Diocesan News

Looking at Kamala Harris Through a Cultural Lens and the Evolving Religious Landscape

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is seen in Los Angeles Oct. 4, 2019. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, announced Aug. 11, 2020, that Harris will be his running mate for the November presidential election. (Photo:CNS/Eric Thayer, Reuters)

WINDSOR TERRACE — Senator Kamala Harris is now the first Indian-American and the first black woman to run for Vice President of the United States on a major party ticket, but her faith perspective is also diverse.

[Read More on Where Sen. Kamala Harris Stands on Issues Important to Catholics]

To sum it up, the California senator is a black Baptist with a Hindu family. The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India was raised in a home that practiced both Hinduism and Christianity. She’s also married to a Jewish man (from Brooklyn). 

“As a person, she reflects the broad spectrum of what we would call the American experience and what we call here in Brooklyn the melting pot of cultures, religions, and diversity that comes to our shores and land,” said Father Michael J. Lynch, vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of Brooklyn. Politics aside, The Tablet asked Father Lynch what he thinks of the senator’s nomination, given her distinct religious background since Father Lynch’s ministry works to promote dialogue and unity between Catholics and people of other religious traditions. 

“Being placed in the position where she is now, makes her an emblem for young women and men who are also from diverse pools of people that make up America,” explained Father Lynch. 

Biden’s vice-presidential pick comes as America’s pool is changing, specifically its religious landscape. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the Christian share of the population is down and religious “nones” have grown across multiple demographic groups, in all regions of the country. The study points out that “nones” are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are prospering in both parties.

Currently, Harris is a member of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. The church was founded more than 160 years ago and has long been home to the Christian African American community in the Bay Area. Activists such as W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King Jr. attended services at various points. This history brings an ethnically and racially diverse version of Christianity to the 2020 election. However, religious and ethnic diversity is not limited to the Democratic party.

Diverse religiosity can also be seen within the Republican party, and it is becoming more common. For example, Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations under President Trump, is also an Indian-American. She is now a practicing Christian but was brought up professing the Sikh faith. At the time, various religious groups hoped Haley would fight to protect minority religions around the world facing persecution. 

Because of Harris’ diverse faith background and America’s ever-evolving demographic landscape, Father Lynch is optimistic about the potential role she could play in the White House. “I think Sen. Harris embodies that sense of coming home and sense of hope, now and in the future, for so many, from so many different perspectives,” Father Lynch said.

[Read More on Where Sen. Kamala Harris Stands on Issues Important to Catholics]

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