Biden and Harris Call on Faith as a Source of Love of Neighbor and Commitments to Justice
By Dr. Erica M. Ramirez
One of the more controversial aspects of President Trump’s 2016 campaign, and tenure in office, has been his surprising alliance with America’s evangelicals. Depending on whom you ask, evangelicals were driven to support Trump’s bid for office by their anti-abortion commitments and/or their ethnotraditionalism (racist, white supremacist, or anti-immigrant leanings) despite his showing scant evidence of the moral character once believed to be very important for evangelical support. Evangelicals’ single minded focus on the Supreme Court bench has meant that, no matter how off-color or bad-faith Donald Trump’s statements or actions in office might be, evangelicals remain steadfast in their support for him.
As we turn to November, the President enjoys strong support – not only from evangelicals – but from White Protestants and White Catholics as well.
Should they win the election in 2020, how will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris construct the role of faith in US politics? How might their own faiths influence how they govern in their roles?
Former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden has long been public about his Roman Catholic faith, which saw him through the losses of his first wife and child, and the more recent loss of his son, Beau.
In office, VP Biden has demonstrated an ability to use his deep faith to find common cause with people of other faiths. Executive director of Obama’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers writes that, in addition to customary observances like the Easter Prayer breakfast, Biden expresses his faith in regular church attendance – even when on the road. Moreover, VP Biden has “long standing friendships and working relationships with people of many different faiths,” and a “profound appreciation for the remarkable pluralism that has characterized America at its best.”
Vice President Biden joins efforts with other people of faith in ways he deems good for the whole nation. Rogers offers, for example, how VP Biden convened an array of religious leaders to discuss increasing background checks for guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. “Participants in the meeting were religiously and ideologically diverse, including the Rev. Franklin Graham of Billy Graham Ministries, Sister Marge Clark of Network, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Rev. Michael McBride of Faith in Action. Biden carefully navigated the diversity of views, listening to everyone. He always kept the focus where it should be — on problem solving, especially for those who are vulnerable.”
The Biden campaign is also reaching out to evangelicals. “We don’t write anybody off in this campaign,” said Joshua Dickson, Biden’s national faith engagement director. “I know how diverse evangelicals are in terms of their backgrounds, in terms of how they look at their faith and how they practice, and in terms of the issues they care about.”
Like Auburn, the Biden campaign sees faith commitments as a source of renewal for some of America’s most deeply held moral convictions: “The core values are the connection point: loving your neighbor, fighting for justice, and upholding the inherent human dignity of all,” said Dickson.
Like VP Biden, Senator Kamala Harris is accustomed to integrating multiple religious points of view in service of the greater good. In this work, Harris draws from personal experience. In part because of her Hindu background, having grown up in a Black Baptist Church and now married to a Jewish man, Senator Harris deftly underscores common values that resonate with people across faith traditions. Such work begins with her own convictions:
My earliest memories were of a loving God, a God who asked us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” and to “defend the rights of the poor and needy.” This is where I learned that “faith” is a verb, something we must live and demonstrate through our actions.
During a Poor People’s Campaign speech in 2019, Sen. Harris read from the parable of the Good Samaritan, saying: “Neighbor is not about having the same ZIP code. What we learn about in that parable is that a neighbor is someone you are walking by on the street. … Neighbor is about understanding and living in service of others — that we are all each other’s brothers and sisters.”
Read more about the role of faith in the nation at The Future Story of America.
Dr. Erica M. Ramirez is Auburn’s Director of Applied Research