(AP) — Chris Coons is cut from the same cloth as Joe Biden in many ways: He occupies the same Senate seat from Delaware that Biden held for 36 years, is a Democrat known for seeking bipartisan collaboration where possible and is open about his faith’s influence on his life.
When Coons speaks to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday before Biden’s speech accepting the party’s presidential nomination, his remarks will focus on faith — attesting in highly personal fashion to his longtime friend’s belief in God. The theme and timing of Coons’ speech on the pandemic-altered convention schedule underscore Democrats’ interest in engaging with religious voters on the basis of shared values with Biden.
“For Joe, faith isn’t a prop or a political tool,” Coons is set to say, according to prepared remarks shared with The Associated Press ahead of time. “Joe knows the power of prayer, and I’ve seen him in moments of joy and triumph, of loss and despair, turn to God for strength.”
That message comes as President Donald Trump tries to turn voters of faith away from Democrats by casting them as opponents of religion, lobbing baseless claims earlier this month that Biden would “hurt the Bible” and is “against God.”
The rebuttal that Coons is delivering on Thursday comes from anything but a hyper-partisan messenger.
In fact, Coons laid a hand on the president in prayer in 2017 and 2019 while serving as co-chair of the bipartisan National Prayer Breakfast, despite voicing what he described as his “intense disagreement” with Trump’s ban on travel from several majority-Muslim nations.
“I still pray for President Trump,” Coons, 56, told AP on Wednesday. “That’s in some ways because we’re called to, regardless of who our leaders are.”
Coons added of Trump that while “I’m done believing that any amount of human persuasion or engagement can change the trajectory of his heart,” belief in the divine encompasses “the possibility of anyone changing.”
A lifelong Presbyterian, Coons attended Yale Divinity School and has held the lay church leadership position of ordained elder. He is a presence at both of the Senate’s two regular prayer gatherings, where Republicans and Democrats commune in spiritual fellowship apart from the partisan battles of the day.
Coons is also one of the more vocal Democrats when it comes to coaxing fellow party members to be more open about faith. It’s a task that hasn’t always come easily, particularly after decades of Republican rhetoric about religion’s place in policymaking defining the discussion on more GOP-friendly terms. But Coons is optimistic about Biden’s ability to reshape such issues in a way that Democrats can connect to their spiritual beliefs.
Democrats have been quiet for too long about the connection between faith and politics in part because they struggle with how to acknowledge “people of all faiths and people of no particular religion,” Coons said.
“And how to frame (our) agenda … as being inspired by faith,” he added. “Joe Biden, almost uniquely, brings that into sharp focus.”
Coons’ speech will tie the Roman Catholic former vice president’s faith to his hopes for the future, envisioning “a world with less suffering and more justice, where we’re better stewards of creation, where we have a more just immigration policy and where we call out and confront the original sins of this nation, the sins of slavery and racism.”
Coons is also set to elevate people without a religious affiliation as a high priority for the nominee: Biden will “be a president for Americans of all faiths, as well as people of conscience who practice no particular faith.”
It comes on the last night of a Democratic convention that already has featured multiple nods to religious conviction, from Jill Biden declaring her husband’s faith “unshakable” to vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris invoking the biblical teaching to “walk by faith, and not by sight.” That inclusion of religion and its moral underpinnings point to how easily the intermingling of faith and policy has come to Biden, who wore rosary beads that belonged to his late son Beau for years after his death from brain cancer.
Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, has invested in outreach to religious voting blocs — including sectors of a white evangelical community that has long been a core part of Trump’s base. Biden’s faith engagement director, Josh Dickson, is a former Republican who’s outspoken about his evangelical beliefs.
Further outreach has taken place away from TV networks carrying the convention. Coons noted that the party’s interfaith caucus heard from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a practicing Muslim, and California Rep. Jared Huffman, who identifies as a humanist, in addition to himself and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Christian.
When it comes to speaking for Biden about faith, though, Coons will have the most prominent forum.
“You’ll hear a lot about his observations, as a person of faith, about what makes Joe Biden tick,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Catholic who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016. “These are things that America really should know.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.