Charlotte community sees power beyond DNC


New Hampshire delegates pray before the beginning of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. Chet Strange Buy Photos

Reverend Maria Hanlin feels power coursing strongly through the pews and aisles of churches, synagogues and mosques scattered around Charlotte, N.C.

She feels it most forcefully in the quiet moments, gazing at sunrises, flowers and

And she sees it in the people made in the divine image of God.

Both a show and a plea for power were apparent in the Queen’s City on Thursday as President Barack Obama prepared to accept his nomination, Republican Candidate Mitt Romney prepared to rebuke him and the outlying party candidates prepared to ask for attention.

Hanlin is the executive director of Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith group that brings Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other congregations together in worship. During a week wrought with protests of every faith and moral ideal, she had her hands full.

During her seven years at the ministry, she’s seen the struggle between religion and politics. She knows how it can tear apart. She also knows it can unite.

* * *

Hanlin’s ministry won’t endorse a party or candidate. Many other churches will.

Reverend Flip Benham was parked on the corner outside the Democratic National Convention all three days, bellowing into the megaphone at passersby. He called them everything from damned to drunk.

His message boiled down to one phrase, which he repeated to several delegates and protestors from other groups who stopped to ask him why he was so angry, so filled with hatred.

“Truth is hate to those who hate the truth!”

Politics is division. It’s a gash between liberal and conservative, Hanlin said.

“Absolutely we would not be a part of protests,” she said. She paused for a moment. “Unless there was a group being disrespected.”

Last Friday, a group of Christians interrupted a Muslim prayer service. The Christians tried to drown out the soft-spoken words with cries, telling the Muslims they would burn in hell.

Many of the Muslims came to Hanlin. They said they didn’t understand. They would never interrupt a Christian service. They would never even consider it.

An edge crept into Hanlin’s voice.

“The only time we would protest is if we felt there was true discrimination against a faith tradition.”

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Hanlin’s congregation tends to draw a more independent or left-leaning crowd. It’s because the interfaith mission is not shared by many conservatives, who usually believe their way is the only way, she said.

Her ministry had an event last Sunday to pray and worship. The foil to their program was a prayer led by evangelical conservatives on the other side of town. That group, she said, focused on pro-life and the defense of traditional marriage. Hers did not.

That isn’t to say Hanlin believes people should set aside their own creeds to get along.

“We also say we never want to water down faith,” Hanlin said. “If you’re a Christian, be the best Christian you can be, be the best Jew you can be, be the best Muslim you can be.”

Hanlin doesn’t believe the prominent social and religious issues that mark both parties — abortion and same-sex marriage — would be nearly as prominent if people lived by the core values of their faiths.

“Do I come down on a side? Yes. Do I come down on a party? Yes, I do,” Hanlin said. “But my job is to bridge that divide.”


A floor delegate from North Carolina during the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. Chet Strange Buy Photos


A gospel singer dances during the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. Chet Strange Buy Photos

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