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Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, is Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and President of SUNY College at Old Westbury. Rev. Butts was one of the founders,[…]

Calvin Butts discusses Evangelicals’ shifting values, his support for Senator Clinton and what an Obama presidency will mean for race relations.

Question: Have you seen evangelicals shifting their political alliances?

Rev. Butts:       I haven’t really studied it but I have heard that it is happening.  And because I haven’t studied it, I’ve… I’m hesitant to comment, but I would think that global warming, you know, reveal knowledge.  Science tells you that this is a reality.  Now, you could say and quite frankly, I like the answer that Sarah Palin gave on this.  Look, I know she says as best as I can remember is this, I don’t know that the process is all made by human beings or caused by human beings because the cyclical nature of our atmosphere and our world may have something to do with this.  But she said that I’m sure that human beings have made major contributions to this global warming after all.  So, I think that some of the Evangelicals who took the strong opinion that, you know, this had nothing to do with human kind and, you know, men and women were not involved in this are beginning to see it a little differently.  And so, that might account for some of the shift.  Another interesting thing, watching Sarah Palin, she hadn’t said much about [abortion].  And interesting thing to that is that many men and women I think understand particularly Evangelicals that the choice is ours.  I mean, I put before you life and death, you know, we pray you choose life.  The choice is really yours.  You can’t legislate this.  And so, a woman does have a right to choose.  It’s a God given right.  Now, we pray, I do that she would choose life, but it’s really up to her.  And so I think that more and more people are beginning to understand this and they are stopping the shouting and beginning to listen, talk and pray together, and that might have count because the radical extremes on either side [that] where we ought to be.  And I think also, this young Senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama has caused people to realize that there needs to be more of a moving to a common ground understanding and that might be a reason that some Evangelicals are moving towards the Democratic Party.

Question: Why did you support Hillary Clinton in the primary?

Rev. Butts:       Well, I think it’s good to say I had no reservations about Barack Obama.  I think that he is qualified, visionary, strong, absolutely, he’s intelligent, not taking it, no question.  But I believe he’s committed to his principles and the issues that he espouses, so I had no reservations.  But I’m in New Yorker and I have a long… and meaningful relationship with the Clintons.  For example, I’m the President of State University of New York in Old Westbury.  I took over a college that was not in good shape.  We built it up it’s in excellent shape now.  But during the process of rebuilding the school, I needed help, and I remember picking up the telephone once and calling Bill Clinton, I say “Mr. President, I’d like for you to come out and speak for our college.”  So, I’ve a big luncheon that raises money to send young men and women overseas to study, just travel or study abroad, and he said he would come.  Actually, I’d put it in a more of a colloquial way, I said, “Can you help a brother out?”  He said, “I’d be right there.”  Now, not only did he come, he didn’t charge me anything and I [raised] with Bill Clinton the largest amount of money that the college has ever raised since its inception.  You can’t… you can’t forget that.  He established an office in Harlem.  Hillary Clinton has been very supportive of our community development activities what I call our kind of creative protest against deterioration and as a United States Senator.  I’ve been with Bill Clinton in many settings, Hillary Clinton in many settings when they have acknowledged our work, encouraged us, put us in contact with people who can help us.  How do you walk away from that?  That would make me less of a person.  And so, when Mrs. Clinton said that she was going to run for president, I said that I would support her in the primary and I stick by my word.  I’d talked with Senator Obama and we had a very good conversation.  I said, “You know, Senator, if I lived in Illinois, we wouldn’t have a problem but I’m a New Yorker.”  Now, two more points, my Congressman is Charles Rangel, he have the powerful Ways and Means Committee and my senator is Charles Schumer, very powerful man in the Senate.  They too were supporting Hillary Clinton and they also have worked with us in our community development activities, in our educational programs.  And so, I stuck with Hillary Clinton because she’s been a friend and I think that she is eminently qualified.  She’d paid her dues.  She would have been a tough candidate.  Now, when the primary was over and she did not win and Barack Obama did, absolutely no question, and I told Barack Obama that face to face as close as you and I are right now that I would support him and I am supporting vigorously without apology and I want him to win because I think it would be good for America.  But that still does not take away my high regarded respect for Senator Clinton and I really hope that her career in elective politics is not over.

Question: What will an Obama presidency mean for the debate on race?

Rev. Butts:    There are many of my colleagues and others who say that Barack Obama wins, that’s it.  You know, you would have ascended to the presidency an African-American and there would be no more need for affirmative action and, you know, the race issue was dead in America because whites have voted in big numbers for Barack Obama, but that’s not the case.  Barack Obama will be President of the United States of America but that won’t end the conversation on race.  There’s still a lot of people in this country who have to wrestle with this issue, black and white.  There would be racial incidents.  There would be police brutality and there would be those, by the way, who are just incensed with the fact that we have elected a black president and they will let it be known.  And so, I think we’re going to be involved in this conversation unfortunately for a long time.  However, we would have made a big step forward in the discussion, but I think we’re still going to have to wrestle with issues like affirmative action, how people of African descent are being treated in jobs and advancement in jobs, education, you know, it’s still an issue… And Barack Obama, once he’s elected, he’s not going to be able to solve all the problems, you know that.  Just as any person who’s elected is you got a Congress to work with, you know, you got a court to work with.  It will be a good thing, but it will not be the end of the racial discussion, it will not be nirvana, it will not be a fantasy, it will not be Shangri-La.  We’re still going to have some struggles in America, but thank God for the struggles and I think the conversation would be even more focused as a result of having elected him as president.