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Cory Booker: ‘I’m calling for a revival of grace in this country’

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(RNS) — As his name is mentioned among potential presidential contenders, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has put his faith at the center of his speeches and his political persona. The 49-year-old Democrat sat down with Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins in early October at the senator’s Washington, D.C., office to talk about religion, politics and the intersection of the two. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Jack Jenkins: You were raised in an African Methodist Episcopal church and now you go to a Baptist church. How did you get from where you grew up to now with your faith?

Sen. Cory Booker: I was raised within a very religious family, in a small church in Closter, N.J., very much in the black church tradition. A lot of my life has been governed by the values from my faith. I think that faith without works is dead, and it’s really at the center of what motivates me on a lot of the major decisions I’ve made in my life.

JJ: How does that faith animate your politics?

CB: The life of Jesus is very impactful to me and very important to me. He lived a life committed to dealing with issues of the poor and the sick. The folks that other folks disregard, disrespect or often oppress. He lived this life of radical love that is a standard that I fail to reach every single day, but that really motivates me in what I do.

I wanted to live in a community where there was that struggle going on. I love what the pope said to his pastors: Go out and live amongst your flock, or “smell like your flock,” I think, was the quote.

Look, I’m not afraid to talk about my faith. In fact, I just came from a hearing where I got in a back-and-forth with a judge about religion.

JJ: Really?

CB: I asked him about LGBTQ issues in that context and the decision he made to deny same-sex marriage.

JJ: What would you say to those who say you cannot possibly be LGBT-inclusive and a Christian?

CB: Well, remember, people have been using the Bible to justify subjugation for generations. People used the Bible to subjugate women and deny them the right the vote. People used the Bible to justify slavery. People used the Bible to justify Jim Crow.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in his Washington office on Oct.17, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

I know that history coming from, again, the sort of liberation theology of the black church — this idea that we’re all created equal, that we’re all equal in God’s eyes. And the LGBTQ community, to me, are my brothers and sisters. They’re children of God. We still live in a country where in the majority of states you can get fired from your job just because you’re gay and you have no legal recourse. This, to me, is not an affirmation of dignity.

We are not a theocracy. We are not a monarchy. … There is a residue of their bigotry in (our founding) documents. The Native Americans are referred to as savages in the Declaration of Independence. Women aren’t referred to at all. African-Americans, slaves, were counted as fractions of human beings.

But the reality is the founders were geniuses, in the sense of really putting into our governing documents a kind of radical love and appreciation that everyone has dignity. That we’re all created equal. Those words have influenced democracies ever since — it’s pretty powerful.

And I think Jesus had this incredible democratizing love.

JJ: You appear at “religious left” protests and events, more so than most other lawmakers. You spoke a few years ago at the Sojourners summit and appeared last year at a protest in support of Obamacare with the Rev. William Barber. Even during the recent Supreme Court confirmation debate you introduced the Mormon women’s letter calling for an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh into the record. You lifted up those events in a big way.

CB: Well, first and foremost, I don’t know how many speeches of mine you can listen to and not have me bring up faith. I think the Democrats make the mistake often of ceding that territory to Republicans of faith.

I find kinship with people I find inspiration from — people I would love to be more like. I was just in Iowa and told the story of going to my grandmother’s church. She grew up in Des Moines, and that Christian community saw her dignity and gave her money to go off to college, where she met my grandfather.

Rev. Barber is powerful. To me, his charisma speaks, in an instructive way, towards my heart and my being. He is somebody who believes that being poor is not a sin or that poverty is a sin.

And I think I have a natural affinity for religious people, and not just Christians. I have one very Orthodox Jewish friend of mine who gave up his very fancy, high-paying job, to go serve poor people. People like that, to me, are heroic.

When I get up in the morning, I meditate. Actually, I pray on my knees, and then I meditate. And I love when I find that kinship which I find with lots of different people of faith. But I’ve tweeted this out before: Something like how I prefer to hang out with nice, kind atheists than mean Christians any day. Because I think that some of the most righteous souls I’ve ever met, that I imagine God has a place in heaven for, are people that don’t believe in God but live every day in accordance to the precepts that I try to live up to.

JJ: About that: The Democratic Party is now made up of some of the most and least religious people in the country, in terms of worship attendance.

CB: (Laughs.) I never thought of it that way.

JJ: How do you square that circle, between those who may not be comfortable hearing faith from a podium and those who yearn for it?

CB: I think God is love. I think God is justice. I think the ideals of this country are in line with my faith. I don’t need to talk about religion to talk about those ideals that all Americans hold dear.

When I’m in Iowa just now calling for a revival — using a religious term — I’m calling for a revival of grace in this country. I speak very passionately for the need to love each other. I used this line in a hearing just now: “Patriotism is love of country, and you can’t love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”

We preach a gospel in this country every day, a civic gospel. We swear an oath when we put our hand over our heart and pledge to these ideals of liberty and justice for all, in the same way I do on my knees when I say, “Our Father.” We can say all the words we want, but this civic gospel that we all share … we’re not living up to it yet.

Those words we say when we pledge allegiance to the flag are aspirational. When we say, “We the people,” “E pluribus unum,” it’s “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

That is grace. And right now I see moral vandalism going on from the highest office in the land.

So every speech I give, I will not yield from talking about that revival of civic grace. Talking about revival of the civic gospels. Talking about the need to love one another.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

21 Comments

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  • Grace in America is gone. Dead. Buried. Finished. It died the day Donald Trump was elected president. Now we have a president who openly encourages violence at his Nuremberg rallies and his angry mobs eagerly respond with all manner of graceless behavior and now, even by sending out pipe bombs to all the main Democratic figures he’s vilified since being in office. So say a prayer or two for grace in America. She’s gone and she’s not coming back. Once the genie of hate has been unleashed it cannot be put back in the bottle, except perhaps by some miracle. Maybe people should pray for that.

  • Now we’re talking.

    He’s got my vote.

    May all born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, vote likewise for U.S. President Cory Booker, come November 2020.

    Why?

    So there’ll be no more born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, engaged in politics, politiking, power-mongering & Deep-Statesmanship.

    They’ll just be the unworldly church, engaging themselves in worship, fellowship & evangelism – and leaving Babylon I mean America & the rest of the world for God & Jesus to judge. Like apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:13: “Those who are outside, God judges.”

    In the meantime:

    Thumbs up for this Best Jack Jenkins’ Article EVER!

  • Read my comment in the other article about Cory Booker and you’ll do an abrupt about-face in your feelings toward him.

  • I’m with you on this, brother, for saying, “I’d rather have someone who can win an election. A single gay black man can’t win a national election in America now, religious or not. He just can’t. Democrats needs someone who can win, and that’s the bottom line, at least for me.”

    1st off, let me know if I can be of as assist in rallying fellow born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, to vote for “a single gay black man”, come the next U.S. Presidential Election.

    2nd, you’re right about a winning-potential Democratic candidate. Forget about that All-Toothy Socialist Democratic What’s Her Name. I want my favorite Dem to run against Trump:

    Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, Democratic Party.

  • You seem to be one of the main instigators. Never at a loss to slam the president, Christians, conservatives or others that disagree with your gay-centric view of the world.
    I give you credit, you are able to weave your passive aggressiveness against all things conservative like a maestro.

  • Nope. Cory Booker ain’t the one for that sort of revival.

    If (as a nominee for US ambassadorship or federal judgeship) you aren’t a supporter of gay marriage, Cory Booker has NO grace to offer you, be it “civic” or otherwise. Cory Booker will only offer you a permanent, automatic, negative-vote grudge (on behalf of his theological employer, Gay Goliath.)

  • It would be nice if religion were left out of politics. Religion is divisive in a special way: once you bring in God, and one’s always peculiar interpretation of God, you cannot compromise because God is absolute. Stick to the human, it offers a better way to make peace and get on with who has the best solutions to problems.

  • You really need to find a new and different obsession in life. There is something amiss in the heads of people who cannot think or talk about anything but disdain for the gays.

  • Sorry, but some of us actually pay attention to what Senate Judiciary Committee members (whether they’re gay or straight) say & do during the assorted confirmation hearings.

    (Especially during this extremely polarized Dem-GOP climate.)

  • Spartacus didn’t show much grace or even much respect for the commandment to not bear false witness against one’s neighbor with the judicial hearings for the Supreme Court. Zero credibility here.

  • I’m sure the gay activists will totally appreciate your painting their gay-marriage champion Cory Booker with Ted Haggard’s brush.

    I’ll just let you & them hash it out, eh?

  • The dreaded Pee Wee Herman Defense. “I know you are, but what am I????”

    Argh!!!!
    [Spuddie crumbles to dust]

  • Grace is not achieved or enhanced by telling would-be oppressors that it is okay to oppress any kinds of others. OF COURSE Cory will stand with gay rights, alongside black rights, brown rights, women’s rights, kids’ rights and poor people’s rights. Those of us who believe in human rights CANNOT entertain carveouts of certain segments (such as LGBT people, for instance). The only exceptions we permit ourselves to make are to oppose those who are bent on limiting the rights of others to well-being and pursuit of happiness. This is why we obviously support exercising control over criminals or bullies who victimize other people, support a demand that each religion mind its own (and ONLY its own) business, and oppose policies which have the effect of funneling wealth and power exclusively upward.

    You are asking Cory to support your right to have a Biblical fit about gay people. He probably is not going to do that. At least, I certainly hope he won’t.

  • “The life of Jesus is very impactful to me and very important to me. He lived a life committed to dealing with issues of the poor and the sick.” Christ came to glorify God, and to bring salvation….anything else was a bi-product of His righteousness.
    “And the LGBTQ community, to me, are my brothers and sisters. They’re children of God.”
    No, they are unrepentant sinners in need of a saviour.

    “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 New American Standard Bible
    Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:47New International Version (NIV)
    Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” 1 John 2: 4
    If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6 –
    1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
    Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3: 7
    Once they are saved, they become a new creature in Christ, the homosexuality is no longer their focus and usually fades away, and they serve Christ.

  • The only way I know that North America will get the grace back is to repent of their sins and follow Him Elag. Otherwise, we will see the end of North America

  • I thought some about that before talking to floydlee (again) on this subject, almost went there, but didn’t——mainly because taunting wild men usually doesn’t work. And, besides, that entails an implication that something was wrong with Ted about his inner feelings. What was wrong with Ted was his outward aggression.

  • Weird & Fishy, innit. Jack Jenkins, how does this make any sense to you?

    “Packages containing explosive devices were discovered Friday, one in Florida addressed to Sen. Cory Booker … The package addressed to Booker, D-N.J., was discovered at a postal facility in Opa-locka, Florida. On Thursday, investigators said they believed some of the packages may have passed through that mail sorting facility. … A spokesman for Booker declined to comment and referred all questions to law enforcement.”

    Source: Pete Williams, Jonathan Dienst, Tom Winter and Elisha Fieldstadt, “Florida man to be charged over mail bombs; Booker, Clapper latest to be sent packages: Cesar Sayoc, Jr., 56, who officials say has been previously arrested on unspecified charges, is currently in custody”, NBC News, October 26, 2018.

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