The newly appointed head of faith outreach for former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is working on getting evangelicals to support the Democratic nominee.
Josh Dickson, an evangelical Christian who has been active in the Democratic Party for nearly 10 years, was appointed National Faith Engagement director for the Biden campaign.
During the Obama administration, for a time, Dickson worked as the director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Dickson believes some evangelicals are moving toward supporting Biden. An example of this, he said, is seeing evangelical leaders' embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We have seen evangelicals marching in the streets, we have seen evangelicals talking about Black Lives Matter and speaking and praising Black Lives Matter,” said Dickson. “We've seen a tremendous response from individual pastors who have large followings who have marched in the streets. We've seen leaders, elected leaders who have marched in the streets from evangelical backgrounds.”
This level of support leads Dickson to conclude that “the real religious issue in this election is fighting systemic racism.” Biden, he said, has an advantage in handling that issue.
“We want to let people of faith know that in this moment that they are valued and they matter to the vice president and to this campaign and to the future direction of this country,” continued Dickson.
The Christian Post interviewed Dickson on a variety of topics, including his faith journey, political views, and why he thinks evangelicals should support Biden for president despite certain ideological differences.
Staying Christian, changing parties
Born into a conservative family in which many attended Moody Bible Institute, Dickson had a Christian upbringing that involved attending church on Sundays and Wednesdays.
While enrolled at the University of Michigan, Dickson oversaw outreach efforts for the Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. After college, he became a teacher in the South Side of Chicago, Illinois.
Dickson explained to CP that it was his belief in “the redemptive ministry and Gospel of Jesus” that inspired him to take the teaching job instead of pursuing law school, noting that he was inspired by Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given, much is required.”
"It’s the core of my values; it’s the first thing I identify with. It drives everything that I do — being a Christian, being a believer,” said Dickson.
"My faith also led me into the public service arena after college, and it was the reason why I chose to be a teacher in the South Side of Chicago."
Dickson said that teaching in Chicago "really opened my eyes to the ministry of Jesus in a different way that I hadn't been as exposed to.”
“It really helped me see more of the example He set for us by how He lived His life and the ways that He showed His love, compassion, and commitment to the inherent and God-given dignity of other people through service,” he said.
"In the Gospels, Jesus says 'the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.' I think I really found what that meant for me a lot more when I was teaching and working in the little village community on the South Side of Chicago and working with the students that I worked with. The families were all just incredible people who were still invested in our shared work, trying to ensure that their children had just as much opportunity, regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin."
Dickson initially self-identified as a Republican. In 2004, the first presidential election he voted in, Dickson said he supported incumbent George W. Bush.
Yet, it was amid his time teaching in Chicago that Dickson leaned more "toward working to loosen the chains of injustice” and “tearing down the walls of oppression."
“It was really my first year as a teacher that I started to see a lot of systemic injustice in our country, and very much through the life experiences of my students and their parents and the community that I had the privilege to serve in, and that really pushed me to start looking more deeply in the Scriptures,” explained Dickson.
“It pushed me to reexamine my politics. I started to say, 'in what ways do I think that my current political beliefs align with that.'"
He explained that the shift was not "an immediate switch,” but came through personal experiences and reading works on "the Christian calling to poverty," such as Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider.
Dickson was also inspired to change his political affiliation after reading then Sen. Barack Obama’s bestselling book, The Audacity of Hope.
"The way he wove together his political theory, his theology, and his public policy really spoke to me. That was the first time I really started to follow someone who identified as a different political party,” he noted.
By 2008, Dickson said he was “finally confident to call myself a Democrat,” citing among other reasons the party's “preferential treatment of the poor” and “emphasis on caring for the poor and vulnerable.”
A new evangelical Outreach
In 2018, Matthew Bennett, a political strategist who worked in the Clinton administration, said Democrats should do a better job of reaching out to evangelicals in 2020 than they did in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was their nominee.
“The Clinton campaign did do a miserable job of this and there will be a correction around that outreach to particularly white evangelical Democrats … [it] will be better in 2020 than it was before,” Bennett said at the time.
Dickson showcased the effort to improve upon 2016, as he listed multiple outreach efforts to faith communities in general and evangelicals in particular.
"We have evangelical leaders who will be supporting the vice president publicly. We are doing listening sessions with evangelical leaders to hear from them,” he added.
"We're hearing from people; we're engaging people, we're developing relationships. We are going to be including evangelical voices in our 'Believers for Biden' events, and we are also going to be launching 'Evangelicals for Biden.'"
“We're asking people of faith for their votes; we're asking evangelicals for their support. That is not always the case,” he added in an apparent reference to the Democrats’ purported “God problem” concerning reaching out to Christian voters. “That is the case now,” he insisted.
Dickson believes that Biden, a practicing Catholic, is “an authentic man of faith whose faith and values inform his political participation, his long history of fighting for civil rights and fighting for the least of these.”
Biden’s beliefs will inform his presidency, Dickson told CP, citing as an example the former vice president’s recently released racial economic equity statement.
“I think that it encapsulates how Joe Biden's faith is going to inform his vision for the country. It is very much rooted in those values that come from Catholic teaching and rooted in those values that are very much centered on the common good,” he said.
‘A big tent party’
Although Dickson has spoken about efforts to reach out to evangelicals, some have argued that Biden’s liberal stances on issues like abortion and religious liberty are deal-breakers.
For example, in July, Biden released a statement promising to roll back federal exemptions for religious groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor that oppose providing coverage for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.
Biden promised to overturn a religious exemption the Trump administration put in place in 2017, reverting to before the United States Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which provided an exemption for closely-held businesses.
“If I am elected, I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the Hobby Lobby ruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions,” stated Biden.
“The accommodation will allow women at these organizations to access contraceptive coverage, not through their employer-provided plan, but instead through their insurance company or a third-party administrator.”
CatholicVote President Brian Burch denounced Biden's comments, telling LifeNews that, if elected, Biden would approve policies that “mistreat and marginalize Catholics.”
“From his support for taxpayer-funded pro-abortion extremism, to his pledge to continue to harass the Little Sisters of the Poor, Biden will be a wrecking ball against all things that Catholics hold dear,” said Burch.
“All Catholics in America must speak out forcefully against these threats, lest the Catholic Church in America be trampled.”
Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a longtime supporter of President Donald Trump, recently denounced evangelicals who plan to vote for Biden in November.
“The only evangelicals who are going to vote for Joe Biden are those who have sold their soul to the devil and accepted the Democrats’ barbaric position on abortion,” declared Jeffress in an interview with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business.
“I mean, it’s so barbaric, Joe Biden believes in unrestricted abortion. He can’t even get his own church, the Catholic Church, to stomach it. They have denied him communion because of that.”
When asked by CP about concerns over Biden’s stance on abortion, religious liberty, and similar issues, Dickson responded that “there’s room for disagreement” on these matters.
"I know that not everyone is going to agree with him on everything. We're a big tent party as Democrats. Joe Biden is someone who is putting forward a vision that is inclusive," said Dickson. "We want to be working with as many people as possible."
"I see the values that Joe Biden lives by. I see the values that have been reflected in the history of his involvement in public life. And I see the ways in which he's going to lean into this moment right now where our country is hurting."
Dickson also reiterated his belief that the problem of "systemic racial injustices that our country has been perpetuating since its founding” will be “the issue of this election."