Democrats this election year are determined to brandish their faith — particularly their wide array of it.
A choir belted out a gospel song, followed by a rabbi reciting a Torah reading about forgiveness and the future. Young Muslim women in headscarves sat near older African-American women in their finest Sunday hats.
This year's convention features the first-ever faith caucus meetings aimed at highlighting the party's diversity of faith leaders. Each night of the convention will begin with an invocation and end with a benediction delivered by a national faith leader.
The effort to reach faith voters will be on display all week throughout the convention agenda and on the sidelines.
"Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith — and this convention will demonstrate that in an unprecedented way," Leah Daughtry, CEO of the DNCC, said in a written statement. "As convention CEO and a pastor myself, I am incredibly proud that so many esteemed leaders from the faith community will be with us to celebrate this historic occasion and honor the diverse faith traditions inside the Democratic party."
The initiative kicked off Sunday with an interfaith gathering featuring Rabbi Steven Foster of Denver; Bishop Charles Blake, who presides over the Church of God in Christ; Sister Helen Prejean, an activist and author of the best-selling "Dead Man Walking," and Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of The Islamic Society of North America or ISNA.
Though the event was interrupted several times by interlopers who shouted such accusations as "Obama is a baby killer," the speakers focused on tacking social ills, such as poverty, racism and crime. Initially drowned by boos, the protests were followed by cheers of "yes we can." Hecklers were escorted out by police.
But while demonstrating faith has new value to Democrats, duplicating the success of previous Republican campaigns could create a problem
"If we create or become a mirror image of the religious right, we have failed," said Burns Strider, who ran religious outreach for Hillary Clinton's campaign and now does faith-based political consulting. "But if we have increased the number of chairs around the table, … then we've succeeded."
One reason religion is playing such a prominent role at this week's convention is that Obama has made faith outreach prominent in his campaign.
"People of faith are being engaged in the convention in a new and robust way ,and it's because of Senator Obama's acknowledgment that people of faith and values have an important place in American public life," said Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign's religious affairs director.
Obama's supporters didn't shy away from political statements they challenged as consistent with their faith. Others defended positions that have frequently been rejected.
Blake revealed that he was a Democrat against abortion and called on the crowd to hold Obama to his position of reducing unwanted pregnancies.
During a campaign stop last year in Iowa, Obama told a voter that "if we can reduce unwanted pregnancies, then it's much less likely that people resort to abortion. The way to do that is to encourage young people and older people. people of child-bearing years, to act responsibly."
Joel Hunter, a moderate evangelical megachurch pastor from Orlando, Fla., will offer the benediction Thursday, the night Obama accepts the nomination.
"Now there's a genuine interest in speaking with groups and religious groups who were previously considered enemies," said Rachel Laser, who works on culture issues for the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way.
Compromise language in the Democrats' abortion platform acknowledges the need to help women who want to keep their pregnancies. Hunter and liberal evangelical leader Jim Wallis were involved, as were new groups such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
The role of Mattson, the president of ISNA, at the gathering raised questions given Obama's efforts to dispel misconceptions that he is a Muslim. Earlier in the year, Obama's campaign prevented Muslim women wearing head scarves from appearing behind the presidential candidate in a photo op, a move for which the campaign later apologized. More recently, Obama's campaign's outreach coordinator to the Muslim community resigned after reports tying him to a controversial religious leader.
Mattson did not address Obama's actions or the controversy around her selection as a speaker in her speech.
Despite all the effort, little evidence suggests religious votes are shifting. A Pew poll released last week showed the political preferences of religious voters, including highly sought Catholics and white evangelicals, have scarcely budged since 2004.
Catholics are up for grabs, but white evangelicals have become so solidly Republican, Obama has little chance of carving too deeply into the Republican lead, said Allen Hertzke, a University of Oklahoma political scientist.
"There still is a possibility that Obama will chip into the Republican advantage with this religious outreach," Hertzke said. "Even if he gains just a few points, that could be decisive in a close election."
The Democrats' faith initiative suffered a setback last week when an emerging young Republican evangelical pulled out of delivering the benediction on the convention's first night, Monday.
Cameron Strang, the 32-year-old editor of Relevant Magazine, said he feared that his actions would be wrongly construed as an endorsement. He said he would participate in a convention caucus meeting on religion later in the week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.