12 Questions From Faith Leaders for Presidential Candidates

Bishop Minerva Carcaño (R) and other faith leaders and lay people join in prayer outside the constituent office of then-Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) while lobbying for immigration reform, October 8, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Authors’ note: CAP uses “Black” and “African American” interchangeably throughout many of our products. We chose to capitalize “Black” in order to reflect that we are discussing a group of people and to be consistent with the capitalization of “African American.”

Faith communities play an important role in U.S. democracy, and candidates for public office have a responsibility to listen to their concerns. With the next Democratic presidential debate only a few days away, the Center for American Progress decided to reach out to a few of the dozens of faith leaders featured in its annual “Faith Leaders to Watch” lists since 2012.

Journalists, including those at CNN and Univision who are moderating Sunday’s debate, have a responsibility to highlight the questions that progressive people of faith are asking. Often the “faith community” is only considered in the context of conservative politics, even though 71 percent of Democrats and people who lean Democratic identify with a religious tradition. The following 12 questions offer a small taste of the questions people of faith are asking in communities across the country.

Each of the leaders featured in this column is part of a faith community where people care for one another and bear witness to each other’s daily struggles. They want to know how presidential candidates will respond to racism and bigotry, to climate change, to income inequality, and more.

Simran Jeet Singh, Ph.D., 2018 Faith Leader to Watch

Senior Fellow, Sikh Coalition

As a Sikh American, I remain uniquely vulnerable to experiencing bias, bigotry, and backlash, and I’m not alone. According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Americans experience an average of 250,000 hate crimes per year. As president, what would you do within your first 100 days in office to send a message to our most vulnerable communities that you’re serious about further combating and preventing hate in America?

Sister Simone Campbell, 2013 Faith Leader to Watch

Executive director, NETWORK 

Who have you met on the campaign trail who is suffering because of the wealth and income gap? How did their story touch you?

The Rev. Rodney McKenzie Jr., 2016 Faith Leader to Watch

Executive vice president for Movement Strategies, Demos

How will your administration work with progressive faith leaders to mobilize their members, and like-minded members of the American public, to champion better wages, working conditions, and organizing protections, particularly for the most vulnerable workers: those stuck in part-time jobs without benefit of a living wage, health care, or retirement?

Stosh Cotler, 2015 Faith Leader to Watch

CEO, Bend the Arc

The next president has the opportunity to truly begin fulfilling the promise of a nation where everyone experiences freedom, fairness, security, and belonging no matter what we look like or where we come from. What is the biggest step the U.S. government could take to build a true multiracial democracy in our country, and will you commit to enacting it as president? 

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, 2012 Faith Leader to Watch

San Francisco area, United Methodist Church

Under the Trump administration, racism, hatred of the immigrant, misogyny, disregard for the poor and the middle class, dishonesty, blatant deception, and lying have become normative. As president of the United States, how would you address this deadly and regressive culture shift?

The Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, 2019 Faith Leader to Watch

Director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement

I believe that effective governance relieves pain and suffering by providing and distributing resources and building institutional structures that help to meet individual and collective needs. But good governance is also about protecting the collective right to experience joy. It’s not enough to live; people should be able to live with regular experiences of delight and pleasure. How do you experience joy in your life? What is your political commitment to going beyond meeting basic needs to ensuring that all people in this country thrive with joy?

The Rev. Frederick Davie, 2019 Faith Leader to Watch

Executive vice president, Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York

What is your “Marshall Plan” for saving the environment and restoring the Earth’s ecological balance? How would you involve other world leaders and persuade other nations to join a sustained collaboration to restore the Earth’s health?

Mahdia Lynn, 2019 Faith Leader to Watch

Co-founder and executive director, Masjid al-Rabia

We see in this country how “religious freedom” is too often weaponized to mean “freedom to discriminate.” How would you envision a real religious freedom that respects the lives of LGBTQ people and a woman’s right to choose?

The Rev. Michael McBride, 2013 Faith Leader to Watch

Director of LIVE FREE Campaign and director of Urban Strategies, Faith in Action

Have you taken any anti-racism classes or trainings to help inform your strategies to address structural racism and white supremacy in our country?

Amani al-Khatahtbeh, 2017 Faith Leader to Watch

Founder and editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl

The last several years have seen a rise in openly biased harassment and violence. Muslim women and other visible religious minorities have often been targeted. How do you plan on protecting the most vulnerable communities and addressing the racist political climate?

The Rev. Katey Zeh, 2014 Faith Leader to Watch

Interim CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

The United States is one of the only countries in which rates of maternal mortality are rising. What would your administration do to determine the root causes of this increased mortality, particularly among Black women and other women of color, and to ensure that this trend is reversed?

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Ph.D., 2018 Faith Leader to Watch

Queer activist, Latinx scholar, and public theologian

How might youth be a source of empowerment during times when climate change and poverty and racism threaten the flourishing of not only our planet but of our vision of humanity? How might the office of president mobilize young people into actionable vocations that not only empower them but serve as a place from which we garner a new vision of humanity?

Despite the challenges noted in their questions, these faith leaders have a hopeful and transcendent vision for America’s collective future. And they seek to hold the nation accountable to that vision, starting with the candidates who aspire to become its next president.

Note: Affiliations listed are for identification purposes only. 

Maggie Siddiqi is the director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.