NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – History shows that people of faith have influenced society and are essential to the political process, Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins told students Monday at Iona College in New Rochelle.
Harkins, director of faith outreach for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), spoke to Iona College students and faculty as part of the college’s annual spring lecture. Harkins, also pastor of the 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. said that although he represents the DNC, it is important for all people of faith to make up their own minds on who are the best candidates.
“Some say that it is almost wrong for religious people to think thoughts that are political,” Harkins said. “Though it is important to not engage in partisan politics, if it was not for the voices of the faithful, a lot of what we see today would not have or be taking place.”
Harkins gave the start of the Iraq War as an example that meets the criteria for “Catholic social teaching” when leaders were deciding in 2003 whether or not to go to war. Harkins credits that dialogue to the “voices of the faithful.”
But the mix between religion and politics did not only occur within the last century, he said. Harkins said that Adam Clayton Powell Sr., and later Adam Clayton Powell Jr., both pastors at the Abyssian Baptist Church in Harlem in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, helped shape political thoughts through religious belief. Powell Jr. won a seat in U.S. Congress in 1945. Harkins said that Powell Jr. was able to pass more bills successfully than anyone ever before and after him.
“His bills dealt with issues of health, labor and education,” Harkins said of Powell Jr. “This is a clear way of showing that people from the community of faith voices have resonance in the larger world.”
But, he said, it is not just Liberals and progressives who have fought for these issues through U.S. history. Harkins said that William Jennings Bryan, secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson, though characterized as a Liberal in his day, would have been a Conservative, maybe even a fundamentalist Christian by today’s standards due to his “almost fundamentalist” theology.
“He headed up efforts against corporations, federal income tax and capital punishment,” Harkins said. He even fought for women’s rights. Bryan is someone that engaged in his faith through public discourse.”