Cory Booker appeals to faith when denouncing white supremacy, racist violence at SC church

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey gives a speech on white nationalism and gun violence at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on August 7, 2019. | YouTube/Cory Booker

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey appealed to his Christian faith when speaking at a historically African-American church that was the sight of a mass shooting in 2015 by a white supremacist.

Booker spoke at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also called Mother Emanuel, in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday, chiefly on the issue of gun violence and white nationalism.

Booker told those gathered that he was addressing the church “because of love.”

“The kind of love I learned about in church growing up. The kind of courageous love of people who could love those who hated them, despised them, and cursed them,” said Booker, as noted in a copy of the prepared remarks.

“A heroic love that pushed people to march knowing they could be beaten, to board buses knowing they could be bombed. A love fueled by multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalitions that share a commitment to a common cause and to our common destiny.”

Booker quoted the Bible when arguing that recent mass shootings by white nationalists have their roots in America’s longstanding history of white supremacy.

“And these acts of hatred do not happen in a vacuum. They are harvested only once they have been planted. Galatians 6:7 reads: ‘Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.’ You reap what you sow,” stated Booker.

“The act of anti-Latino, anti-immigrant hatred we witnessed this weekend did not start with the hand that pulled the trigger … It was planted in fertile soil, because the contradictions that have shadowed this country since its founding remain a part of who we are.”

At least 22 people were killed in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, in a mass shooting. The suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, wrote a manifesto online, according to police, that expressed opposition to the "Hispanic invasion of Texas."

Booker argued that the violence was “sowed by those who spoke the same words the El Paso murderer did: warning of an ‘invasion,’” by people “who spoke of an ‘infestation,’ and ‘rats and rodents’ in majority-Black cities,” and by people “who draw equivalence between Neo-Nazis and those who protest them.”

He then argued that “our work is not complete by calling out the shortcomings of our leaders,” again appealing to faith when noting what everyday Americans needed to do to combat bigotry.

“In truth, ours is the story of the faith we have had in one another. How we have formed multiracial, multi-religious, multi-ethnic coalitions to affirm our most sacred civic virtues, to affirm our common cause and fight for our common destiny,” he continued.

“Of the Bible verse that speaks to our civic gospel — that whenever two or three are gathered together — He is in the midst. From the very beginning — yours has been a story about the power of that kind of faith — in God, and in one another.”

Booker has been public about his beliefs on many occasions. For example, at a CNN Town Hall event in March, he explained that “Christ is the center of my life” and that he believes “in that radical love of all people.”

“I was taught that faith demands, first and foremost, humility before God, that you look at your brother and sister regardless of their faith, regardless of their background, with a conviction of love. Love thy neighbor,” he said, according to a rush transcript.

“I believe that the Bible talks more about poverty, about greeting the stranger, about being there for the convicted far more than it talks about the kind of toxic stuff you often hear the president spewing out there. And our immigration policy violates not only American values, but the values of our faith traditions.”

However, Booker has also been critical of Christians who hold theologically conservative views on issues like marriage definition and sexual ethics.

He recently critically questioned Trump administration nominees during confirmation hearings about whether they believe same-sex relationships are sinful.

According to RealClearPolitics’ average of polls on the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, accessed Thursday, Booker placed seventh among the candidates at 2.3 percent.

This is well behind frontrunner and former vice president Joe Biden at 31 percent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 15.8 percent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 15.5 percent.

However, in data updated on Aug. 2, the political website FiveThirtyEight ranked Booker third among the candidates in their tracking of endorsements, behind Biden in first place and Senator Kamala Harris of California in second place.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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