The past seven years in Washington have seen an "epidemic of indifference" and a "collective turning of the government's back" on people in need, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told a joint meeting of four major African-American Baptist groups Wednesday in Atlanta.
"It is in every way possible the opposite of love," the senator from New York said in a candidate forum during a second-ever joint winter meeting of the National Baptist Convention, USA; National Baptist Convention of America; Progressive National Baptist Convention; and National Missionary Baptist Convention.
Candidates of both parties were invited, said William Shaw, president of the NBCUSA, but only Clinton showed up in person. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., spoke to the group in a live video while campaigning in Phoenix.
"We are called--not asked to, not urged to, not requested, not ordered--but called to love one another as Jesus loved us," Clinton said. "I'm not talking about love that comes easily. I'm not talking about a greeting-card kind of love. I'm talking about the kind of love that is hard. The deeper, more powerful love in Corinthians that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Clinton, a Methodist, described the kind of love that God called Jesus to model in Luke 4:18-19--"to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed"--quoting the theme passage of this week's New Baptist Covenant Celebration, a historic gathering of North American Baptists from 30 different groups with a combined membership of 20 million.
"Our faith calls us to do what is hard, to give voice to the voiceless, to lift up the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick," Clinton said. "But for the past seven years our leaders have gotten it wrong. They have gotten it upside down and backwards."
"They have given corporate breaks to Wall Street and then cut Head Start, child care and dropped our prevention," she said.
"They have lifted up the drug and insurance companies but vetoed health care for millions of children in need. They gave tax breaks to oil companies but cut off home heating assistance for our seniors this winter.
"They have waged a war in Iraq that has taken over 3,900 of our sons and daughters, but failed to address the poverty, disease and violence that afflict our brothers and sisters here at home and around the world."
Clinton applauded the Baptist groups. "Every day you perform good works, rooted in the values of our faith," she said. "So isn't it a shame when we have leaders who talk a lot about values and then do exactly the opposite in betrayal of those same values."
"Scripture tells us we cannot just be hearers of the word," Clinton said. "We must be doers. We are told that faith without works is dead, and I have lived long enough to know that works without faith is just too hard. If you cannot dig into that righteous stream and replenish your soul, it becomes overwhelming. I believe we are called to be both hearers and doers. We are called to faith in action, to deliver real solutions to real problems we are facing. That is the affirmation of our love."
Obama said via live video hookup that he decided to run for president faced with "the fierce urgency of now." While much attention to the Democratic presidential race has focused on gender and race of the leading candidates, the Illinois senator said he thinks the primary is historic for a different reason.
"What's most unique is we've never had a president like me, who started off working in churches in south Chicago," he said. He related his work as a lawyer working among the poor for civil rights to "experiences that all of you are so familiar with, because all of you are working in the community."
"That voice, that vision, has not existed in our White House before," Obama said. "This is a moment in which we can make this happen."
Shaw said while all the presidential candidates were invited, surrogates were not allowed to speak for them. "We believe the dignity of these bodies both require and demand a response of the candidates themselves," he said.
Shaw asked delegates not to express negative attitudes toward either candidate.
"We are not endorsing," he said. "We are hearing."
"Whatever your preference, I would that you would be respectful of the other candidate," Shaw said.
"In football games, fans sit in sections and they risk their lives if they sit in a section the opposing fans do not like," he said. "It is not like that here."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.