen.
Arm of the party?
When looking for a place to give his sermon, Forbes called a friend. The Rev. Steve Shoemaker, pastor of Myers Park Baptist, was happy to turn over one of his Sunday sermons.
Shoemaker's church vigorously defends its tradition of an open pulpit to voice all sides of an issue.
That's important during an election year, he says. These questions are going to get more and more intense as we go along: How does a church speak to the ethical dimensions of the nation's life without being seen as an arm of the Democratic or Republican parties? Shoemaker says.
Can we speak to the issues that embrace all Americans and still traverse the partisan particularities of the times?