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

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

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

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…

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