(See video clip from interview at upper right, or here.)
Chip Murray is a Senior Fellow in the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, where he holds the Tanzy Chair in Christian Ethics. For 27 years he has been nationally known as the leader and Senior Pastor of the influential Los Angeles First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME). Murray’s leadership increased church membership from several hundred to more than 18,000. He is also credited with helping to build FAME Renaissance, the church’s economic-development nonprofit arm, which brings corporate interests, jobs-training programs, affordable-housing development, homeowner loans and small-business incubation into the church’s low-income neighborhood.
“In 2008 whose candidacy will face the most opposition, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Who do you think will face the most opposition or the most prejudice today?”
Reverend Murray: “The Mormon. Because America is still growing.”
Sonja Eddings Brown interviewed Dr. Murray on November 6, 2007, and made the video available to Article VI Blog.
A6: In the past year or so, several polls have been conducted suggesting that as many as 37% of Americans might not consider a member of the Mormon Church to be fit for the office of President. What is your view of the possibility of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being elected to the presidency?
Reverend Murray: To me this seems an antiquated question. Would a Mormon be fit to serve as President? It was really antiquated when we asked the question about John Kennedy and whether a Catholic would be fit to serve as president. About Barack Obama and whether a Black would be fit to serve as president. About Hilary Clinton, whether a woman would be fit to serve as president.
If you want to, you can categorize anyone who is running. You could ask whether a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male is fit to run for president when that’s all we’ve ever had. It’s time to change. There can be arguments if you go by labels, but if you see that this is a country in pursuit of liberty and justice for all, if you perceive that in a democracy as opposed to a fascist form of government we must have liberty and equity in the process. If you can see that we are in the 21st Century, where people will soon be crossing the country in 30 minutes, where we will be vacationing on Mars, if you can see the new world then you accommodate yourself to it and stop living in the past.
People’s labels, as long as they are not labeled as a criminal mentality, or defined as someone not FOR the people, then you can judge the merits of that platform and what they stand for, not where they are standing.
A6: But there are some in your own Christian community that fundamentally reject the theology of the Mormon Church and fear validating it by supporting Mitt Romney. They in essence, reject him, because they reject his beliefs.
Reverend Murray: If a candidate says my belief system is this…and someone who says, “Well my belief system is this…and we do not accept you because of your belief system.” Anyone who is fair would look at this and say “Who appointed you judge?” I say, “When did God die and appoint you judge?” There’s a constant challenge to grow and few churches can point the finger at another. Few people of one belief system can point a finger at another … particularly when you look at how the Mormons were treated in their trek West. They were coming West to escape the brutality of Christian people who were opposed to their way of thinking.
And now, if you would find a church as socially conscious as the Mormon Church, you would have done well. The outreach, the worldwide missionary outreach, young adults, youth, volunteering their time, everyone is a minister in a ministry of outreach, that would be a wonderful model for all of our churches to adopt.
A6: As a respected long-time member of the Christian ministry, how do you feel we are doing as a country when it comes to the actual separation of Church and State?
Reverend Murray: I think the separation of Church and State is a basic policy that we simply must follow. Not to follow that separation, that line in the sand separating church and state is to flirt with danger. Now of course when you separate church and state that doesn’t mean that you weed religion out of those who are in politics, not that you weed politics out of those in religion, but you can’t customize it, you can’t structure it, so that you have the bully pulpit dictating to Congress. You can’t give God a stick and you be God’s agent and you are whipping people into line in your religious context.
You have your religion, your religion is personal. And even though religion is personal but never private, it cannot be public to the extent that it’s “my way or the highway.”
It isn’t American and it isn’t sensible to make the bully pulpit the bully. The bully pulpit at best deals with conscience and conscientiousness. Not consensus and not control. People have the right to believe as they believe. The Pure Charity Trust says that 87% of Americans believe in God but now when we look at how these Americans look at God, you have the Abrahamic faiths. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You have the faith that comes out of the Mormon Church, you have Bhuddist and Daoist. These people have the right to their individual beliefs, but no one has the right to a collective belief that sweeps and demands and says you believe as we believe … or you get hurt.
A6: One of the most commonly-heard criticisms of the LDS Church is that Mormons are not considered to be authentically “Christian.” Reverend, what is your definition of a Christian?
Reverend Murray: The definition of Christian would start with the definition of religion from French Latin: “religare.” It means the pieces fit. Just as with Shalom, the Jewish term, it means “the pieces fit.” As long as the pieces collide, you probably have some struggles with your authenticity in religion. But once the pieces fit, “I love God, I love my neighbor, I have an ear for my neighbor as well as a tongue, I have patience with my neighbor as he has patience with me, I have dialogue with my neighbor who will have dialogue with me. I have differences with my neighbor and he has differences with me,” then the pieces fit. Our greatest challenge? Different folks with differences … not allowing their differences to matter.
A6: In 2008 whose candidacy will face the most opposition, Barack Obama ? Who do you think will face the most opposition or the most prejudice today?
Reverend Murray: The Mormon. Because America is still growing. The question, “Do we want a Mormon?” The ultra conservatives will start reaching into history and try to paint them as a radical sect, try to show that their belief system is alien to what perhaps a majority of Americans believe. Because that’s where we are now. Prayerfully, that’s not where we’ll be in 20, 30 or 40 years. We don’t know. I would say Barack would have the advantage. And anytime you say a black candidate would have an advantage running for President of the United States of America, great day in the morning! After four centuries of bad thinking about Blacks, then you know we still have LONG way to go.
I think Governor Romney must see himself as a symbol. Symbol of the underdog, who must run a good race, fight a good fight, and if and when he loses, walk with his head high because the victory was not in the victory, but in the struggle.
A6: It is not unusual, it is customary even, to see intermingling of church and politics in this present campaign. We have seen Jesse Jackson in the past, or today Barack Obama going into churches with his messages, or even a declared minister like Mike Huckabee campaigning as a man of faith and in places of faith. Are these candidates walking a thin line?
Reverend Murray: Jesse Jackson is a good example of what we’re talking about, because he comes out of the Black community, also out of black ministry. The black ministry knows that if the church is not involved in politics, the black people will get lost. The voting rights movement there in the Black church, getting the black vote out, the church must be involved. But you walk a chalk line interpreting involvement. You are free to endorse a candidate, because much can ride on your endorsement. But if you were to talk to any gathering of 10 blacks, I think nine out of ten, nine and a half out of ten, would say “Jesse is free to say who he wants to endorse, but I endorse who I want.”
Because we are living in a century or better of understanding … that you don’t boss the church with politics.
A6: Considering the questions that continue to follow Governor’s Romney campaign, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing Mitt Romney in his bid for the presidency?
[Romney] may see himself as a door opener, because 4 years from now he might run again and find a whole new chemistry. Or forty years from now another Mormon will run . . . .
Reverend Murray: I think Governor Romney must see himself as a symbol. Symbol of the underdog, who must run a good race, fight a good fight, and if and when he loses, walk with his head high because the victory was not in the victory, but in the struggle. He must hold America to its highest, he must have an agenda with bullet points that are clear to understand so that people can see what he stands for even as some will see as what he stand on … Mormonism. And thus be led to make choices. He may see himself as a door opener, because 4 years from now he might run again and find a whole new chemistry. Or forty years from now another Mormon will run, and they will see, just as Jesse ran for President and Al Sharpton ran for president. There was not a chance that they would win. Blacks knew it very well. They themselves knew it. But they were door openers for such as Barack Obama.
A6: And as a member of the clergy, how do you view the scrutiny that the Mormon Church as a whole is facing this year?
Reverend Murray: It isn’t that Americans are ignorant of the Mormon Church, it is that they want to be ignorant of the Mormon Church because they are different, and we think different “from” means different “bad.” So what is our hope? I think we have a chauffeur when it comes to fairness. We will be driven towards fairness by necessity. You cannot live in this country putting down people of this Church. Of that faith. Of people who are different. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done miracles of transformation. So the mentality of those who behave ignorant of it, and ignorance is bliss for them, they will take some educating. But it can be done and it must be done. So the Mormon Church has to continue to hold tight to high principles, market its product and its people continue to serve beyond themselves, knowing occasionally they’re going to take the hit. But within whatever period of time, people will come to see that the pieces fit.
Some people might say, “Is that a black man over there telling us that it just takes time?”
That’s just common reasoning. It takes time.