Worship time on Sunday, the most segregated hour in America. But this day, one day before the kick-off of the 2008 Democratic National Convention—or the first "official" event on the convention schedule, depending on how you might want to spin it—promised to be different. It was an interfaith gathering featuring choirs, Indian singers, an opening prayer and litany featuring pastors, an imam, a rabbi. There were texts from the Holy Bible, the Holy Quran, the Metta Sutra, the Torah. It was not at all segregated. It was truly multi-cultural, interfaith. I attended in part because this was the only event on the convention schedule where Muslims were featured. Although Muslim clergy have given the invocation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and despite the fact that there are now two (count them) Muslim members of Congress, no Muslims have been scheduled for any of the invocations or benedictions at this convention. No chance for the Republican Islamophobes to try to play that guilt-by-association game on presumed Democratic presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. Barack Hussein Obama (D-Ill.).
I also hoped that by attending I might hear some, fiery preaching like I remember from those Missionary Baptist Churches I grew up attending in the Mississippi Delta and in Los Angeles, Calif. I hoped I would once again feel "That Old Time Religion." The Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2008 Democratic National Convention did not disappoint, nor surprisingly, did Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. The musical selections by Richard Smallwood & Vision were lively enough, but they were out of the "new" gospel tradition, not like the old Negro Spirituals I wanted to hear. The Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) did not live up to my expectations of how a real "Holy Roller" should preach. Meanwhile, the two Muslim sisters who spoke did not make my heart race with their remarks, and one of the rabbis literally put me to sleep, going on, and on, and on, and on, and on.
But thank God, Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun with a Southern accent, and the author of Dead Man Walking, was on the program. Hallelujah!
Sister Helen preached! She brought tears to my eyes. She invoked not only "text," but "context." Her subject was "Our Sacred Responsibility to Our Nation," and she spoke about her experiences, counseling and escorting men on death row to the chambers where they were put to death. She condemned the racism and class-ism that accompanies capital punishment in this country—those who don’t have capital receive the punishment—and she tied the unjust U.S. capital punishment system to this country’s moral standing in the world. I saw the lightning flash. I heard the thunder roar.
Amen. Sister. Amen.