We’ve talked a lot about the protests and parties surrounding the Republican National Convention, and there have been a lot of them. But there’s a religious aspect to the convention as well.
Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon invited conservative political columnist Cal Thomas to speak at its Sunday services. Two-thousand worshipers attended the 11 o'clock service.
"Cal we are so thankful you're here with us today. We look forward to hearing what God is going to say through you," said Pastor Stephen Rummage as he welcomed the guest speaker up to the pulpit.
Thomas cited scripture and called for unity based on Christian values.
"Do you know the one common denominator of every revival that has touched America?" Thomas asked the congregation. "It is prayer, the thing we like to do the least. I'm not talking about a prayer that lasts for 60 or 90 seconds from this platform, led by your pastor or someone else. I'm talking about fervent, effectual concerts of prayer."
The conversation changed from scripture to secular during the question and answer session. The congregation submitted questions on cards - asking about the military, about being a Christian in today's world, and the use of negative campaign ads.
"Most of it's lies, from both sides," said Thomas. "But it works, and if it didn't work, they wouldn't do it. So you know, you can be civil. Some of my best friends are Liberal, Democrat, Pagan. But I repeat myself. No no, just kidding, just kidding, just kidding. Just kidding if there are any Democrats here, I'm just kidding!"
The crowd engaged him, laughing lightly. Then, he was asked: What is the biggest threat to American security?
Thomas answered "fundamental Islam."
"We better wake up to it before it's too late," he said. "Now am I calling for the exporting of every Muslim, or the tearing down of every Mosques? No! But I think we ought to have a more mature attitude. Plus I think the believers ought to go share their faith with them. Because they have no hope. None. They have to hope that Allah gets up on the right side of the bed when he gets up. They pray five times a day, they do all these wonderful things. But if you ask them and they're honest, they have guarantee for Heaven. We do."
Many Muslim leaders are offended by that idea that Islam is a hopeless religion.
Laila Abdelaziz of Tampa is part of Emerge USA, a leadership group for young Arab-Americans. She said that the Arab, Muslim, and Southeast Asian American communities believe that the GOP hasn't engaged them enough.
"The Muslim American community has not organized to participate in the Republican Party's national convention," she said. "And, I think that means something because we have organized to participate in the DNC (Democratic National Convention)."
She said that Republican leaders need to reach out to the Muslim community.
"I would say that I'm extremely disappointed in the leadership of the Republican Party for not standing up to a lot of hate and a lot of bigotry that people spew on behalf of the party."
Abdelaziz participated in a forum sponsored by the Arab-American Institute that focused on religious liberty and identity in the U.S.
Jewish voters also are thinking about the RNC and the election.
"I think that obviously we're concerned with whatever president or candidate there is and his or her support for Israel," said Ronnie Stone.
Stone is a member of the local Hasidic Chabad. Among this group, concern for the American-Israeli relationship is high. Rabbi Lazer Rivkin is a regional spiritual leader for the Hasidic Chabad. When members ask him for guidance on who or what to vote for, Rivkin said he still has mixed feelings himself.
"I voted for Obama, but I am going to vote for Romney even though I am not thrilled about him," said Rivkin. "But I want to have change from what we've had the last four years. Therefore I'm a bit concerned about Obama's Middle East policy -- his never having found time to visit Israel, even though he was in the neighborhood."
He said it’s not just religion. The economy is important too.
"How do you find jobs, how do you keep jobs?" Rivkin recounted his worshippers concerns. "What's the better career to look into or grow in -- especially in Florida? I've recommended tourism, eldercare, education."
Despite their differences, Christians, Muslims and Jews shared similar concerns about the economy.