CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The words of the hymn would have been familiar to almost any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Have I done any good in the world today?" a group of some 200 Latter-day Saints sang enthusiastically in a crowded meeting room Tuesday afternoon. "Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not I have failed indeed."
The hymn was sung impromptu and without accompaniment at the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he opened his remarks to the first-ever national meeting of the LDS Democrats Caucus in a hotel across the street from the Time Warner Cable Arena, where the Democratic National Convention opened Tuesday.
The hymn, Reid said, reflected both his LDS beliefs and the principles of the Democratic Party.
"Has anyone's burden been lighter today because I was willing to share?" the hymn continues. "Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way? When they needed my help was I there?"
"There was a really strong, emotional feeling in the room," said Craig Janis, outreach chair for LDS Democrats. "For a long time Mormons who are Democrats have felt like a minority within a minority. But this meeting was a chance for us to come together and feel the strength of our convictions. It was an amazing feeling."
Reid talked about some of the experiences he has had over the years as an LDS Democrat serving in the U.S. Senate. Janis said Reid's brief remarks focused on how his LDS values are consistent with current Democratic policies.
"There was a lot of media here to cover the event," Janis said. "A lot of people saw this as something newsworthy."
More than a news event, however, Janis was pleased that the caucus meeting provided a sort of bonding opportunity for LDS Democrats from all around the country, especially the Eastern United States.
"There were a lot more people than just convention delegates here," he said. "LDS Democrats from all over the east came to support us and share in what we are trying to do. It was beyond our expectations, to see such support."
The caucus also heard from Scott Howell, who is running for the U.S. Senate against long-time Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Howell said he originally wasn't planning on attending the convention, but changed his mind when he was invited to participate as a panelist for a faith-based discussion of "Leading with Values: Our Brother's and Sister's Keeper" during convention meetings.
"I'm not a Washington insider," Howell said in a press release, "but this is a unique opportunity for me to share the message of my (LDS) faith. It's a message of joy, compassion, family and service, and it's exciting the Democrats want to hear more about it."
Howell said his values as a Democrat stem from his faith.
"That's what guides me — not party platform," he said. "I'm attending the convention to share my faith, and then I'm going home."
Janis said the idea for the LDS Democrats Caucus meeting came together "fairly quickly during the past couple of months" as a chance to "launch LDS Democrats on a national scale" and "show the rest of the country that there is more politically to Mormons than conservatism."
The organization has only been around for about 10 months now, Janis said.
"We started out as a dozen people meeting in a living room, and now we have 2,000 members and we're holding a caucus meeting at the Democratic National Convention," he said. "It's just in the past few months that we've felt we had enough people to have a meeting."
A big part of that growth, he admitted, can probably be attributed to America's leading Republican.
"Mitt Romney has been great for LDS Democrats because he's brought attention to Mormonism in general and Mormons in politics specifically," Janis said. "His candidacy has motivated a lot of Mormons to be more interested in politics."
And when they start paying attention to politics, Janis added, many Mormons discover that Romney's Republican Party doesn't accurately reflect their values.
"I think the Republican Party has moved far enough to the right that it should make a lot of my fellow Mormons feel uncomfortable," he said. "That is typically how it goes. Most of us who are involved with LDS Democrats were Republicans at some point in our lives. But we decided to leave the party because we felt the Democratic Party was more in tune with the things that are important to us."
Of course, he said, there are elements of the Democratic philosophy with which he and other LDS Democrats feel uncomfortable.
"I'm sure it's that way in both parties," he said. "Many of us are uncomfortable with our party's position on abortion, just as I'm sure there are many Republicans who are uncomfortable with their party's lack of attention to 'love thy neighbor.'"
In fact, Janis said, "the Republican Party is saying that the idea of loving our neighbor and taking care of each other are not good things to be striving for. I'm sure that makes a lot of LDS Republicans pause and wonder if they are in the right party."
Janis said he felt the Republican National Convention last week "did a great job" of "humanizing" Romney by talking about his service as a lay leader in the LDS Church, and he doesn't expect any kind of counteroffensive on the subject of Mormonism during the DNC.
"I expect that the Democrats will spend time focusing on the issues of the campaign, not on Mitt's Mormonism," Janis said, referring to Hatch's early prediction that the Obama campaign would attack perceived Mormon "weirdness."
"Harry Reid has been in Democratic Party leadership positions for years, and no one has cared that he is Mormon," Janis said. "It's a non-issue to Democrats. It's never been a bone of contention."183 comments on this story
The political attacks on Mormonism, he said, have come from the far right wing of the Republican Party, not from the left.
Still, he said, "people in the Democratic Party have taken an interest in LDS Democrats."
"There is no major push to promote us," he said. "But make no mistake, they are aware of us, and they are interested."