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Democratic hopefuls seek support from young black faith leaders

Religion News Service | 8/23/2019, 6 a.m.
Three Democratic presidential hopefuls fielded questions from black church leaders last week, bouncing between politics and prayer as they vied ...
Presidential candidates Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro address the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum on Aug. 16 at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta. Video screengrab

Sen. Booker, a Baptist who opened his remarks by noting that his “whole lineage comes from the black church,” received the most passionate reception of the three candidates. His fiery remarks often sounded more like a sermon than a speech.

After describing the current political moment as a “moral crisis,” Sen. Booker recalled how he leaned on the support of local clergy to address issues while serving as mayor of Newark, N.J.

“I get very frustrated when people want to try to separate this idea of the role of the church and the role of the civic space,” Sen. Booker said. “That is just not true. You could no more divide your own body. The church is not four walls. The church is the body of Christ.”

Sen. Booker then quoted from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” arguing that the passage calls for action and not for people to “sit on the sidelines” and be complacent.

“I want to call the faith community together, because faith without works is …” said Sen. Booker, who then held out the microphone for the crowd to finish the line from Scripture.

“Dead!” the crowd, already on its feet, shouted back.

Sen. Booker called on African-American voters to claim their own electoral destiny.

“We do not need one president who comes in and says, ‘I’m the savior.’ I’ve got my savior, y’all,” he said. “And I’m telling you right now, we have to bring about our salvation.”

Rev. McBride, in a telephone interview before the forum began, said that one of the main goals of the gathering was to induce the candidates to focus on faith as a potential blindspot of the Democratic Party.

“Unfortunately, too many Democrats are afraid of faith and they’re afraid of race,” Rev. McBride said. “That’s why the black church must step up.”

Rev. McBride said that regular dialogue with black religious voters is not only a sound strategy for politicians hoping to win the Democratic primary but also a long-term investment in winning the general election.

“These potential voters will also be the engine to drive turnout,” Rev. McBride said. “If the candidates cannot electrify and motivate these young people over the next six months to a year to turn out their friends and their families and their neighbors to vote, then we may not have the most voters showing up at the polls to be able to defeat — from the White House all the way to a local election — an agenda that is about excluding and punishing the poor and the dispossessed.”