Ahead of DNC, Interfaith Welcome Service Stresses Unity

There were no Catholic leaders participating in the event, although an Evangelical pastor and a bishop from the African Methodist Episcopal Church took part.

Entrance to the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Entrance to the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington, DC. (photo: Mark Von Scvoc/Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, an Interfaith Welcome Service on Sunday offered prayers, reflections, and a call for unity.

Like the rest of the convention, the service was held virtually, due to public health concerns surrounding large gatherings during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic Convention runs August 17-20 and will feature the formal nomination of the party’s candidates for president and vice president – Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, respectively.

The Interfaith Welcome Service included pre-recorded messages from a diverse group of religious leaders, including representatives from Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and traditional Native American religions.

There were no Catholic leaders participating in the event, although an Evangelical pastor and a bishop from the African Methodist Episcopal Church took part.

The theme of unity was prominent throughout the reflections, with Neelima Gonuguntla, a board member of the Hindu organization Chinmaya Mission Dallas Fort Worth, offering prayers and reflections for “our delegates tasked with creating a unified platform from our diverse needs, our varied causes and our multitude of interests.”

The religious leaders also prayed for those suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for an end to racism and a stronger sense of stewardship for the earth.

Some participants criticized the current administration, while calling for action to build a more just and equitable future.

Bishop Samuel Green of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, lamented “this long and chaotic and bitter and tragic night of malignant governing.”

“This country has become the worst of its past. But we demand something better,” he said.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City compared the current state of the country to the Israelites’ period of wandering in the desert. She prayed for leaders like Moses to arise to give strength to a people on the brink of despair.

Imam Noman Hussain, Islamic Studies Instructor at Salam School in Milwaukee, said the country is deeply in need of healing.

“With a pandemic still raging around the world, compounded by human turmoil, both domestic and international, it is hard to see the light at the horizon in such darkness,” he said. “Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, the constant anxiety that weighs upon our shoulders has become too much to bear.”

“With leaders that only add fuel to these fires, our country is searching desperately for anyone to pour mercy and humanity to cool the flames that are destroying our society,” he continued. “We are all in need of hope and healing after years of being disheartened and disparaged. We are in need more than ever to be united regardless of our race, religion, and even our political affiliations.”

The event also included several musical performances, as well as statements of support from members of Believers for Biden.

Biden has spoken about his Catholic faith on the campaign trail, and is known to attend Mass when he is at home in Delaware and when he travels. In comments earlier this month, he called his Catholic faith the “bedrock foundation” of his life. He has said that Pope Francis and religious sisters inspired his presidential bid.

But the former vice president’s positions on some issues, most notably abortion and sexual orientation/gender identity policy, have put him at odds with Catholic teaching.

Biden has pledged to codify Roe v. Wade and voiced support for taxpayer funding of abortion, both in the U.S. and overseas.

As he campaigned for the Democratic nomination last year, he shifted his views on abortion funding, moving from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment--which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions--to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president.

In July, a group of 115 Christian leaders, including Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky and other Catholic clergy, religious, and laity, signed a letter to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Platform Committee, asking the party to support pro-life policies including “legal protection for pre-born children.”

“We call upon you to recognize the inviolable human dignity of the child, before and after birth,” the letter stated, asking for a rejection of “a litmus test on pro-life people of faith seeking office in the Democratic Party.”

Biden has also drawn criticism for pledging to reinstate an Obama-era policy that would force the Little Sisters of the Poor to offer employee health insurance plans that violate their consciences by providing birth control, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs to their employees.