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Biden and Harris Open Up About Their Faith

Joe Biden, born during World War II to Irish Catholic parents, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a late Baby Boomer raised in a mixed-faith home, may represent distinct strains and generations of American religious life. But as a pair of new articles reveal, both see their faith as shaping their views of the role of government in strikingly similar ways. 

With his Northeastern roots, the former vice president is perhaps the most prominent practitioner of a version of Catholicism forged in the 1950s and ’60s and championed by the likes of the Kennedys. Aimed at assimilation, this version downplays the supremacy of the Pope and conservative stances on social issues in favor of moral individualism and economic collectivism.  

This belief is prominently on display in Biden’s op-ed, published Thursday in the Christian Post. In it, he writes passionately about how all are made in the image of God, and as such are all born “with inherent worth.” The policy result of this statement is ultimately an economic one for Biden, who personifies a strain of Catholicism that emerged at the turn of the 20th century. Nurtured in response to the Industrial Revolution, this iteration of the faith is rooted in the belief that the economy is ultimately a tool to uphold the humanity and dignity of individuals — not the reverse. 

Biden’s faith is one that calls on him to, as he puts it, “embrace a preferential option for the poor.” As a result, he says, “I will do everything in my power to fight poverty and build a future that moves us closer to our highest ideals — not only that all women and men are created equal in the eyes of God, but that they are treated equally by their fellow man.”

The child of a Hindu mother and an Anglican father, Harris, whose husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish, is very much the face of a generation defined by increased diversity and pluralism in the United States. In an interview with Religion News Service, she described singing in the children’s choir at a local church as well as visiting temples with her mother. 

“From all of these traditions and teachings, I’ve learned that faith is not only something we express in church and prayerful reflection,” she said, “but also in the way we live our lives, do our work and pursue our respective callings.”

That’s why, Harris explains, she has spent her career trying “to be an advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable,” she explains, including representing “California homeowners defrauded by big banks.” Like Biden, she believes her God demands special attention to “those who are not wealthy or powerful and cannot speak up for themselves.” 

Both articles come at a time when an array of private religious organizations are attempting to make a last-minute case to fellow believers on behalf of a Biden-Harris ticket. Among them are Latter-day Saints for Biden, which hopes to sway traditionally conservative Mormons in key Sunbelt states, including Texas. Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden, meanwhile, has drawn names like theologian Richard Mouw and Orlando megachurch pastor Joel Hunter. Finally, others like Vote Common Good and Faith 2020 have sought to build interfaith support for the Democratic nominee. 

Central to all is the call for voters to elect a president who honors, as they see it, the inherent dignity of all Americans. 

Tamarra Kemsley
Tamarra Kemsley
Tamarra Kemsley is a freelance journalist, podcast producer, and former organizer for Beto O'Rourke's 2018 Senate campaign. She has an M.A. in Islam and the Middle East from Hebrew University. Find her on Twitter @tamarranicole.


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