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Democratic hopefuls seek support from young black faith leaders

Religion News Service | 8/23/2019, 6 a.m.
Three Democratic presidential hopefuls fielded questions from black church leaders last week, bouncing between politics and prayer as they vied ...
Presidential candidates Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro address the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum on Aug. 16 at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta. Video screengrab

Three Democratic presidential hopefuls fielded questions from black church leaders last week, 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 U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey all spoke Aug. 16 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 the 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 Mr. Castro, who has mentioned his Catholic faith at various times since announcing his presidential campaign. After his opening remarks, the Rev. Leah Daughtry of The House of the Lord Church in Washington asked Mr. Castro why black people of faith should trust him with their vote.

Mr. 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, Mr. 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, Mr. Castro detailed how he would also provide “tools” for federal law enforcement agencies to combat white nationalism and hold social media platforms accountable.

Mr. Castro was followed by Mayor Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., 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.”

Mayor 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, Mayor Buttigieg was asked directly how he would alleviate poverty in practical terms. He said 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 Mayor Buttigieg attended.

“We’ve got to be honest about the fact that (poverty) is a moral issue,” he said. “This is one of many reasons why I think people of faith can take the lead, (like) when you look at things like what Rev. Barber is doing with the Poor People’s Campaign.”