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J Walking

I did not expect Burns Strider when I met Burns Strider. I knew he was Senior Adviser and Director of Faith Based Outreach to Sen. Clinton and her campaign for President. I knew he had worked on faith and values issues for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC). As such, I expected a wonkish, bookish, Northeastern liberal.
What I didn’t expect was a big, bulky evangelical from Mississippi with enough charm to sell snowballs to snowmen and enough gravity in his theology to charm evangelicals anywhere. That, however, is Burns Strider.
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He agreed to a quick interview:
So let me get this straight, you are a former Southern Baptist missionary and you are heading up religious outreach for Sen. Clinton? Why?

Now what in the world could you be getting at with this question, David?
I was in Hong Kong with the Southern Baptist during the mid-90’s. It was a sanctifying experience. I taught a lot of English and it’s worth noting there’s a generation of Cantonese who learned proper English such as “yall” and “dawg” instead of “dog.” Can I get an Amen, David?
Why am I working for Senator Clinton? After a few years working on faith and values issues in Congress, I was blessed to join Senator Clinton where I am centered in my calling working for a person of deep faith whom I respect and who believes in ideas and progress — in making this country great — and who delivers.
Senator Clinton has a depth and confidence in and through her faith. I’m always learning something. She’s a United Methodist who knows her Wesleyan principles about service and caring for humanity.
Senator Clinton has a depth and confidence in and through her faith. I’m always learning something. She’s a United Methodist who knows her Wesleyan principles about service and caring for humanity.
Senator Clinton’s vision of inclusion and justice, service and opportunity is as close to my evangelical roots as can be found. I look forward to getting to work everyday.

What is the one thing people do not understand about her faith?

Everyone knows that Senator Clinton is meticulous in her thought process. She knows policy to the last detail. She understands how to make government work for people, be it FEMA or the USDA.
But, what people don’t really know, yet, is that she has spent her entire life living out a real and productive faith. In her church youth group she learned that faith could change the world. It was through that group, as a teenager, she heard Dr. King preach – not surprisingly a transforming experience.
We renew ourselves daily, right? This epitomizes Senator Clinton; in Little Rock she spent time teaching her Sunday School class because she wanted it to be more Bible-based. She even developed her own Sunday School lessons. She held church picnics on the Governor’s Mansion lawn.
As First Lady and Senator she has worked to bring about a solution to the genocide in Darfur, expand health coverage to everyone and make sure the families of injured soldiers could use the Family Medical Leave Act, to name only a few initiatives. This is grace in action. People need to know these things because they are who she is.

Do you worry that politics may corrupt the church or damage the name of Jesus?

Yes I do. Faith is not one of a long list of issues and constituencies. It’s the core of a person; the prism for viewing all the other issues. We, those of us who work in faith outreach and strategy in campaigns, have to be extremely careful and watchful of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
We have to always present the candidate in all her authenticity, whatever that authenticity may be and we have to always treat faith, and people of faith, with service and respect. Faith is not a strategic tool for a campaign to employ on an as-need-be basis. Faith is real or its not; it either permeates a process or it’s not present.
The church must be every bit as mindful, too. The church can’t become a tool for narrow ideology or the mission is lost. We don’t define God but rather God defines us and our mission, as individuals and the church.

There were lots of stories about how the Kerry campaign sneered at any faith outreach. Are you getting any of that?

Sneer? Are you sure? Well, I’m not so sure about that but, regardless, there’s no sneering here. In fact, there is an openness, interest and desire for a robust faith outreach program in the Hillary Clinton campaign. I’m at the senior table every morning, engaged in the decisions and actions of the campaign.
Some folks, it seems, think the faith shop in a campaign is tucked away in a corner focusing only on houses of worship and preachers and rabbis and it’s not part of the larger process. Not true here. It’s fully integrated.
Also, our program isn’t unidirectional where all we do is tell people of faith about Senator Clinton. A big part of what we do is listen to the faith community. And for this, it’s a stronger campaign.

If given the choice would you vote for Jesus or Sen. Clinton?

Jesus, though I wonder if the Supreme Court would be willing to provide some kind of waiver since He wasn’t born in the United States? You should have asked about running mates, too.

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