The fight over faith in politics: Which faith? Whose values?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a Colorado church early this summer, one of that state’s Republican representatives, House member Lauren Boebert, spoke, as she always does, with definitive conviction: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. … I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.”

While many would and have disagreed, pointing to that document’s First Amendment — which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — Boebert was speaking for many Americans for whom that separating line has always been, if not invisible, at least fuzzy.

Boebert remains strong in her belief that faith and politics are inextricably entwined, as evidenced by brief, fiery remarks on Friday at the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Salt & Light Conference in Charlotte. There were warnings (“how far have we come when the word of God is not a part of our regular speech?”), bragging (“I am a professional RINO hunter,” when recounting her defeat of a longtime incumbent) and a prescription (“we need men and women of God to rise up”). In her words, she is someone who has been called by God, who “told me to go forward.”

At the gathering, which drew, according to organizers, about 1,500 over its two days, there was much talk of God, rivaled only by the many references to fighting and marching into battle, with the very future of America at stake. Though prayer was the primary weapon on display, and a voter registration table showing the way, there was also a raffle for a 17.76 LVOA rifle, only 500 tickets available, $20 each, six for $100.

America has heard similar exhortations before, including from the former head of the Christian Coalition, the founder of the national Faith & Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed. Despite Reed’s tight relationship with Republican Party politics — as senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in both 2000 and 2004, onetime chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, a GOP candidate himself, and more — the ambassador for the North Carolina organization insists his group is independent.

Paul Brintley, a North Carolina pastor who leads on minority engagement, told me, “Our forefathers made choices in laws from a foundation of the Bible” and “we don’t want to lose our saltiness” in continuing that charge, hence the “salt” in the conference name. Jesse Hailey, a Baptist pastor from Elk Point, S.D., said he, too, longed for a country that elevated biblical traditions, and he said he was very pleased with the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

But, “we don’t endorse candidates; we just educate people,” said Jason Williams, the executive director of the N.C. Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Was that a wink?

It was hard to miss the issue-oriented voter guides or the theme of the vendors’ room with tables for the Patriotic Students of America, which promotes clubs and believes “today’s education system has growing anti-American sentiments,” and Moms for Liberty, which has led the charge against what it labels critical race theory but in practice seems to be about banning books on LGBTQ families, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges integrating New Orleans schools, and girls who aspire to a career in tech.

Valerie Miller, 40, a member of the Cabarrus County Republican Party executive committee, touted “Blexit” — Black Americans leaving the Democratic Party — and her story of finding a home in the GOP. You could also learn about Patriot Mobile, advertising itself as “America’s Only Christian, conservative wireless provider,” and pick up a “Let’s Go Brandon” sticker.

All the while, a who’s who of conservative politicians, media stars and firebrands took the stage.

When it comes to what faith in action — political action — should look like, opinions have always varied in stark ways. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” after all, was a generous yet robust rebuke to fellow faith leaders who urged patience not action in pursuit of justice. Not even the Scripture they all preached could settle the argument.

It’s no different today, with people of faith preaching far different versions of how God’s vision is and should be reflected in the country’s policies. In Washington, D.C., last week, a diverse group of national, state and local faith leaders prioritized voting rights, the living wage and the lack of health care as they joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in a briefing to urge Congress to act on issues that affect millions of vulnerable Americans.

“We’re in a moral crisis. Fifty million people are going to experience some sort of voter suppression because we’ve not restored the Voting Rights Act and passed the original John Lewis bill that the guy who amended the original John Lewis bill didn’t vote for it himself,” said co-chair William J. Barber II, who is also president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, in remarks I watched on video. “And 50 million people will experience continual poverty because we’ve not raised the minimum wage in 13 years. Thirteen years.”

CB Bowman: Courage to Leap and Lead (Part 2)

This is part one of a two-part episode. Tune in next week for part 2 with the wonderful Mary C. Curtis.

Mary C. Curtis, a columnist at Roll Call, is an award-winning journalist and educator based in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C. She has contributed to NBC News, NPR, The Washington Post, The Root, ESPN’s The Undefeated, and talks politics on WCCB-TV and NPR-affiliate WFAE in Charlotte. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, the Baltimore Sun, and the Associated Press, and was a national correspondent for AOL’s Politics Daily.

Curtis is a Senior Leader with The OpEd Project, at Yale University, Cornell University, and the Ford Foundation, and at the Aspen New Voices Fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Kiplinger Fellow, in social media, at Ohio State.

Mary was chosen to be included in The HistoryMakers, the single largest archival collection of its kind in the world designed to promote and celebrate the successes and to document movements, events, and organizations that are important to the African American community and to American society; it is available digitally and permanently archived in the Library of Congress.

Her honors include Clarion Awards from the Association for Women in Communications, awards from the National Headliners and the Society of Professional Journalists, three first-place awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Thomas Wolfe Award for an examination of Confederate heritage groups. Curtis has contributed to several books, including an essay in “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.”

CB Bowman: Courage to Leap and Lead

This is part one of a two-part episode. Tune in next week for part 2 with the wonderful Mary C. Curtis.

Mary C. Curtis, a columnist at Roll Call, is an award-winning journalist and educator based in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C. She has contributed to NBC News, NPR, The Washington Post, The Root, ESPN’s The Undefeated, and talks politics on WCCB-TV and NPR-affiliate WFAE in Charlotte. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, the Baltimore Sun, and the Associated Press, and was a national correspondent for AOL’s Politics Daily.

Curtis is a Senior Leader with The OpEd Project, at Yale University, Cornell University, and the Ford Foundation, and at the Aspen New Voices Fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Kiplinger Fellow, in social media, at Ohio State.

Mary was chosen to be included in The HistoryMakers, the single largest archival collection of its kind in the world designed to promote and celebrate the successes and to document movements, events, and organizations that are important to the African American community and to American society; it is available digitally and permanently archived in the Library of Congress.

Her honors include Clarion Awards from the Association for Women in Communications, awards from the National Headliners and the Society of Professional Journalists, three first-place awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Thomas Wolfe Award for an examination of Confederate heritage groups. Curtis has contributed to several books, including an essay in “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.”

Equal Time: Faith and politics

The late evangelist Billy Graham, known as America’s pastor, was as world famous as the presidents who sought face time with him. But after a friendship with Richard Nixon affected that image, Graham backed away from the political spotlight. His son has chosen a different path. Mary C. Curtis speaks with the Rev. Franklin Graham.

The Heat: Right-Wing U.S. Militias

The recent arrest of 13 men, some accused of plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan and planning to start a civil war, has drawn new attention to the threat posed by right-wing militias in the United States. Heavily armed militia members have shown up on the steps of the state capitol to protest the governor’s coronavirus restrictions. And some have also taken to the streets in cities across the U.S. this summer in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. All of this is generating attention from the international media. Here’s part of a report by Britain’s ITV News filed from Louisville, Kentucky.

To Discuss:

  • Mark Potok is a former Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is executive director of  North America for Quilliam International.
  • Colin Clarke is a Senior Research fellow at the Soufan Center
  • Mary C. Curtis is a columnist for “Roll Call’ and host of the “Equal Time” podcast.

To remember John Lewis, remember the real John Lewis — and his righteous fight

Many Americans, when they remember the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, reflexively turn to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, quoting selective passages about content of character. But my sister Joan, who stood under a shaded tent that day, making signs with freedom slogans for out-of-towners to raise high, had a different answer when I asked for her thoughts. Not to take anything away from King, she told me, “It wasn’t just that speech. It was all the speeches.” And what impressed her teenage self most were the words of a man who was just 23, a few years older than she was.

On that day, John Lewis was already stirring up the “good trouble” he favored when he said: “To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!”

It was a speech that, in an early draft, was a tad fiery for some elders in the movement for equality and justice. Lewis did tone it down — but not enough to lose its urgency.

Some of the tributes to Lewis, who died last week at the age of 80, emphasized his generosity of spirit, evident in his ability to forgive and embrace those who beat him into unconsciousness. But the picture is incomplete without acknowledging the impatience, the fury to make it right, that saw him through more than three dozen arrests, five after he was elected to Congress. Just as those who would have been or probably were in that majority of Americans who considered King a rabble-rouser then and revere him now, many are all too eager to recast Lewis as a secular saint who just wanted everyone to get along.

Of course, they would. It would let them off the hook.

Dateline Awards for work published, broadcast in 2019 announced online in historic first for SPJ DC Chapter

The ceremony was virtual — no big dinner at the National Press Club. But great news nonetheless: I won the SPJ DC Dateline Award for Online columns for my work at CQ/Roll Call. Announced Tuesday night.

Can church ever be separate from state at a Franklin Graham rally?

[OPINION] CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After the Rev. Billy Graham became less a counselor of presidents and more a political player, particularly in the unfortunate case of Richard Nixon, he learned a lesson. The Rev. Franklin Graham, heir to his father’s legacy, has chosen a different path, arguably becoming as well known for his politics as for his role as a spiritual leader.

Considering his remarks as he brought his “Decision America” tour to his hometown this past weekend, it’s a box Graham the younger is not exactly comfortable being placed in. But for the preacher who credited the “God factor,” in part, for Donald Trump’s 2016 win, that narrative is set. Vocal support of the president pre- and post-election exists right alongside his philanthropic and mission outreach — such as recent efforts in the Bahamas — through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse.

Before he took the stage, and as Christian musician Jeremy Camp warmed up the crowd, I asked Graham about where he stands and about the qualities he admires in Trump, who is making his own news as he battles an impeachment inquiry with increasingly rough and divisive language, on Twitter and at rallies, which is anything but Christian.

POLITICAL WRAP: Democratic Debate Preview; Franklin Graham in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – WCCB Charlotte Political Contributor Mary C. Curtis joins WCCB NEWS @ 6:30 to preview Tuesday night’s democratic presidential debate and talk about her interview with Franklin Graham, who visited Charlotte as part of his Decision America tour on Saturda

NO SURPRISE, BLACK WOMEN HAVE ALWAYS TAKEN THE LEAD

You can see the strength and resolve, as well as the beauty, in those historical portraits of Ida B. Wells, the journalist, activist and researcher whose work in the late 19th and early 20th century shed a light on the horror of lynching and so much else. Her actions, undeterred by racism and threats of violence, continued, even when support from those who should have been on her side disappeared. In that, she is connected to African-American women, who have turned to other black women, and ultimately, themselves for guidance and assistance they could depend on.