Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa State Fair, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Warren, Sanders get personal with young, black Christians

August 17, 2019 - 2:16 pm

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren framed their Democratic presidential bids in personal, faith-based terms Saturday before black millennial Christians who could help determine which candidate becomes the leading progressive alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sanders, the Vermont senator whose struggles with black voters helped cost him the 2016 nomination, told the Young Leaders Conference assembly that his family history has shaped his approach to President Donald Trump's divisiveness and the rise in white nationalism in the United States.

"I'm Jewish. My family came from Poland. My father's whole family was wiped out by Hitler and his white nationalism," Sanders said at the forum led by the Black Church PAC, a political action committee formed by prominent black pastors. "We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives."

Warren, a Massachusetts senator and United Methodist, quoted her favorite Biblical passage, which features Jesus instructing his followers to provide for others, including the "least of these my brethren."

"That's about two things," Warren said. "Every single one of us has the Lord within us. .... Secondly, the Lord does not call on us to sit back. The Lord does not just call on us to have a good heart. The Lord calls on us to act."

Sanders and Warren are look for ways to narrow the gap with Biden, who remains atop primary polls partly because of his standing with older black voters. Polls suggest that younger black voters, however, are far more divided in their support among the many Democratic candidates.

Both senators connected their biblical interpretations to their calls for major changes in how government approaches everything from economic regulation and taxation to criminal justice and health care.

"This is a righteous fight," Warren said, who noted that she's taught "fifth-grade Sunday School."

Sanders, while not quoting Scripture as did Warren, declared that "the Bible, if it is about anything, is about justice." His campaign, he said, "not just defeating the most dangerous president in modern American history. We are about transforming this nation to make it work for all of us."

Black Church PAC leaders described the forums as a way for presidential candidates to reach a slice of the electorate that is often glossed over, even given the emphasis Democrats place on reaching black voters.

"Anybody who's not talking to every community, particularly within the African American community, you're running a fool's race," said the Rev. Leah Daughtry, a pastor from Washington, D.C., and member of the Democratic National Committee who co-moderated the forum.

Three other 2020 candidates — Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Obama housing chief Julian Castro and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana — attended the conference on Friday.

Mike McBride, a pastor who was Daughtry's fellow moderator, stressed that the black church and the black community as a whole are not monolithic. Democrats, he said, must reach beyond the traditional Sunday services in places such as South Carolina, the first primary state with a significant black population. "We need candidates to show up on our turf, not always asking us to show up on their turf," he said.

Daughtry said all Democratic candidates were invited, and she noted the absence of other leading candidates, including Biden, who is hosting fundraisers in the Northeast this weekend.

"He missed an opportunity," she said, to reach "younger black voters who don't know him like older folks do."

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Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .

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