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Democrats talk faith ahead of South Carolina and Super Tuesday voting

Next few days will bring primaries and caucuses in states where 3 in 5 U.S. members of Churches of Christ reside.

Americans don’t consider Democratic presidential candidates to be particularly religious, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

But at the end of Tuesday night’s two-hour debate in Charleston, S.C., guess what?

Faith took center stage.

When CBS News co-moderator Gayle King asked each candidate to offer a personal motto, belief or favorite quote, at least three of the seven made specific religious references.

“Every day, I write a cross on my hand to remind myself to tell the truth and do what’s right, no matter what,” said Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist who touts “creation care.” An Episcopalian, he previously has explained his motivation for the daily drawing of the Jerusalem cross.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tied her motto directly to the New Testament, quoting from the King James Version: “It’s Mathew 25, and that is, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these, the least of thy brethren, ye have done it unto me.’

“For me, this is about how we treat other people and how we lift them up,” added the Massachusetts senator, who was raised Methodist.

As reported by Religion News Service’s Jack Jenkins, Warren told a group of faith leaders Wednesday morning: “I will let you in on a little secret: If you think I do all right in the debates, it’s because Rev. Culpepper prays over me before I go out.” She was referring to Miniard Culpepper, her pastor at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Boston.


Related: Elephant in the pews: Is the GOP the party of Churches of Christ?


Back at the debate, Pete Buttigieg said that while he’d never impose his religion on anybody (like Steyer, he’s an Episcopalian), Scripture guides him.

“I seek to live by the teachings that say if you would be a leader, you must first be a servant,” said Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. “And, of course, the teaching, not unique to the Christian tradition, but a big part of it, that holds that we are to treat others as we would be treated.”

Buttigieg, who is married to a man, faces a challenge in South Carolina’s Saturday primary: black Christians who may be wary of a gay candidate.

Former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t mention his Catholicism in response to King’s question. However, at a CNN town hall Wednesday night, he spoke emotionally about the “hope and purpose” his faith gives him.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar attends a congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination. The Minnesota senator “often brings up her faith when she’s discussing family struggles or conflict reduction,” The Deseret News’ Kelsey Dallas notes.

The Associated Press’ Elana Schor reports that frontrunner Bernie Sanders, the potential first Jewish president, pitches black South Carolina voters on ideas and history, not faith. The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein explains why Sanders is “a lightning rod for the Jewish community.”

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was the final candidate on the stage a week before Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses in 14 states. About three out of five U.S. members of Churches of Christ (62.5 percent) live in one of those states, which include the fellowship’s strongholds of Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, “is a more traditional Jew, and as a New York politician, where Jews are a key constituency, he has a long record of supporting Jewish causes,” Yonat Shimron of RNS points out.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].


“Weekend Plug-in,”  featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced in partnership with Religion Unplugged.

Filed under: 2020 presidential race Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Democratic candidates Democrats Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Inside Story Joe Biden Mike Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg President Donald Trump President Trump Tom Steyer Top Stories Trump Weekend Plug-In

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