Democratic presidential candidates talk God, faith and Trump as primaries near

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks at a campaign fundraising event at the nightclub Slate in the Flatiron District August 12, 2019 in New York City. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopefuls are talking about prayer and their journeys of faith as the 2020 primaries near, making appeals to crucial voting blocs.

Speaking before a crowd of approximately 5,000 people at a joint venture of the Black Church PAC and the Young Leaders Conference on Friday at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, Georgia, three candidates seeking the nation's highest office spoke about the role of faith in politics and the state of the country.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who is Episcopalian, said “political leaders ought to … speak for voters of any religion and no religion equally.” He added that the elections are an opportunity to “remind voters of faith that we have a choice.”

God does not belong to either political party, he stressed.

Buttigieg has been a frequent critic of religious voters who support the Republican Party, and has condemned the Trump administration's policies on illegal immigration and the conditions at overcrowded border detention facilities. He has said many times that Christians who back Trump's politics have forfeited their right to speak in religious terminology because of what he sees as blatant hypocrisy. And he's chastised Christians who don't support a $15 minimum wage

Julián Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has routinely spoken of his Catholic faith as it relates to the policies he favors, urged faith-motivated voters to support him, particularly because of his proposals on police reform. Castro, who's also the former mayor of San Antonio, said he backed a national standard for the use of force. Police departments that refuse to comply with it might see their federal funding withheld, he said. 

Cory Booker, who is Baptist, recounted that his entire lineage come from the black church and whose communication style sometimes resembles preaching. He said he believes the present political moment in the United States is a "moral crisis."

“I get very frustrated when people want to try to separate this idea of the role of the church and the role of the civic space,” Booker said.

“That is just not true. You could no more divide your own body. The church is not four walls. The church is the body of Christ.”

He exhorted the crowd, speaking about gun violence, voter suppression, and the mortality rates of black mothers: “We have the power, and Lord knows this nation needs some Holy Ghost power up in here.

"Don’t just pray about it, be about it. Faith without works is dead,” he said, making a reference to James 2:16.

Although speaking in black churches is not new for Democratic politicians, especially during presidential election seasons, the push in the Democratic Party to engage voters of faith more deliberately comes after renewed discussions about the increasingly secular bent of many in the party and perceived hostilities toward religion.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., intoned that her political aspirations were rooted in a divine call.

"Never in a million years did I think I’d end up running for office, first for United States Senator from Massachusetts, and now for president of the United States. But the reason I did is I have been called to act," she said at a church service in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sunday.

At the Black Church PAC gathering, Warren emphasized the need for action, particularly investment resources into medical facilities that serve black women.

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-described Democratic Socialist, also addressed the gathering on Sunday.

Black Church PAC is "an initiative led by faith leaders on a mission to reclaim political power in our communities and support the election of progressive, righteous leaders committed to ending to mass incarceration, voter suppression, and gun violence," according to the group's Facebook page.

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