I have a great admiration for St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago and its pastor, Fr Michael Pfleger. I admire his style of preaching, his activism, and his strong ties to Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. For good reason, he has garnered great notoriety and respect among the Black Catholic community, and the Black community in general.
It is because of his standing in the Black community that I, as a Black Catholic, was hoping that he would extend his endorsement towards Pastor Chris Butler as a candidate for the US House of Representatives for Illinois’ 1st Congressional District.
It’s fair to say that I respect Fr Pfleger’s decision to instead support the campaign of Illinois State Senator Jacqueline Collins. As a fellow Black Catholic, Sen. Collins is a formidable candidate and has strong ties to St Sabina as well as the local community at large. That said, I personally believe that Fr Pfleger, if for nothing more than to silence the politically charged voices of conservative Catholic critics, missed a unique opportunity to support a candidate who most reflects the holistic teachings of the Catholic Church.
As I’ve said in the past, there have been times when I felt that my political beliefs as a progressive Democrat seemed to be at odds with my efforts to be a “good Catholic.” I would venture to say that such a feeling remains prevalent among progressive Catholics in general, and Black Catholics in particular.
As “a lifelong advocate for our families and communities,” Pastor Butler’s strong pro-life stance, along with his unapologetic Democratic beliefs are refreshing not only for the Democratic Party, but for the entire country. This is made evident by the positive response he received as a guest on former governor Mike Huckabee’s television program. It is truly a shame that the Butler campaign is ignored by the Democratic power structure and by progressive and mainstream media, so much so that he had to turn to a conservative media outlet to gain national coverage.
During his interview with Huckabee, Pastor Butler presented his views in a manner that can serve as a bridge between the Black and pro-life communities (which, unfortunately, are often all too distinct). He discussed his Chicago upbringing, which emphasized that he learned his pro-life values in his local community. This is important because it highlights the fact that the grassroots values of his Black neighborhood, and many across the nation, are strong and most definitely not monolithic.
Pastor Butler also made note of the pressure that popular culture and the Democratic power structure seem to want to impose on the Black community: to be automatically pro-abortion, when the actual views of many in the Black community may be much more complicated. Yet and still, pro-abortion forces seem to continue to work against (and even seek to end) the careers of Black pro-life politicians, like former State Representative John DeBerry of Tennessee.
At one point in his interview with Pastor Butler, Huckabee said, "I don't understand why there aren't more voices in the African American community [who speak up against the effect of abortion on the Black community]”. This, of course, is a common trope from White pro-lifers that is at best a misunderstanding, and at worst a clear sign of racial bias. Pastor Butler calmly explained that Black leaders continuously speak up on the effects abortion has within their communities.
Pastor Butler is right, and many White Americans within the pro-life movement simply have not encountered views from African Americans in the pro-life movement. The resulting misconceptions undermine the moral fiber and leadership of the Black community itself, which does in fact offer varying views—in spite of the limited platforms provided to those offering a detailed and progressive pro-life message.
By any standard, it would be safe to say that Pastor Butler’s appearance on Huckabee’s show was a success. So much so that there was an overwhelmingly positive response from the conservative and Republican audience. One post in the comments section of the video posted on the appearance, however, stood out to me:
“But what would he do if he won? It's the very same conflict as in Canada. Every party is pro-abortion because Canada has no abortion laws = anything/everything goes. Therefore, 'pro-life' politicians who propose doing nothing are simply confusing the issue, giving people the impression that it's ok to be pro-life yet keep the existing abortion situation. You simply have pro-life politicians who are being hypocritical. What is he proposing to do if he wins? That's the question.”
I’m glad she asked! Pastor Butler is not only a true pro-life Democrat. He is a Whole Life Democrat, meaning that he is not just anti-abortion, but is also against the death penalty and other fatal policies that threaten human life from conception to natural death.
Furthermore, Pastor Butler has a clear focus on addressing issues that affect families beyond the mere birth of a child, such as “maternal mortality, poverty wages and expanding access to healthcare, affordable housing, and affordable high-quality childcare.” This focus is clearly in line with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ challenge to American Catholics to live the “Gospel of Life”, even though Butler himself is a Protestant.
I believe that voters—especially members of the Black community, and Black Catholics in particular—should at least give Pastor Butler a closer look. And it may be short notice, but Fr Pfleger: it may not be too late to invite Pastor Butler to a St Sabina’s Sunday Mass before the primary on June 28th. His message would be received well by the congregation on policy alone—even by Sen. Collins.
She may indeed be a fine candidate, and I am by no means challenging her commitment to her community or to her Church. I just feel that in the politically charged environment of the day, it’s refreshing to see an unapologetically Black, pro-life, progressive Democratic candidate like Pastor Chris Butler.
I have a feeling that I am not the only Black voter who feels that way, and certainly not the only Black Catholic.
Douglas M. Stringer, JD, is a Business, Political, and Government Relations Consultant at Session Law Firm, P.C. in Washington, DC, where he is a proud member of St. Augustine Catholic Church. He currently serves as the Candidate Outreach Director for Democrats for Life of America.