Kamala Harris Talks About Her Own Faith

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a campaign event Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(RNS) — Asked how a Biden-Harris administration would work with faith leaders, Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic Party nominee for vice president, highlighted the campaign’s proposal to establish a “faith-based law enforcement program” in the Department of Justice to help protect faith communities from hate crimes.

In an email interview facilitated by the Biden-Harris faith director, Josh Dickson, the candidate talked about her Baptist upbringing and the influence her faith has had on her policymaking. Harris repeated some of her signature lines about her personal faith, including a quote from the New Testament’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (“We walk by faith and not by sight”) that she cited in her acceptance speech at this summer’s Democratic National Convention. 

As to policy, while the DOJ plan is not new, her championing of the idea shows how Harris, a former prosecutor and attorney general of California, thinks about the government’s role in protecting people of faith and ensuring religious freedom.

The freedom of religious minorities is a question that, curiously perhaps for the daughter of a Hindu and an immigrant, has troubled Harris on the campaign trail. While serving as attorney general in 2011, Harris argued to bar a Sikh from being hired as a California state corrections officer because she believed his beard would compromise his wearing a gas mask. Sikh activists have demanded that Harris apologize.

But even some who are troubled, including Religion News Service columnist Simran Jeet Singh, a Sikh, believe that the senator’s multifaith background, and her firsthand understanding of the racial difference in America, makes her a natural ally of minorities of all kinds. 

The interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

At the vice-presidential debate, you said “Joe Biden and I are both people of faith.” Tell us more about your own faith journey.

My faith journey started when I was a little girl. On Sundays, my mother would dress my sister, Maya, and me in our Sunday best and send us off to the 23rd Avenue Church of God in Oakland, California, where Maya and I sang in the children’s choir. That’s where I formed some of my earliest memories of the Bible’s teachings. It’s where I learned that “faith” is a verb and that we must live it, and show it, in action.

My mother, an immigrant from India, instilled the same idea in me on trips to Hindu temples. And I’ve also seen it reflected in the Jewish traditions and celebrations I now share with my husband, Doug. From all of these traditions and teachings, I’ve learned that faith is not only something we express in church and prayerful reflection, but also in the way we live our lives, do our work and pursue our respective callings.

You’ve served as a district attorney for San Francisco, as California’s attorney general and now as a U.S. senator. How does your faith inform your approach to leadership?

The God I have always believed in is a loving God, a God who asks us to serve others and speak up for others, especially those who are not wealthy or powerful and cannot speak up for themselves. I can trace my belief in the importance of public service back to learning the parable of the good Samaritan and other biblical teachings about looking out for our neighbors — and understanding that our neighbors aren’t just those who live in our ZIP code, but include the stranger, too.

Over the course of my career, I’ve always tried to be an advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable, whether it was survivors of sexual assault or California homeowners defrauded by big banks. And some of the leaders I’ve always looked up to most, from Constance Baker Motley to Thurgood Marshall to Ella Baker, have understood that you often need a deep faith to see what can be unburdened by what has been.

What role do you see for faith-based organizations and houses of worship in a Biden-Harris administration?

Joe and I are committed to partnering with faith leaders, congregations, and faith-based organizations to strengthen and build on the critical work they are doing to support their communities in the wake of this pandemic.

Throughout our careers, we have both worked with faith-based organizations in the pursuit of increased opportunity, justice, and peace, and we will continue to do so in a Biden-Harris administration.

And we will not only partner with faith-based organizations and faith communities, we will safeguard them. Over the past four years, we have witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic incidents even as Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities have also been targeted in acts of domestic terrorism.

When Joe and I are in the White House, we will help protect these communities by providing increased security grants to religious communities, establishing a Faith-Based Law Enforcement program in the Department of Justice, and strengthening prosecution of hate crimes.

Religious freedom and tolerance have been core principles of this country since our founding, and Joe and I will uphold and protect them — while protecting believers of all faiths.

You’ve said you are a regular church attender. What do you enjoy about going to church?

Ever since I was a girl, the church has not only been a place where I draw strength, it’s been a place for reflection, a place to study the teachings of the Lord, and to feel grounded in a complex world. Church still plays that role for me. And I also draw something else from it as well: a sense of community and belonging where we can build lasting relationships and be there for one another in times of need.

What is your favorite Bible verse?

“We walk by faith and not by sight,” from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. It’s a reminder that God will see us through to the other side of whatever challenge we’re facing so long as we do the work and hold onto our faith. Like many people of faith, I have private conversations with God where I usually ask for the strength and protection to make good decisions and do the right thing.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"We know through surveys that people are more likely to like Muslims if they know one personally. But because only about 1% of Americans practice the Islamic faith, many people just don’t come into contact with any Muslims."
Purim tells the tale of Esther, an orphaned girl-turned-queen, how she married King Achashverosh, then saved the entire Jewish community in the ancient Persian city of Shushan, through her bravery and wit.
Higher education remains highly unequal and racial divides persist. How can these realities be explained in a context defined by wokeness?
There are so many forces that pull people apart from one another. Institutions and systems and ways of thinking that want us to feel separated, broken, helpless, and quick to capitalize on moments of weakness. The very thing that brings out...
Others noted Rihanna chose to display Ganesh on Feb. 15, the day Hindus celebrate as Ganesh's birthday, or Ganesh Jayanti. The god of beginnings, Ganesh is honored before starting a business or major project.
Until this year, most schools, states and national high school athletic associations had typically forbidden religious headwear, citing safety concerns, unless a student or coach had applied for a waiver. No waiver, no play.
Do a quick Google or YouTube search for tarot, and you’ll find the two main things people tend to inquire about are love and money. Underlying these inquiries is a belief that a tarot reading can tell the future, which begs the question of whether...
The results are based on responses from some 1,800 Black American adults, including more than 800 who attend a Black church. The California research firm conducted the survey in the spring of 2020.
Asian Americans are suffering under the weight of these mounting incidents. Many, including those in our own circles, have expressed concern about leaving their homes to perform everyday tasks.
"Black residents make up a little under half of Washington’s population, but constitute nearly three-fourths of the city's COVID-19 deaths."
Can interfaith leadership foster greater equity for the health of communities of color? Four leaders in healthcare discuss racial health disparities in our nation and how interfaith leadership can be implemented in order to solve them.
“It's an invitation to be subversive by focusing on ourselves."
Across the state, nearly every major health care system has partnered with Black and Hispanic houses of worship to expand vaccine access, setting up mobile clinics in their parking lots and fellowship halls.
Gandhi organized a nonviolent protest on behalf of the farmers. That was when the word satyagraha was used for the first time in the context of a political protest.
Pierce, who is in her 40s and identifies as a Pentecostal, talked with Religion News Service about what she learned from her grandmother, the kinds of hymns she doesn’t sing and her expectations about the future of the Black church.
"We have to develop new approaches to politics that can turn the temperature down on our political conflicts and start bringing people closer together. So much is at stake"
Our nation's very foundation is built on mendacity hermeneutics of scripture and intentional omission of women, indigenous populations, and enslaved Africans from the protection under any of its laws, whether created by Man or divinely inspired.
Ash Wednesday is a time when persons are invited to face their mortality; to remember the limited time we have on this earth and reflect on who we want to be, and the path we want to travel; and who or what we live for.
They're part of the estimated 2 million residents of New York City facing food insecurity, a number said to have nearly doubled amid the biggest surge in unemployment since the Great Depression.
Thes team will work with "leaders of different faiths and backgrounds who are the front lines of their communities in crisis and who can help us heal, unite and rebuild."
From the importance of anti-racism curriculum all the way to the injustice of bananas, Dolores Huerta captivated us with her insights on grassroots organizing.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.