Democratic Presidential Candidates Discuss Prayer and Politics at Black Church Forum

Presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab

Three Democratic presidential hopefuls fielded questions from black church leaders on Friday (Aug. 16), bouncing between politics and prayer as they vied for support from an audience of about 5,000 black millennials.

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker all spoke to the group, assembled as a joint venture of the Black Church PAC and the Young Leaders Conference.

The candidates were peppered with questions on topics that ranged from police shootings to student loan debt to what activist pastor Rev. Michael McBride, one of the forum’s moderators, described as the “moral conversation in this country.”

First to address the crowd at the Georgia International Convention Center was Castro, who has mentioned his Catholic faith at various times since his campaign announcement. After his opening remarks, the Rev. Leah Daughtry of The House of the Lord Church in Washington, D.C., asked Castro why black people of faith should trust him with their vote.

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, responded by noting that, among other things, he would call for police reform that would include a national standard for the use of force. Police departments that refuse to abide by it could be denied federal funds.

He also called for greater investment in community groups, including faith-based nonprofits, which, he said, could help “mend the rifts” between police and communities.

Asked how he would address white nationalism, Castro replied, “The first thing we need to do is get the white nationalist who is currently in the Oval Office out of the Oval Office.”

After the crowd erupted in applause, Castro detailed how he would also provide “tools” for federal law enforcement agencies to combat white nationalism and hold social media platforms accountable.

Castro was followed by Buttigieg, who has spoken often about faith but struggled to garner support among black voters — religious or otherwise. He opened with a direct appeal to faith, insisting that “God does not belong to a political party in this country.”

Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, observed that “political leaders ought to … speak for voters of any religion and no religion equally,” and called the coming elections an opportunity to “remind voters of faith that we have a choice.”

Having referred to Christian scripture in his remarks to explain his approach to poverty, hunger and incarceration issues, Buttigieg, a small city mayor himself, was asked directly how he would alleviate poverty in practical terms.

Buttigieg answered that he would work to raise the minimum wage and push for increased unionization, adding that faith communities also have a role to play. He alluded to the work of the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, whose June protest outside the White House Buttigieg attended, sitting quietly as he watched a spectrum of faith leaders discuss poverty.

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Source: Religion News Service