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Clyburn offers ‘Make America great’ variation during PC(USA) talk

House Majority Whip first guest on Washington office’s ‘Faith & Politics’ webinar series 

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn

LOUISVILLE — As U.S. Rep. James Clyburn’s conversation with Presbyterian Office of Public Witness coordinator the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins wound down Tuesday, the South Carolina Congressman offered his variation on President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again. 

“Make America’s greatness affordable and accessible to all its citizens,” Clyburn said. 

The No. 3 ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives joined Hawkins for the inaugural episode of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Washington Office’s “Faith & Politics” webinar series. The series aims to engage members of Congress and other officials in conversations about their faith and how faith impacts their work. 

Clyburn’s reflection brought up his former colleague, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, who died last week at age 68. 


The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins is coordinator of the Office of Public Witness. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Both men were sons of preachers, which Clyburn said was one of the few leadership roles a man who was black could have in the community when he was growing up in Sumter, South Carolina, in the 1940s and ’50s. 

“Elijah and I used to talk about that,” said Clyburn, 79. “His whole thing was we have a certain responsibility, because we’re standing on their shoulders. We didn’t make them who they were, but they made us who we are, and we have an obligation to carry that forward. We talked about that all the time.

“Faith, to me,” Clyburn told Hawkins, “is summed up in the 11th Chapter of Hebrews, in the very first verse: ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.’” 

Clyburn said that was a guiding light to his mother, who saw nothing around when he was growing up that would give her hope of her son one day becoming a Member of Congress.

It was one of several times the House Majority Whip invoked Scripture during the more than 45-minute talk in his congressional office, starting with Micah 6:8:  

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? 

Clyburn told Hawkins that he got his start in public speaking in church in South Carolina, where he and Hawkins noted that the Congressman’s family was friends with the family of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, who once held Hawkins’ current post and is now the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  

“His dad was one of my favorite people,” Clyburn said of the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson Sr., who was president of the South Carolina NAACP when Clyburn was active in the organization.    

As an active man of faith and legislator, Clyburn said he sees roles for people of faith in government, including advocacy and building up the country, work that does not violate the separation of church and state. 

“People of faith ought to do more than profess it,” Clyburn said. “I think we ought to be guided by the second chapter of James, where we are told that ‘faith without works is dead.’ If you look at the history of that epistle, James had written that epistle some 40 years after Christ had ascended.” 

There was a feeling among some of Christ’s followers that their faith was nobody’s business, Clyburn said. Rather, it was between them and God.  

“James thought otherwise,” Clyburn said. “His whole thing was, if your brother or sister comes to you naked or hungry, it’s not enough for you to tell them you’ll pray for them. You feed them and you clothe them, because faith without works is dead.

“To me, that should be the dictate to people of faith, and the question is, how do you get that done? None of us have the power to feed the multitude. We do have the power to make decisions in the marketplace of ideas, and sometimes it may be in the government process, and other times, it may be in the church.” 

He said tithing goes beyond the church walls and that it is incumbent upon Christians to give to the poor. And that brought him around to his twist on the President’s campaign slogan, when Hawkins asked him about his priorities.  

“Education needs to be accessible and affordable,” Clyburn said. “Health care needs to be accessible and affordable. Low income housing — accessible and affordable. … Look at all our government has to offer. The first thing to us is, is it accessible, and is it affordable?’” 

To view the webinar, click here.

The Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. 

Read more 

PC(USA) Compassion, Peace & Justice offering 3 webinars in the coming week 

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