Yesterday, the Democratic National Committee announced the appointment of Rev. Derrick Harkins as Director of Faith Outrreach. The Washington Post story about the appointment describes Rev. Harkins as “a popular D.C. pastor with a shaved head and a remarkable résume.” Among the things said to be remarkable about his resume is his apparent ability to work with liberals and conservatives.
“I think they realize the excitement isn’t there from the first campaign, which was like a revival,” said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and a longtime activist in faith and politics in the District. “They need help with their base, and Harkins is a bellwether.”…
“Harkins brings the assets of Obama’s Chicago church but without the baggage,” Lynch said, a reference to the president’s former place of worship, Trinity United Church of Christ, where Obama was close to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor….
Harkins works with some of the country’s most visible Christian groups on both the right and the left. He sits on the board of the center-right National Association of Evangelicals, the country’s biggest evangelical organization, as well as of the progressive advocacy group Faith in Public Life.
Hmm. The DNC announcement quotes Rev. Harkins to this effect:
“Justice, fairness and compassion are at the core of religious voters’ concerns, and they are central to President Obama and the Democratic Party. Working with religious Americans from across the country, we will ensure that those values are a part of the political conversation heading into this critical election. President Obama has been a leader on so many of the issues and values religious Americans are passionate about—from comprehensive and just immigration reform to the Affordable Care Act to maintaining and supporting the critical role of faith in public life. People of faith have a home in the Democratic Party, and I have every expectation that people of faith will be a key part of a successful election for Democrats in 2012.”
At that level of generality, who could disagree? I’m not against justice, fairness, and compassion. Are you? Perhaps that’s the key to the Democrats’ plans. Ignore the specifics and soar up to the rhetorical heights. It worked for Barack Obama in 2008. The problem is that the President and his partisan allies now have a record that brings specificity and divisiveness to the airy generalities. Consider, for example, the weak conscience protections and abortion funding in the healthcare reform legislation. Consider the position the Administration took in the Hosanna-Tabor case, which is anathema to any friend of religious liberty. Consider the increasingly harsh and shrill efforts to demonize the political opposition.
Rev. Harkins’ own website describes his approach in the following way:
I often say that I don’t “preach from the newspaper” and that’s because it is important to remember that the timeless message of the Gospel transcends partisan politics, as well as the things that may capture our attention for either the moment or a 24-hour news cycle (no “balloon boy” sermons any time soon). But it is just as important to know that our faith in Christ should challenge and shape our world view and our response to the genuine concerns that surround us. While some may think addressing social issues head on may be overtly “political,” it is always appropriate to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” In fact, it is the right thing to do. Micah 6:8 reminds us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” We can prayerfully apply this mandate to several issues that are currently within view and that we will undoubtedly be hearing more about in the months to come—whether it is healthcare reform which calls upon us to show caring compassion to those in need, or immigration reform that compels us to treat all persons with dignity, or even climate change that reminds us of our responsibility as stewards of the Earth that God has created. The pulpit may not be controlled by current events, but every preacher and all of God’s people should bring their faith with them into the “public square.” The balance that I strive for is an awareness of, and Biblical response to, the issues of society that confront us while being anchored in the unwavering promise of God’s redeeming love made complete in Jesus. Preach from the newspaper? No, but when we read the newspaper, when we see the concerns of the world around us, responding with the heart of Jesus is the right thing to do.
At first, he had me, claiming that “the timeless message of the Gospel transcends partisan politics.” But it turns out that Micah 6:8 gives us the central planks of the Democratic Party.
I don’t doubt that Rev. Harkins may well be able to reach out to the usual suspects on the left side of the religious aisle, and perhaps even to some young evangelicals who are embarrassed by their parents’ or grandparents’ constant invocations of Dr. Dobson. But if the Democratic Party and the Obama reelection campaign think that somehow this appointment will build on and expand past accomplishments with religious voters, I’m more than dubious.
This is not an effort that will “transcend partisan politics.” Rather, it will preach to the converted.