“I came in the wrong door when I first got here,” [Howard] Dean said. “I came in the back, and everybody was talking about praising the Lord, and I thought, ‘I am home. Finally, a group of people who want to praise the Lord and help their fellow man just like Jesus did and just like Jesus taught.’ Thank you so much for doing that for me.”
“My father used to tell us how much strength he got from religion,” he told the Globe, “but we didn’t have Bible readings. There are traditions where people do that. We didn’t. People in the Northeast don’t talk about their religion. It’s a very personal, private matter, and that’s the tradition I was brought up in.”
Dean himself is frank on this point, perhaps too frank. “[I] don’t go to church very often,” the Episcopalian-turned-Congregationalist remarked in a debate last month. “My religion doesn’t inform my public policy.” When Dean talks about organized religion, it is often in a negative context. “I don’t want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore,” he shouted at the California Democratic Convention in March. And, when he discusses spirituality, it is generally divorced from any mention of God or church. “We are not cogs in a corporate machine,” he preached last month in Iowa. “We are human, spiritual beings who deserve better consideration as human beings than we’re getting from this administration.”
Then, the hard part began: getting the land for the bike trail–a fight that ultimately wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Part of the struggle involved convincing the local Episcopal diocese to cede ownership of a stretch of old railroad tracks that ran across their property. When the church first resisted, threatening to join a lawsuit, “Howard went to talk to them into it,” says Sharp. Thanks to Dean’s persistence, the Episcopalians eventually succumbed. But their initial resistance left a bad taste in Dean’s mouth. As Dean has described it in recent months, the dispute over the bike path caused him to break with the Episcopal Church and become a Congregationalist.