WASHINGTON — A black Democrat Christian strategist says that the party's donor class' push for secular progressivism is "out of tune" with the views of many black Christians in the Democratic Party, and recounted the pushback he personally received when he urged the party to be more welcoming to biblical values.
Justin Giboney, an Atlanta-based lawyer and a former Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention, spoke out Monday against the direction that his party has taken as it relates to the views of black Christians who call for social justice while adhering to the moral truths of their Protestant biblical beliefs.
Speaking during a panel discussion hosted by Georgetown University's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Giboney joined former Obama faith adviser Michael Wear and others in addressing questions related to the Democratic Party's "religion problem."
"I have been in politics and running campaigns and things of that nature for almost a decade. In doing that in urban politics, you are in a very progressive space. There were certain issues that I had trouble really reconciling with my faith, being asked to handle people's campaigns and their platforms and just knowing that certain things were off limits," Giboney said. "I really didn't think that was fair or understand it because the people that I go to church with and the people I'm around are not necessarily secular progressives."
Giboney helped launch the AND Campaign in an attempt to bring both social justice and moral convictions of the Gospel to politics and the Democratic Party. The AND Campaign also brings a voice to urban Christians who operate under a worldview that is committed to redemptive justice and "values-based policy." The organization believes that urban Christians have "allowed the urban political class to abandon" values-based policy.
"It is hard to understand why everyone had to fit into that [secular progressive] box, it seemed like we were being forced into that box," Giboney said of his experiences. "The AND Campaign basically came about when I got with some other people that I knew and said, 'This needs to change.' Why is it that we see social justice and biblical values are mutually exclusive?"
Giboney shared his experience running to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Georgia's fifth congressional district in both 2012 and 2016.
"When I ran in 2016, it was a little bit of a different story. At the time, I had a group called Crucifix & Politics," Giboney, a former Vanderbilt University football player, said. "We are in John Lewis' district and decided I was going to run on a biblical platform. When I gave my speech, I really didn't say anything about the party. I just talked about how the party can't be one that excludes people of faith."
"I talked about issues such as sanctity of life and all those things and how they don't change for biblical Christians but we still deserve to be here," he added. "It was an interesting conversation. We won. We won by huge numbers and we almost doubled or tripled anybody else's votes in one of the most progressive places in Atlanta."
But after the election ended, Giboney said that there were some that tried to get him removed from the Georgia delegation because of what he said about biblical values.
"Thankfully, I anticipated that and I taped the whole thing so they couldn't move my words around," Giboney said. "But, it was a difficult conversation and unfortunately, there was an attack just based on bringing a biblical perspective. We ended up winning, which says a lot. But there was also an attack there. So, you see the dynamic in that small example."
Giboney, who served as the Obama for America's Gen44-Atlanta initiative, said that he isn't the only black Christian politician in Georgia who has faced that type of opposition.
"[T]here are two guys who ran for office, two black Christians who come from the same tradition as I am in Georgia who ran for office in the metro Atlanta area — one for state senate and one for mayor," he said. "When they ran — because they were Christians and made statements — they were completely demolished by the liberal establishment. When I say that, I mean going to forums and [being] shouted down. ... [T]hey were just smeared all over the place [on the internet] with ads and mailers that went out."
Seeing the type of opposition that the politicians faced because of their biblical views, Giboney said that it paints a strong message to him and other black Democrats in his local circles.
"The message to the black community that was paying attention ... the message that I received was: 'Know your place. We want your votes but we don't want you in office if you hold certain types of beliefs,'" he said. "If that is the Democratic Party that we are going to have, they are going to run into troubles."
The panel discussion comes as the Democratic Party took what some would consider to be a left turn over the last couple of decades.
In 2016, the Democrats released a party platform that contained number of changes, including a call to repeal a law banning taxpayer funding from being used to promote abortion.
Additionally, DNC President Tom Perez asserted last year that it is "not negotiable" that every Democrat running for office should support a woman's right to abortion. To make matters worse for Christian Democrats watching, liberal lawmakers on different occasions have criticized Trump nominees over their religious views, beliefs and associations.
The panel discussion also comes as many within the Democratic party are strongly opposed to letting religious organizations and institutions have religious freedom protections that allow them to operate in accordance with biblically held beliefs on marriage, sexuality and abortion.
"At the end of the day, the reason the platform is the way that it is — whether it is religious liberty or abortion — is because people like ourselves are not speaking up," Giboney said. "Let's not put all the blame on other people, let's put it on ourselves. Anybody in here who cares about those issues and is a Democrat, the reason the Democrats have gone that way is because we haven't spoken up enough and we haven't been organized enough."
A place to start, Giboney said, is for Democrats to stop defining themselves by their opposition to conservatives.
"If our opposition becomes the standard, doing what's right becomes secondary," he said. "Instead, you want to go to the opposite direction. Instead of saying what I need to say about abortion or religious liberty, I don't want to give Republicans a leg up so I am just going to be quiet. That is the wrong way to go about politics but I think it is a prevalent way in today's society."
"Our partisanship and ideology have become religious in nature and it is beginning to Trump what our true faith is," he stated.
Wear, who directed faith outreach for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and also served as a White House staffer, criticized the Hillary Clinton campaign for running a seeming "post-Christian" campaign and for not doing nearly enough to attract white evangelical and other faith voters.
"We had pollsters writing that it was the end of white Christian America and declaring values voters were done," Wear said. "I had heard from someone close to the Clinton campaign that one of their senior advisers boasted they would run the first post-Christian campaign. That is a great strategy, except for the fact that 70 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. Maybe that is aspirational from their perspective but what kind of data-minded campaign looks at a country ... and says we are going to run the first post-Christian campaign? A losing one."
Wear asserted that Democrats have the opportunity during this time where President Donald Trump is receiving much backlash from religious-based activists to "get back in on the conversation about values" and to "get back in on the conversation about faith."
"But what that requires are not one-offs. it doesn't just require pointing out how bad Donald Trump is," Wear said. "They actually have to show that they care about the faith community and all of its diversity, not just the Christians but including Christians and speaking to Christians directly, Catholics directly and evangelicals directly."
Following the panel, Giboney told The Christian Post that he fears the Democratic Party will only double-down on its failed secular progressive strategy of 2016.
"I wish I could say something different, but I would expect that they double down because of the money and because we haven't spoken up and organized away. Until that happens and they pay for it, they are going to continue on the same road," he said. "Unfortunately, I feel they will continue to double down but eventually that will come back to bite them."
"They were able to get away with that because Obama was a brilliant communicator but they don't have another leader that is coming up with those same type of skills," he added. "African-Americans, especially, are not going to accept being treated the same way. They are not going to accept the same things they accepted under Obama because we had so much in common with him."
In April, former Obama faith adviser Melissa Rogers criticized the fact that there is a sense of antagonism by some progressives toward faith groups that don't "buy into a progressive package of policies."
"I think it's really something that we have to work on," she stressed at a Baylor University panel discussion. "I have certainly seen it through the years and consider it a challenge that has to be faced on the progressive side."