As his name is mentioned among potential presidential contenders, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has put his faith at the center of his speeches and his political persona. The 49-year-old Democrat sat down with Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins in early October at the senator’s Washington, D.C., office to talk about religion, politics and the intersection of the two. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jack Jenkins: You were raised in an African Methodist Episcopal church and now you go to a Baptist church. How did you get from where you grew up to now with your faith?
Sen. Cory Booker: I was raised within a very religious family, in a small church in Closter, N.J., very much in the black church tradition. A lot of my life has been governed by the values from my faith. I think that faith without works is dead, and it’s really at the center of what motivates me on a lot of the major decisions I’ve made in my life.
JJ: How does that faith animate your politics?
CB: The life of Jesus is very impactful to me and very important to me. He lived a life committed to dealing with issues of the poor and the sick. The folks that other folks disregard, disrespect or often oppress. He lived this life of radical love that is a standard that I fail to reach every single day, but that really motivates me in what I do.
I wanted to live in a community where there was that struggle going on. I love what the pope said to his pastors: Go out and live amongst your flock, or “smell like your flock,” I think, was the quote.
Look, I’m not afraid to talk about my faith. In fact, I just came from a hearing where I got in a back-and-forth with a judge about religion.
CB: I asked him about LGBTQ issues in that context and the decision he made to deny same-sex marriage.
JJ: What would you say to those who say you cannot possibly be LGBT-inclusive and a Christian?
CB: Well, remember, people have been using the Bible to justify subjugation for generations. People used the Bible to subjugate women and deny them the right the vote. People used the Bible to justify slavery. People used the Bible to justify Jim Crow.
I know that history coming from, again, the sort of liberation theology of the black church — this idea that we’re all created equal, that we’re all equal in God’s eyes. And the LGBTQ community, to me, are my brothers and sisters. They’re children of God. We still live in a country where in the majority of states you can get fired from your job just because you’re gay and you have no legal recourse. This, to me, is not an affirmation of dignity.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Jack Jenkins