Left-leaning Luther Seminary annually hosts a Festival of Homiletics devoted to equipping ministers with the tools to take care of their congregations and improve their messages. This year’s theme was “Preaching and Politics” and two of the most prominent speakers were United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Corey Booker (D-NJ). Speaking on May 22nd to approximately 1,800 conference attendees from across the country, both politicians gave impassioned accounts of why Christians have a moral obligation to support Democratic policy. At times, their speeches more closely resembled stump speeches from the campaign trail, rather than sermons. Their messages were invariably political and any kind of theological message was co-opted to lend moral weight to their policy agendas.
Sen. Booker advocated for policies like raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, and free college. These are all easy ways for citizens to pass off the responsibility for caring for others onto the federal government and to trust it to work. Booker pushes these policies as moral because they help some people and it is easy to fit them into the broad imperatives of helping others, but these very political decisions are far beyond the scope of religious dictates. They require depriving other people of their liberties and property and cannot be justified only because they make you feel like you are doing some good.
Booker made a solid point when he said that “Christianity demands constant work to be a person developing their faith.” But the shallowness of his statements was shown when he went on to say that this could just as well apply to the faith of an “atheist, Bahai, or Jain.” His overall message could have come straight from a “Coexist” bumper sticker” and he did little to connect Christian teachings to the moral imperatives for his policy.
The U.S. Senator from New Jersey barely talked about any uniquely Christian message and at times seemed to be reciting speeches from the campaign trail such as the line “you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and women” which echoed a similar line from his speech to the DNC. Booker talked extensively about the need for prison reform even though within days of this speech, Booker was urging his fellow Democrats to oppose President Trump’s push for prison reform. At times his populist rhetoric sounded almost Trumpian as he complained about the loss of heavy industry jobs, lamented the departure from traditional moral values, and warned about the looming threat of China.
Booker then ironically described the political divide in America, saying that “just a generation ago, Democrats and Republicans were united in politics.” While the political divide he complains about is nothing new, it is speeches like these that add to the divide. Booker was speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters. He mentioned how much he missed Obama to loud cheers. With that support, it was uncontroversial for him to claim that Christian values lead seamlessly into Democratic policy. With that same support, Sen. Warren claimed that anyone who supports lower taxes only wants to “make the rich richer.”
On the other side, Christians can see Democrats willing to hijack the Bible to push their own political agendas. For Christians, the obligations to help others are not best pursued through big government politics but instead by taking the responsibility to help others on themselves. Both Booker and Warren offered anecdotes about helping in their communities by volunteering and teaching. These are significantly better explanations of how to act charitably than the calls for liberal policy that they attempted to use the Bible to moralize.
Warren offered a spiritual sounding argument that danced around making deeper theological points. She briefly mentioned the importance of recognizing the divine in every person and the power of God’s guiding hand in dictating her actions, but her conclusion was that we are called to participate in social movements like the Women’s March.
The U.S. Senator from Massachusetts quoted Matthew Chapter 25 to discuss helping the poor and pointed out that “I believe that everyone, everyone, has value. I am determined to fight for respect of everyone’s value.” For Warren this value does not extend to the unborn, but instead means that America needs tighter gun control laws.
At the end of her speech, Warren quotes Galatians Chapter 6 verse 9 which says “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” In context, this passage contradicts the reliance on government that Warren advocates. A few verses before, Galatians 6:4-5 says “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not another. For every man shall bear his own burden.” Paul here is clearly writing about the importance of personal responsibility, it describes why self-reliance is important rather than an expectation that the government will take care of things for you.
For most Christians, the responsibility for charity falls on the individual as a member of the community. Christians, particularly Evangelical Protestants donate more money to charity than other groups, and volunteer significantly more than secular Americans. Booker talked about how we must be motivated by love to act and how we need a country of people willing to “live their faith.” This all sounds very disjointed from the Big Government politics that both senators advocate.
David Jensen is a Summer intern for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is from Newport Beach, California and is a rising senior at the College of William and Mary where he is majoring in History and Government.