Attendees pray over Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during the Festival of Homiletics at Metropolitan AME Church on May 21, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Booker and Warren fuse faith and politics in appeal to mainline preachers

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Two prominent Democratic U.S. senators, both possible presidential hopefuls, addressed a gathering of pastors this week, pairing religion with politics in an unusually direct appeal to left-leaning Christians.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker spoke Tuesday (May 22) at the Festival of Homiletics, a conference, founded in 1992, that gathers clergy from primarily white, mainline Protestant traditions to discuss and engage in the art of preaching, also called homiletics.

It was the first time that two politicians of Warren's and Booker's stature had appeared at the event. Celebrity speakers at the festival normally come in the form of popular ministers, such as the Rev. Rob Lee, a North Carolina pastor and descendant of Confederate Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee whose denunciation of racist violence made a splash at last year's MTV Video Music Awards.

But the theme of this year’s festival is "Preaching and Politics,” and those who assembled at Washington's Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church were treated to a rare hybrid of a campaign rally and a preaching competition.

The packed pews suggested mainline preachers are in search of pointers for how to tackle political morality and justice in the Trump era from the pulpit.

“Oftentimes we’re told in many of our denominations, ‘Don’t touch politics in your pulpit,'" said the Rev. Valerie Steele, of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Stillwater, Okla. "But I think we’re called to help people connect the head and the heart.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) addresses Festival of Homiletics attendees at Metropolitan AME Church on May 22, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

For Warren and Booker, conscious that their politics often overlap with a strain of social-justice preaching popular in mainline Protestantism, the conference offered an opportunity to connect liberal faith with potential votes.

Booker in particular has been no stranger to faith gatherings of late. He was the keynote speaker at the National Baptist Conference USA meeting in January and demonstrated last year with the Rev. William Barber II and others on the religious left against GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Booker's comfort with God talk was evident at Metropolitan AME as he paced back and forth in front of the crowd for roughly 45 minutes, speaking without notes.

“I have a saying: Before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people around you,” he said. “I think faith demands a humility, not just before God, but really before others.”

Booker then pivoted to a discussion of various policy issues such as mass incarceration, poverty, paid family leave and environmental degradation.

“These are not political issues. These are moral issues,” he said, over shouts of "amen." He later added: “This is a moral moment in America, where self-inflicted wounds are costing us not just humanity. … They’re costing us resources. And a lot of it stems from how we look at each other.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) speaks to the Festival of Homiletics on May 22, 2018, at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Booker bemoaned the political divisions in the country, recounting criticism he received from fellow Democrats when he publicly hugged fellow Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after learning of McCain's cancer diagnosis.

“Have we got to the point where we’re demonizing God’s creation?” he said, his voice rising.

After championing respect for all faiths earlier in his speech, Booker, who attends a Baptist church, made clear he is a Christian. Even if members of Congress have come to see their political adversaries as enemies, he asked, "Are we making the sin (of) violating the dictates of our faith to 'love thine enemy'?”

As he closed, Booker called those in attendance to action, saying, “Stay faithful, because we have come this far by faith.”

Warren's address was half as long as Booker's, but no less religious in tone — an unexpected turn for the Massachusetts senator, who has been less vocal than Booker about her faith. When she pulled out a King James Bible to read from Matthew 25, good-natured groans went up from an audience that typically uses Bible translations that are approximately 300 years more recent.

"I'm old-school," joked Warren, who was raised Methodist.

Standing in the pulpit and sometimes waving her Bible as she spoke, the former Harvard Law School professor began by recalling how she had once been cajoled into teaching a fifth-grade Sunday school class. She was floored by a child named Jesse who answered a question about what people owe to each other by saying, “Everybody gets a turn.”

“What Jesse was saying, at least to me, is that there is God in every one of us,” she said. “Whether we are rich or poor, black or white, tall or short, young or old, gay or straight, male or female, there is God in every one of us.”

This concept is echoed in her politics, she said. “I fight to uplift and protect the divine in every single person.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during the Festival of Homiletics on May 22, 2018, at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Warren called the surge of activism after President Trump's election — citing the Women's March, protests against the travel ban on primarily Muslim countries and the championing of undocumented immigrants and gun control — “righteous fights.”

That led to a fiery chant, joined by the enthusiastic crowd: “Our fight is a righteous fight!”

The audience's response to both speeches was overwhelmingly positive. “(Both) were a challenge to us pastors,” said Steele. “I’m not just called to preach social justice — I’m called to act.”

The assembled preachers seemed to welcome the notion that their conference had been turned into something akin to a hustings for a day. Introducing Booker, the Rev. David Howell, the Presbyterian minister who founded the conference, said, “I don’t hope to move to New Jersey, but I do hope to vote for you someday, if you catch my drift.”

Certainly, there was no shortage of liberal-leaning voices among the lineup of homilists scheduled to speak. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, defended President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage in 2012; Diana Butler Bass, an author and theologian, has been a vocal critic of Trump; the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, has been an outspoken supporter of gun control legislation.

But even if nobody was converted by the senators' speeches, attendees said there was still a lot to learn from the encounter. And looking ahead at 2020, Booker may have gleaned something from Warren's performance: His potential opponent, a force in a debate, can preach, too.


  1. Yep – you know its election season when you have democrat politicians in a church wearing their “faith” on their sleeve. Hopefully both got in character like Hillary used to do – one of her many skills was the ability to change her dialect – New Yorker one moment, Southern Baptist the next.
    Its good to see that both Warren and Booker preached social justice for the unborn – NOT.

  2. Oh my my. Look at those big-name Liberal Democrats just a-havin’ themselves an outright Preachin’ Party right there in the middle of the fancy church-house! Happily mixing religion and politics out loud, and loving it.

    And how about that Booker fellow, “bemoaning the political divisions in this country” after the stunt HE tried to pull on Secretary of State Pompeo!! Does he think Christians have forgotten so quickly? Gotta love that Sen. Booker

    Anyway, this was a good RNS article, a break from the usual routine. Keep ’em coming!

  3. Warren prayed Great Spirit would bring DNC heap big pile of wampum.

  4. Counting down to the predictable “Liberal Christians don’t exist”…..

    We’ll wait and see what Booker and Warren have to say to the rest of us.

  5. Too late – more like liberal hypocrites.

  6. I am a pastor of one of these mainline protestant denominations. I have attended the Festival of Homiletics in the past. Why would you have a conference about Politics and Preaching in Washington DC and not include a balanced line-up of politicians? In a town of politicians, they couldn’t find even one from the “right” to come and speak. Not one. But they are a group that appreciates “diversity.” They laud diversity of color, diversity of sexual orientation, but not diversity of thought or diversity of politics. It used to be we could agree that both those on the right and those on the left both loved the country and the people in it and just disagreed about the best things to do to make life “good” for people in this country. That is no longer the case. Following the election of Trump, I watched with horror as mainline pastors called him names, called people who voted for him names, told people who voted for him that they were going to hell and were deplorable and perhaps most sadly coming from other pastors, “irredeemable.” If they truly believe that, they are in the WRONG profession. I no longer feel my political beliefs are welcome among other clergy. If the clergy attending this conference are really comfortable with politics in preaching, will they be accepting if I stand up and preach about the importance of fathers in the lives of children, the importance of respecting both other individuals and our country enough to follow laws that are meant for good social order and so that there is fairness for all. Will they be ok if I preach about how people have the right to protect themselves against violence perpetrated by others and that doesn’t make them bad people. I doubt it. And we wonder why people are fleeing mainline denominations. People do NOT want to be told by liberal elites WHAT to think. People want their pastors to preach the Gospel of Jesus – loving others, respecting others, repenting in the face of bad behavior, forgiveness. These are lessons both sides can apply to their lives and learn from. These are lessons that apply to both liberals and conservatives. When you vilify the “other side” you only continue to make the divide in our congregations and our communities larger. I’m ashamed that so many pastors do not understand this basic concept and continue to berate those who think and view the world differently than they do. That’s arrogance not humility. And it’s a very unattractive quality in people preaching the Gospel. The fact that leaders in the church planned this conference and did not see one thing wrong with only representing one side of the aisle is, in itself, evidence of this arrogance. I mean how could anyone POSSIBLY not be a democrat in their circle of friends? Imagine the horror! They have effectively created an echo chamber experience where they can puff one another up, pat each other on the back, and affirm their own viewpoints without having them challenged. Then they can go back home and look down on the little people in their congregations who “just don’t get” their enlightened perspective. I think I’ll pass and just stay home and love my people – all of them, no matter what color they are, no matter how they identify and NO MATTER what politics they profess. I think that’s what Jesus would call me to do. If I thought spouting politics would accomplish this goal more than preaching the Gospel, I would run for office not be a pastor.

  7. And as we all know, a faith that isn’t obsessed with hating gays and Muslims and abortion isn’t “really” a faith at all… LOL

  8. Don’t worry, they’ll be screaming “separation of church and state” in a few months. Dirty politicians.

  9. “For Warren and Booker, conscious that their politics often overlap with a strain of social-justice preaching popular in mainline Protestantism, the conference offered an opportunity to connect liberal faith with potential votes.”

    Gee, ya think?

    When has “social-justice preaching popular in mainline Protestantism,” NOT been popular with liberal Democrat voters? Corey Booker and “Pocahantas” Warren would serve their presidential campaigns better if they stuck to their liberal politics and trusted the intelligence and good judgment of people–liberal and conservative–to make any spiritual connections they choose to make. When anyone tries to marry politics with religion, the spiritual piece always suffers.

    If Christ were to return, He would probably join Shakespeare in saying, “a pox on both their houses!”

  10. . . . and all Great Spirit sent was more fresh liberal Democrat buffalo dung!

  11. I would think that all Christian preachers, of the left or right, would spend a few minutes every Sunday speaking of the importance of telling the objective truth and speaking of love of neighbor, both so essential to living honestly and openly as Jesus would have us live. We are getting so used to lies and so used to treating neighbors as unwanted, that we are losing any sense of being a Christian nation.

  12. Cheap, easy, fake religion: Jesus says the government should take away rich people’s money and give it to my friends

    Real religion: Jesus says don’t do wrong dirty bad things

    Guess which one liberals like better?

  13. Real Christianity: Do the hard work of caring for the poor, sick, homeless, and disadvantaged. Love everyone, including your enemies.

    Cheap and easy Christianity: Do nothing, because you’re perfect and everyone else is sinful. Hate the gays, the Muslims, and anyone who doesn’t look like you.

    Guess which one never read the Bible they claim to follow? Right-wingers really are despicable failures at life.

  14. The challenge for Christians is to allow our political views to be converted by the Gospel, and that’s hard. It requires continuous reflection and a commitment to ongoing personal moral inventory.

    The far easier path — and the one too many follow — is to give in to the temptation to filter the Gospel through their politics. But, in every age, the Gospel transcends mundane politics. Always has, always will.

    There’s plenty in the Bible to challenge both liberals and conservatives. Whenever anyone suggests that their political ideology reflects true Christian values and the other side’s doesn’t, a red flag should go up. It’s never that simplistic.

  15. I will agree that as christians we are to love and respect everyone regardless of politics. This however, with Warren, is just a stunt IMHO, to garner votes. Why?, because she nor many other progressives haven’t discussed in the past or recent past anything christians or other faiths find important beyond the SJW mentality.

    While I do believe in social justice, the left has fallen off the cliff in many respects and have lost many voters including myself in the process. While I still support many liberal policies, they will not get my vote until they really start to pay attention to middle America again.

  16. Of course they will. If there has ever been ANY lesson demonstrated conclusively by history, it is this: Freedom of religion is only preserved by freedom from religion.

  17. In the 60s, it was the mainline churches, and the Catholic Church, to some extent, that fought for Civil Rights. It is only appropriate that those same Churches now wake up to do the work of the Gospel — teaching us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

  18. My political views are formed by the Gospel. I don’t always live up to everything, and there is no one candidate that is ever perfect, but human beings never are.

    Quite frankly, I don’t know how people who repeatedly vote to cut funding for children and families and schools, who gutted the educational programs in prisons (prisons are also supposed to reform, after all), who cut funds for Legal Aid, who have assiduously cut back on the rights of poor people — all of that, it’s hard for me to see how they are following Jesus teaching of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

  19. The point is that they’re hypocrites. They’re appealing to religious people by acting like their political stance is somehow mixed with religion when it is not. It’s dirty ball.

  20. You think that is not what Trumpism is? Good grief, man, they used the Evangelicals to kill the tax code. As for Warren and Booker, at least they will tell you the truth on all the economic issues. That’s real religion compared to what you now see taking place.

  21. Okay cool. But the article isn’t about Donald Trump, it’s about Warren and Booker. And they’re dirty politicians looking for votes and saying a lot that they don’t mean and putting on a costume that isn’t theirs. No one said the other side doesn’t do the same. Chill and get over yourself.

  22. I was perfectly chilled until you came along to pester me. Once upon a time there were millions of people in mainline churches who saw religion as requiring honesty in political talk. There is nothing wrong with Warren and Booker talking to them from their spiritual perspective. Religion ain’t all Jerry Falwell and that Jeffress guy from Dallas, after all.

  23. Oh I pestered you? Well I wouldn’t want to do that YOUR MAJESTY. You replied to me. Again I say, get over yourself. Your ego is at a 12, I need you at 4. Try really hard for me, okay?

  24. I agreed with you, dude. You are correct that Warren and Booker will be calling for separation of church and state——AND—–that they will be making that appeal to church people (who have sense).

  25. “Who have sense,” you say. Because no one that disagrees with you has any sense. Your perfection is overwhelming to us mere mortals.

  26. People who don’t know why we need separation of church and state really don’t have much sense. What’s new about that? We’re not Iran. We used to know how we keep from being crazy like that. It’s done by being a secular state. We’ve been that way your whole life.

  27. I mean wow. You’re so right. Now just bend your knees a little bit, take a deep breath, and slowly ease your head out of your ass as you exhale. Don’t do it too quickly or you’ll hurt yourself.

  28. I actually am wowing you. That’s why you’re mad.

  29. Oh dude. You’ve never been so wrong. You’re as conceited as I thought. ???

  30. Perhaps. And correct too. Now, I’m going to do you, your wife, your kids and your friends a favor by blocking you from my view. That way, you can calm down and find something else to do, as I won’t be seeing any more of the steam blowing out your ears. Toodle-doo, Brody.

  31. Aaaaaaaahahahahahaha. Imagine being this full of yourself. No one cares what you think, man. Especially not enough to get mad at. This was hysterical.

  32. Jack…I was there for all of it and you imply we were being used by the Senators for political gain. A “campaign rally”? I experiened two Christians who grew up in the church and are representing the people to fight for humane policies in every corner of America. They were sincere and passionate about the work they are doing and why. And others were invited but did not come. I was deeply moved and inspired and I am not naive. They challenged us to use our faith to affect change wherever we are, for we had pastors from Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and Iceland. Thanks for the coverage but really, “celebrity speakers” “left-leaning” “campaign rally” “preaching competition”? You do us all a disservice with those labels.

    I attend this Festival (4 yrs in a row) to hear a word from God, participate in excellent worship and commune with colleagues of all stripes. On all three fronts, they delivered! And the silent processional to the White House was a blessed bonus!

  33. Christ only lives in His. If you are not born again, you are not a person with Christ indwelling them. There is no relationship between darkness and light.

  34. You say that like there’s a contradiction. There isn’t.

  35. Well, as a Christian, I think it is rather important that young people raised in this nation could be sent “back” to a country they may have been born in but that they do not know. I think it is important that millions are dying from opioids and our government takes zero action against the makers/distributors of drugs who are making millions on the death of all these people. I think it is important that millions will lose access to health care and our government doesn’t give a fig. I think it is important that we deal respectfully and honestly with one another and we have a President who habitually lies, distorts, misleads, bullies, and defends the indefensible xenophobic, racists, bigoted pigs of the Alt-right.

    I am middle America. I want issues dealt with. And the Republicans have become absolutely stuck by the far, far, right controlling what they can do. Ryan and McConnell have sold out this nation to appeal to the extremists in their own midst so they can have power. The trouble is, they don’t do fail to act on so many issues that majorities of people of this country want handled. I am ready for compromises on abortion and guns and I want the government to deal with a health care/pharma industry that has gone crazy. I don’t care nearly as much about “religious freedom” as I do about equal treatment of people in the public square and in government licensed programs.

    I am not in a minority. Polls show that majorities want abortion to remain legal, they want action on guns, they want DACA kids protected. That is Middle America and it is Christian.

  36. There clearly is. They pump Bibles during an election cycle. When it’s politically expedient.

  37. If Pocahantas really believes she will harvest any NEW voters from the ranks of mainline Protestant churches, who’re already safely in the liberal Democrat camp, she has been smoking ‘way too much peyote! Those churches have been in decline for several decades now, and as the grey-and-blue hairs keep dying off, they aren’t being replaced by Gen-Xers and millinnials, who tend to be drawn to the evangelical Christian churches. They tend to be independent voters who’re comfortable voting their conscience on abortion and other moral-political issues, and few of them vote for the Democrat positions.

    Is there anyone out there who hasn’t been asleep for the past three elections, who doesn’t know that?!

  38. Otto, see my fresh comment about Pocahantas smoking ‘way too much peyote above!

Leave a Comment