Sen. Cory Booker on 'Radical' Faith and Its Role in Civic Spaces | Sojourners

Sen. Cory Booker on 'Radical' Faith and Its Role in Civic Spaces

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) speaks to the crowd at a political rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept. 21, 2019. Photo by Rich Koele /

In the second season of The Soul of the Nation, Jim Wallis is sitting down with some of the presidential candidates to discuss how their faith informs their work. Following is a transcript of Wallis’ interview with Sen. Cory Booker, discussing Booker’s faith, the role of faith in the public square, his favorite hymn, and more.

Listen to the audio version of this episode here.

Jim Wallis: Sen. Cory Booker. It is so good to see you, and it's so fitting to start these conversations about the faith factor in politics and in the 2020 elections with you, somebody who's never been apologetic to express your faith, to say you're shaped by your faith and your priorities and policies. Why is this always been natural and comfortable for you to be a person of faith in public life?

Booker: Well first, I just want to say how good it is to sit down with you. You are a person that has peace at your core. And I know that doesn't mean you don't have tribulations, but the energy that you have is always, every time we encounter each other, it's almost nurturing to me. And this is really a valuable time to have this moment with you, and I know other people are listening, but I'm just grateful to sit in your presence. I come out of a faith tradition in I was raised in what's called the “Black Church” and …

Wallis: The AME.

Booker: Yes, exactly. And my parents were people that introduced me to a faith that did not shrink away from violence and bigotry and hardship and the wretchedness of life. It was actually a part of a faith understanding. And it is almost this understanding that, you know, faith is really not letting wretchedness and despair and hate have the last word. And it's almost a surrendering in it, admit life's trials to this understanding that you are — this liberating understanding that you are a child of God. And it's a really a radical conception. And that word ‘radical’ was really a part of my faith upbringing — that if you believe in God, it should be utterly life-shaking to you, this conception of the divine. It should be humbling to you, which I don't think we see enough. We see the arrogance of faith at times, but my parents taught me this faith that you look at every one of God's children seeing a reflection of the divine people made in the image of God. And the first reaction to that should be awe and humility. And I find (I laugh sometimes with my dear faith-friends sometimes) that this idea of “loving your enemy” is so hard for me that there are times where I'm talking with somebody who's coming at me with anger and hurt, and I have to say the words in my mind to get myself centered that “I love you” in order to start trying to (and I fail often) in operating from that sense. So for me, coming out of the African-American experience in this country, which has been so marked by horrible setback, having to endure measurable and imaginable pain, but yet still growing more faithful as a result. I think that that is sort of the foundation a lot of … speaks to a lot of the foundation of who I am.

Wallis: Let's cut to the chase with that radical conception that you just named of the image of God and every one of us. So [earlier this year], President Donald Trump held a rally in North Carolina and after lying about and demonizing a woman of color who's a member of Congress, Congresswoman Omar, the crowd chanted in response, “Send her back! Send her back.” Now this is a political issue already — it's going to be an issue of patriotism and what's American and not American, but it's also … how is this a faith issue? How was what we saw last night, not just a political issue, a patriotic question, but really a faith issue as well?

Booker: So I mean … the Bible has those crowds, right? A number of occasions where Jesus deals with jeering and chanting crowds and those who whip that up and those who traffic in hate and bigotry for their own political purpose — the Bible doesn't deal kindly with that kind of demagoguery. And so what I, and again, my framing of the world in a political town is not right, left Democrat, Republican, it is trying to find the wisdom to be a leader that can reveal commonality, common ground, and ignite radical love. And you know, this morning I started with James Chapter 1, the first five verses — the fifth verse, where I started my prayer this morning with just asking God for wisdom in all of this, and can I be someone, because when I'm hurt, I want to lash out at times. And when Donald Trump hurts folks, I think he … there's an understandable human reaction to meet his ugliness with our own.

And I remember, one of my favorite stories to tell that happened to me on the trail was getting ready to bound onto a stage in, in Iowa and having a big guy seeing me, a big guy, former football player. And this guy seemed like he could to be a linebacker for a big team. And he puts his arm around me, he goes, “Dude, I want you to punch Donald Trump in the face.” And I looked at him and joking and I say, “Dude, that's a felony.” And, and I said, “I want to tell you why love is the best strategy to beat him.” And that the way I've seen us in history overcome bigotry and demagoguery, the words Donald Trump used sound eerily familiar with the words of Wallace … Governor Wallace. Remember the demagogues at that time would accuse their opponents of being communist. Donald Trump has just done that. And a lot of the language he's using are language that the Know-Nothing Party used to try to stop Irish and German Americans from immigrating to our country. It is eerily what my parents watched in black and white, I'm seeing in full color now. But the question is, “What should that call out of you? And, and it's hard. But that's where my faith kicks in. And where I fall to my knees and find the strength to continue with what I think is the right pathway because Bull Connor was beaten by people of faith that did not bring bigger dogs or more powerful fire hoses — they brought a unarmed truth and unrelenting love. And what they did in that moment — in that moral moment, not a partisan moment — they expanded the moral imagination of this country. They drew out the consciousness of this country that can no longer sit quietly in New Jersey or Iowa looking a far. It motivated them to meet that darkness with their own light and their own engagement.

Wallis: You're a Democratic candidate for president of the United States, and you and all the other candidates have been clear, and you were just articulate again, about why we have to beat Donald Trump, but more than any other candidate, you have talked about the need for the nation’s healing. If Donald Trump is defeated and you were the president of the United States, what would you try and do along these lines for the healing? Lincoln said, “Leaders should appeal to our better angels,” and Donald Trump's appealing to our worst demons and calling them out. So you want to beat Donald Trump, you're running for president, but you also see the need for the healing of the country. I hear that more from you than anybody else.

Booker: Well, can I just first speak to that, why that is a need and why my party could make a mistake now? I'm not running because I want to beat Donald Trump — that is a floor, not a ceiling. It gets us out of the valley, but it doesn't get us to the mountain top. What I believe that the Donald Trump's a deeper symptom of a lot of challenges we have in our culture. And again, there's a lot of twisting going on in our culture with social media and you know, we now our culture … it seems to mistake wealth with worth, celebrity with significance, moral growth often with material gain. And so, if Democrats win by punching Donald Trump in the face, by accentuating our differences, we could win the White House but still lose the country, and what we need to get back to is a new American majority, which is what we achieved in past generations. It was not Democrats that defeated Jim Crow — it was Americans had defeated Jim Crow by creating a new majority in our country. And so if we win offices but fail to heal rifts, we are not going to be able to do the bigger things that our country needs. And so, my prayer … my humble prayer, because this is a campaign where in many ways I'm evidencing individual ambition, but I'm trying to be true to ,as one of my friends counseled me, in a faithful way, they said, “Scrub, clean your intentions in all of this. This is not about you. It's about the values and ideals are bigger than you, that you should be loyal to beyond individual outcome in this election.” And so, my belief is that this is a moral crossroads, that the outcome of this election won't necessarily show — just winning is not enough. We've got to find a way to, to restore the fabric of this country.

Wallis: Well said, well said. Now as you know, sometimes candidates want to show they’re ‘faith friendly’ by quoting a scripture often given to them by maybe one of their staff members (you talked about a scripture from your morning’s devotions here). What people might not know about you is how much religious knowledge you have, even about other faith traditions. You have studied and read and been engaged for many years with religion, with faith, and in a very collaborative, interactive way with people of other faiths. You're very knowledgeable about faith.

Booker: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think that if we ever get comfortable in our faith and it's not a struggle, it's not a wrestle, I think it's almost like as an athlete you get flabby — you get susceptible. And I have found such a growth in my Christian faith by the first faith [that] I really deep-dived into, [which] was Judaism. And it expanded my understanding of the Old Testament in ways that I rejoice and glorify right now, understanding Jesus in his human context, which was as a Jew. And then that led me to studying Hinduism, which I found because I loved Gandhi and I couldn't understand …

Wallis: You've always loved Gandhi.

Booker: Oh, he is … and my pathway to Gandhi was a minister named Martin Luther King, that would elevate that, and that led me to studying Islam because I was wrestling in, especially around the time of 9/11, with the perversions of Islam that were there. And so again, it goes to this idea that there has to be this sense of humility before all God's creations and the faith traditions that are around us, especially when I live in a pluralistic society where I want to find that common ground with others who might have different faith traditions or not have a faith tradition. So I … my life has been so enriched, and if you're a Christian, if there's any … if I can be so bold as to give you any advice, I know for me, Jesus is the way, Jesus is the light, but I think that Jesus’ radical love would have done the same thing. Because the Bible even says to know someone is to understand them and to take the time to truly understand other faiths, I think it will force you to wrestle with some conceptions and make you a stronger Christian.

Wallis: And despite your knowledge of religion, which would make you a very comfortable [in] many a seminary context — talking to theologians, which you've done. You also had said this, “Before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”

Booker: And I think that that is what Jesus has said consistently in his and his teachings, which, you know, we know this from our scripture, “Faith without works is dead,” and if I want to know how Christ lives within you, you shouldn’t need words. It should be as I sit with you. I feel the energy in you. I witnessed it through what you do through your humble service of not just God's other children, but especially those people who are most marginalized or maligned in our society. And so, I have met the most gloriously religious people who probably couldn't quote one piece of scripture, but show me that God is living and vibrant in within their hearts.

Wallis: You said things like, I'd rather [be] with loving, caring atheists who I like better than some mean Christian.

Booker: Yes, yes. And I, and this is my fault and I made it to you, but I get very disappointed with Christians who preach well but act wrong, and … and I should … one of the things I liked about the Dalai Lama having a chance to [interact] with him is just this joy that he has … this imperturbability. In Hinduism, they love the Lotus flower ‘cause it's a flower that blossoms amidst muddy water and sits peacefully, it floats peacefully above it all. I don't have that grace yet, and I get very often annoyed by fellow Christians who can speak so fervently toward the Bible, but it doesn't seem to live within their actions, and I do not want to cast judgment, but that meanness, especially towards the vulnerable, that callous disregard, frustrates me.

Wallis: My brother. You're not the only one who struggles with that, so I confess my struggle with that too. I [heard] your mother was a Sunday school teacher …

Booker: Yes.

Wallis: … And for most of us, our formation of faith is because of particular people who we've known or whom we've read, who have words made a difference — theologians, organizers … who have been some of the people who have been most formative in your life of faith?

Booker: So college was … my biggest struggles were a lot of my … my faith was shaken a lot just because of difficult questions. “If Jesus is my savior, what about people that don't believe in Jesus?” And I really struggled during those terms. And there [were] two pastors in college, [Pastors Bob Cray and Floyd Tompkins] who just were lights to me, grounds to me, allowed me to have these very difficult conversations with them and us and in a safe area where I was questioning my faith and precepts of it, and challenged me to go deeper and to study and understanding it, but also witness. And really at that point where I was making my decisions of where to work. I mean, I knew I was going to work in urban, city environments, really in the East Palo Alto area where I was encouraged to go. And Floyd Tompkins, this incredible black minister who lived like I do in a very difficult neighborhood, even though we had choices, right? Um, it was folks like that that really helped me at a formative point. And then, I always say that was the “ignition point.” And then if I have my way, I would … you are generous to hand me the galleys of your next book. It's, it's where I now find my sustenance in through study and, and conversation.

Now in the Senate, it's actually been a blessing. You know, I … there is a great pastor, Barry Black, who, you know, the Chaplain of the Senate, who right when I was making this decision, really encouraged me with some different parts of scripture to think about conceptions I'd never really thought about it. It was in Bible study with him that he had — I still remember one Bible study where he was really speaking about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, and I just never focused on the passages with that. He gave me some great advice before this presidential campaign that has led me to a period of, and it's only been since February, but a fervent prayer and surrender and it's a prayer life experience. So I feel like this campaign has gifted me, has enriched my life in ways that I know whatever happens on the other end, [it] will forever alter my relationship with God.

Wallis: So those who listened to this conversation will be challenged with public perception that Republicans own religion, [that] they are the only religious people. Democrats are often reluctant to speak about it, and so, I wonder if that can change in this election year of 2020. Could Democrats almost … again, we don't want to use religion for partisan purposes — that Jesus is somehow being politicized. The Religious Right politicizes religion, and I'm not in favor of a religious left that does the same. But how could the idea of our being accountable to faith be a part of the, as you're saying here you try to be part of … the what Democrats say also in the selection year of 2020?

Booker: So let me first use it in the secular space. When I see politicians using patriotism as a way to divide or as a sword with which to attack other Americans, I always … my back goes up right away and I realize it. To me, patriotism is love of country, and you can't love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women. And I think patriotic love is a radical thing that says that if your family doesn't have access to great public schools and my family is less off, and I think that it was patriotic love in the civil rights movement that drove people, Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner, black, white, Christian, Jewish, to put their lives to die together. “No greater love hath a man than this than to give his life,” and I celebrate that, and I want to be a leader that talks about patriotism in the same way.

And now when you shift to the religious, I think there's some parallels here because often people wield religion as a way of distinguishing themselves. “I am the faithful, you are heathen, you're not really …” — it's to use to indulge in that which would Jesus warned us about in judgment of others. Not humble servants or unconditional love, but to use religion as a weapon against others to draw lines. And that's when I think what often makes Democrats hesitant to talk about religion, ‘cause they don't want to feel like they are in some way talking down to people or being … polluting a political space where you're trying to draw commonality by creating divisions or suspicions or triggering within people who feel judged or feel looked down upon because they're not religious. And I reject that. I want to unapologetically talk to who I am because look … I have Irish friends of mine who joke from their speeches about … celebrate their Irish heritage in the public sphere and we all love that. As an African American, I wanted to say, “Hey, I grew up as a black guy in America, [and] I'm not ashamed of that!” But deeper than my race or my Jersey pride, which I talked about deeper than any defining part of my being, is my faith, and if I divorce that from public dialogue, then I am not sharing with the country ... my constituency, the truth of who I am.

And I believe my faith is not judgmental. It does not draw lines. It is inclusive and it is fundamentally related to patriotic love — in a society that celebrated … so much celebrated religious diversity that they wrote it into our Constitution. And so, I feel like you are blunting your truth. You're blunting your ability to connect. And, I see Sikh Americans who boldly wear their turbans. I see my Orthodox friends who unapologetically wear their yarmulkes, and I rejoice in them. And so, I want to try to, if anything … that epitaph of my political career, one of the things I'd like to know is that I was one of those people that called us all to live more authentically, the trueness of who we are, and in that, liberated others to do the same, not in conflict or drawing lines, but create more unity through that — more unapologetic truth through that where we, by each of us shining our light brightly, recognize that actually, we're all part of the same light and the same brilliance and the same luminescent glory.

Wallis: So being unapologetic about your faith in Jesus Christ for you, you don't want to alienate by doing so and saying, so people of other faiths … or no faith tradition at all, you don't want … that shouldn't alienate people if you're in fact reaching out to all of them.

Booker: No, and I hope that when I talk about my faith that it's … I said two fundamental aspects of my faith: The first and foremost is “I am God.” Okay? So you … that's a fundamental thing is a belief in God. And the first trigger of that should be humility. So I want people to know that that's the first thing is my humility before God and all his creation.

Wallis: I am not God. We are not God. Our party doesn't own God.

Booker: Yes. And then the second thing is the love of Jesus Christ, which is liberating. I talk about it — I get emotional. This radical love! He loved sinners. He loved those who … stones throwing at him from the crowds. That to me is so cleansing and healing — that I am loved and that my calling is to love as well. And so, I want people who meet me, I don't … as I already said, I don't want to tell ’em about my religion first. The first thing I would like for you to encounter when I'm at my best (cause when I'm at my worst, I can be bad), but when I'm at my best, I want them to feel my humility before your … the divinity in you. As another faith says, “namaste” — the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you — I want you to feel that and see my humility in that, and then I want you to feel my love. And that to me is so much of what our country needs right now at a time of growing hate and violence.

And what's even worse is King said, “We have to repent for not just the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.” I hurt that people don't see a prison system that is such an attack on us as a society. It's an indictment of who we are — to see what's going on at our border regardless … we all want security, but do we … it doesn't necessitate the assault or … just the mentally ill person that is on the streets, the veteran, this sclerosis of empathy and love is something that we've got to talk to as a society. And we at our culture are our best — even my friends, God bless ‘em, who are fiscal conservatives — it is more expensive to deal with mental illness through jails and prisons like we do now. It's more expensive to deal with our brothers and sisters who are struggling with the disease of addiction through jails and prisons as opposed to help and health care. Cities have done studies about what's more expensive: homelessness, mentally ill homeless on the streets or to put them in shelters. Even though the most where — people think there is no commonality on an issue like abortion — there are people that have found common ground by giving low-income people access to contraceptive care or the like. Colorado's dropped the number of abortions in their state by 40 percent — we should rejoice in these things but through empowering women.

So I just believe that … and this is where I've had my friends joke with me, “How are you going to win an election with that ‘love’ BS?” I was saying the words, and I think actually that is exactly the antidote to what we saw [from the president], that that in fact whoever the next leader is, that back to that sense of healing, we need some radical reminders of common cause and common purpose of how we've achieved things … like, here we are with everybody going crazy in this town in a wonderful way about putting a human being on the moon. I think the heavens rejoice when they saw us reaching up and putting someone on the moon. But we did that because of an American majority on both sides of the aisle that agreed to those aspirations. Well, my generation doesn't have a chance to serve, to reach that achievement, but we've got to defy gravity again. And the way you do that though is by creating some kind of new American majority that can get back to distinguishing itself in humanity because we're going to be the first generation of Americans, if we don't, with the life expectancy that's lower, and their deaths of despair, suicide, and opioid addiction. We are now letting other societies, through their policies, show a greater love of children. Remember, love are not words. It's actions. We don't have universal prenatal care. We don't have a … we have maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates that are higher than any other industrial nation. These are all things that I think are not just the people out there preaching hate and bigotry … King wrote in the [Letter from] Birmingham Jail, “Too many people of good conscience who are not showing that through actions, deeds, and engagement.”

Wallis: When you were speaking right there about what's happening to people who are incarcerated, to children at the border, to people who are mentally ill, your emotions were rising as you … these aren't, for you, theoretical issues or just policy issues or just your political stances on a criminal justice reform bill, which you have helped to lead. This is a passion for you, this area. But this is, as I saw your emotions rise, this is deeply a matter of what they call the “BS of love.” I love that phrase. You know, Jesus said, ”Love your neighbor,” and what it … look at the text. What he's really saying [in] the Good Samaritan text, It means “love the one who's different than you.”

Booker: Yes.

Wallis: That's what that text is all about, and you feel that as a faith issue, not just here are the issues I'm interested in.

Booker: Well, I remember the first time I really read Matthew 25, and suddenly I was the person being spoken to, you know, and I realized I don't live like that. I, you know … am I living that kind of radical love? Am I in the prison, for example? Have I visited God there? And I am keenly aware now that, that to me, I've got to speak less about it, and be more about it.

That's why I just went down to the border when I had this invitation to go and see and be there and visit with women who are being physically assaulted, sexually abused because we've turned them away from asylum. There's a story I tell all the tim. I've told it in graduation speeches because it was a story about my own complacency, that God is not looking for me to do the big grand moment. I feel like he's looking for me to humbly live my truth when the public is not watching. And I tell this story in graduation about going through a McDonald's drive through, which is tough as a vegan, but I desperately wanted the French fries before I realized they weren't even vegan themselves, and it was one of those days … where you and I've been there, just tired. You want to go home, unbuckle your pants, sit on the couch and eat. And I got my two McDonald's French fries and then I saw a homeless guy in the trashcan. And again, I'm a man of faith and I did what you know. I think God said something … Jesus said something about, “If you have two McDonald's French fries and your neighbor has none …” it's the “Sermon on the McMount.”


Wallis: I think it’s in the text, isn’t it?

Booker: Yes, yes, I think it's in the text. And I called them to the car, gave him the McDonald's French fries like I think that's the right thing to do. And he took them, the French fries and then asked me the question. Now I'm driven around in Newark by a guy who grew up in the projects, served in the military, came back, became a detective in the police force — guy straight up from [a] tough, tough background, but [a] beautiful human being. And the guy asked me through my window — I'm in the back seat, he's in the front — thanking me for my fries and says, “Do you have any socks?” Now I don't carry extra socks in my car. And I look at him, and I know working with homeless that's worth the weight in gold sometimes, and I felt bad, but I said, “Sir, I'm sorry — I don't have any socks.” And then I turned my head, as you often do if you're being driven thinking that, “OK, look away and look, move forward …,” and then my guy puts the car in park, reaches between the steering wheel, kicks off his own shoes, and hands the socks that he's wearing through the window. But I'm three blocks from my home; I have pairs of socks that I don't even wear. But in that moral moment, I did not show the radical love.

And I think that's what life is about, so I'm not on my high horse talking about other people not visiting prisons, whatever. I just know that we all have a responsibility that we all are not living up to in moments, and that's allowing the real cancer in this country to proliferate, which are the conditions of our neighbors that will go on every single day. We've divided ourselves; we don't even see anymore. We're looking forward, driving ahead. We don't even see the suffering of our neighbor, and the necessary for love is knowledge, [what’s] necessary for empathy is knowledge, and we're living in an ignorance of the suffering of our neighbor.

Wallis: Yeah. Matthew 25 was my conversion text and I call it the, “It was me” passage. He was saying “I was hungry,” “I was thirsty,” “I was naked,” “I was sick,” “Didn't have health care,” “I was a stranger” — the word there is, as you know, means “immigrant,” means “refugee.” “I was in prison … and where were you?” I mean, that text transformed my life more radically than anything I was reading in the student movement that I was a part of. Here's the Son of God saying, “How you treat those who are most vulnerable is how you treat me.” It's never been anything like that said by the most radical people in the Left.

Booker: Yes.

Wallis: That brought me from the student movements to Jesus Christ. And that text, you know, often you see football games that you're a football player and you'll see the sign up when they're kicking an extra point. John 3:16, right?

Booker: Yes, yes.

Wallis: I love … I learned John 3:16 as a kid. I want to see Matthew 25 behind the goalposts, and I want people to say, “Hmm … I wonder what Matthew 25 is.” And they all look and start studying Matthew 25.

Booker: And, and God, that's…. that's beautiful. You and I should try to start a movement. Not that John 3:16 is not a really …

Wallis: It's a great verse.

Booker: … great verse, but I think the one that calls us to action is that I … I would love to start seeing that; maybe you and I should say that more.

Wallis: I think Matthew 25, which was his last teaching before he was crucified and rose from the grave, his last teaching was Matthew 25. And so that really, to me, is the final test of our discipleship. And you're raising it now as a political candidate. It's interesting. A lot of your colleagues often say to me … I understand, [but] they're saying, “Well, I don't speak on this as Democrats because I believe in the separation of church and state.” And I want to say back to them, which you're doing right here is, “I believe in the separation of church and state too, but not the segregation of moral values from public life.”

Booker: Right. Right.

I think that there's the misunderstanding of the intention of the Constitution there. I do not want my state dictating what my religion is or picking up a religion and telling me that’s the religion of the land, but I could no more separate my faith from my political service then separate my arm from my body.

I do not want my state dictating what my religion is or picking up a religion and telling me that’s the religion of the land, but I could no more separate my faith from my political service then separate my arm from my body. — @CoryBooker

Wallis: So how can we get that more into the conversation in this 2020 election year, and the debates and the conversations where faith a factor? And it never … that we want people who are only Christians or only people of faith, that they have to believe in anything, but that these principles — these fundamental core values — are critical to the future of our country?

Booker: OK, so I don't know. I do know that I want to just be the change I want to see in the world and talk about faith in a way that calls people in. And one of my favorite songs I heard in church at Stanford was, in Floyd Tompkins church, was, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love; they will know we are Christians by our love.”

And so I'm trying, in an incredibly imperfect manner, to bring faith conversations into every stump speech that I have, and let folks know that our civic space is a safe space for the expression of authenticity. And more than that, that the civic gospel of this country, which is a radical civic gospel — we say, “liberty and justice for all” — that even the roots of these values go into the faith traditions of humanity. There would be no America if it was not for theologians of generations past struggling with these issues, whether it's the defiance of a Martin Luther in the Protestant Reformation, whether it would be the writings of Hillel. You know, we are who we are. This, that we founded this … we broke with the course of human events to put forth into the oldest constitutional democracy, and we founded a nation on moral values that we inscribed in the Constitution. And by the way, they were radically imperfect geniuses. They wrote, Native Americans [are] called “savages” in the document. Women are second-class citizens. Blacks are fractions of human beings. But the moral voice that they put in there inspired every generation of Americans to try to better live up to the moral foundations of this country. And so for leaders to think they have to leave their religious and moral values aside when they enter this civic space, [it] cheapens our civic space, I think, and lessens the strength of it.

Wallis: Well, you've called for a new civic gospel.

Booker: Yes. I am running in this election not simply because of my policy ideas. I think that elections are lost not on who has the best policy idea, but who best speaks to the spirit of this country. And sometimes I think Donald Trump spoke to hurt and pain in a way that I will criticize, but I think our party right now … I shouldn't say party … Our next leader, I'm hoping, can speak to the values and ideals of our common civic gospel.

Wallis: You … what’s your favorite hymn?


Booker: I t is this basic … I shouldn't say I have a favorite one, but I have … so I have the sense of surrender in this election, and a sense of imperfection and so the very, very common one of Amazing Grace. I just — at the concept of grace, I've been thinking about how it's unearned, unmerited, how our country right now is in crisis, and doing things from Yemen to our own prisons, and … I just want that salvation of grace right now for my nation in a very dark period, where I think [it’s] similar to my parents’ generation in from Vietnam to the civil rights movement, we are in a moral moment, and I just pray that I can be a part of a larger revival of civic grace in our country. And that's a deep hope of mine, that that's what this darkness yields us to, that we go from the pit as Joseph did, then he rose out of that pit and led a nation through crisis. I hope that we have that same journey of going from the pit to salvation.

Wallis: As we both saw in the painful memorial service after the shooting in Mother Emanuel AME …

Booker: Yes.

Wallis: In Charlotte, President Barack Obama, who was speaking, reached a point where he almost seemed like [he] didn't know what to say, and he was feeling these emotions, and he just broke into Amazing Grace.

Booker: It was a moment where our country needed that. And I don't know if he planned it or not, but the Spirit was working through him in a powerful way. And that's why I love at our leaders, at our best … the ones that I revere are Lincoln, in an inaugural address who speaks to the soul of the nation — with malice, towards none charity towards all — I'm hoping that as we see leaders ascend in the coming year and a half, that they can not only speak to the head of our nation, but to the heart and the soul of our nation as well. And I think that's the kind of healing and that's the kind of hope we need right now.

Wallis: When what's at stake in the nation right now is the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith, you're one of those leaders [who] I'm very grateful for. So thank you very much.

Booker: I am grateful for this conversation. It is nurturing to my heart and my spirit, and encouraging to me to continue in this way. So thank you very much.

Wallis: Stay strong.

Booker: Thank you. God bless …

Wallis: Keep your spirit strong.

Booker: Yes, yes. Thank you.

Wallis: Alright, blessings to you. Thank you.