While the American Solidarity Party is often critical of the two main national parties, the ASP of Illinois recently endorsed a Democrat running for Congress in the state’s First District. In endorsing the Rev. Christopher Butler, ASP Illinois said, “Although Pastor Chris is running as a Democrat in the 1st District of Illinois, he is 100% to the pro-life for the whole life values of the ASP.”
Indeed Butler has been clear about holding together traditional values with social justice, not only in launching his Congressional campaign this summer but also in his work as a leader of the And Campaign for Christian engagement in civics, co-host of the Church Politics Podcast, and co-author of the book Compassion (&) Conviction.
While Butler has friends among, and sympathies with, both conservatives and progressives, he offers a critique on his campaign website, along the lines of the ASP’s point of view, of both groups:
My conservative brothers have been complicit in the slow rate of change in America’s overall policing policies. These policies still make it far too easy for officers of the law to harass, verbally and physically abuse, and yes, sometimes kill Black people with impunity. They have been complicit in their public silence and with their ballots in creating an environment that seems hopeless and stirs up fear and rage. But it does not escape me that my progressive friends are complicit in training the minds of our young people in our schools, through our politics, and with our entertainment to reject the “old school” values that dominated previous generations of the Black community.
The American Commons recently interviewed Butler about his campaign to unseat longtime incumbent Rep. Bobby Rush.
The American Commons: I want to start with your impetus to, and the daring to, jump into a congressional campaign with an incumbent who has been in office since 1992. What made you think, I can do this or I’m called to do this, or I have something to offer?
Pastor Chris Butler: Getting into the race is more about not being able to not. I think that we are in a very important moment in our nation’s history. The problems that we are facing–whether they be economic opportunity, whether they be community violence and community safety, whether it’s the strength and health of our democracy and the extent to which people believe in the capacity of the democracy and the government to do things–these things are in a bit of crisis. And I think the only way to move the country in a health direction is to get leaders in there who are going to focus with great passion on those issues that are impacting everyday folks and get to work on those issues without being distracted by many of the things that are distracting us–that a lot of folks would love to see us distracted by forever. I feel like if I’ve done anything in life it’s be engaged in civics and politics and community work and so I think it’s time to offer myself in service in this way.
The American Commons: On your campaign website, the very first article you wrote references Romeo and Juliet and the phrase “a pox on both your houses.” I think its critique and affirmations of aspects of both progressivism and conservatism lines up with the American Solidarity Party. How has that viewpoint been received out in the world or at least in your congressional district?
Pastor Chris Butler: I think that folks who think in a common sense way about politics are still the majority of people in the First Congressional District [of Illinois] for sure and I think probably in the United States. I think that there are plenty of people who love to keep seeing a battle between the far extremes, but when I’m knocking on doors and doing meetings in homes, the vast majority of people are not partisan extremists. They are everyday folks; they want to raise their families, provide a place to live, make sure that their family has health care, their children have access to a high-quality education, their neighborhoods are safe–and those are not particularly partisan questions.
The American Commons: When you knock on someone’s door, how do you start an introduction to that kind of common-sense politics?
Pastor Chris Butler: I just introduce myself: “I’m Pastor Chris Butler and I’m running for Congress in the First Congressional District.” We get right into talking about the issues. We talk about community safety, we talk about rebalancing the economy, we talk about the democracy and making sure that the vote is both secure and accessible. We’re usually well-on into the conversation when somebody asks you what party you are in. Certainly people ask that question at some point, but the vast majority of people when you start talking to them about issues, those are things that are close to their lives and something they want to talk about.
The American Commons: A prompt for us to be talking is the Illinois American Solidarity Party endorsing you as a candidate. Why are you glad to accept an ASP endorsement?
Pastor Chris Butler: The American Solidarity Party is part of the American fabric. I think what the American Solidarity Party endorsing a Democrat for Congress represents is the sort of trans-partisan coalition building that needs to happen in politics and discourse and ultimately in Congress in order to get things done.
The American Commons: Another post on your campaign site is about movement building which is often more difficult than critiquing or running negative campaigns. How is it going being a builder instead of a dunker?
Pastor Chris Butler: It’s going well. Building is hard work. Dunking really is not but that’s why we got into this race–to do hard work, to build relationships, to be organizing, and to ultimately get concrete things done for people.
The American Commons: I have to ask you about the pro-life issue. The Washington Times said you are a pro-life Democrat. It feels like that could be a difficult place to be. How’s it going?
Pastor Chris Butler: The whole-life position is really about protecting the lives of human folks through the whole span of life. So certainly that includes the life of the unborn but there is a lot more to life than being born. That means concern about issues of housing, concern about issues of health care, concern about issues of income equality. I think the more that we work across the broad spectrum of these issues, the more and more we are doing to drive down the outcome of abortion in the United States.
The American Commons: Another intersection between your campaign and your background and the American Solidarity Party is the influence of the Christian faith on your politics and civic engagement. What’s your advice about speaking from that perspective in a pluralistic public square?
Pastor Chris Butler: The influence that my faith has on my politics is that politics is a platform to love your neighbor and to pursue the cause of justice. We talk about in the And Campaign, the great commandment–love your neighbor as yourself–and the great requirement–do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. Politics is not the only platform, but it is an important platform, to live out your faith in that way–to love your neighbor and to pursue justice. When we talk to even people of different faiths, people of no faith, that approach to politics makes sense to them. It’s actually beneficial to everyone when you have folks getting into the domain of politics, civics with a real desire to not necessarily just pursue their own personal wealth, their own personal wellbeing, but to love one’s neighbor and to pursue justice.
The American Commons: You’re up against an incumbent who has been in the position for quite a long time, what makes you think you’re going to win?
Pastor Chris Butler: Folks are ready to get things done. I think the fact that somebody has been in Congress for the last thirty years makes folks ask the question, “Over the last thirty years, is my life better or are we not in as great a place? Are the communities we are living in safer? Is there more economic opportunity? And, do I hear the voice and the vision of the future in the representative that I have?” I think the people of this district are, frankly, hungry for an alternative and I think that’s what has given a lot of energy to our effort.
The American Commons: What would be two or three policies that members of the American Solidarity Party could get behind that you are behind too?
Pastor Chris Butler: When you talk about the economy–things like paid family leave, a whole robust policy around putting families back at the center of our labor practices, and figuring out how to have some kind of basic income guarantee. Strengthening labor unions I think is critically important to rebalancing the economy. When you think about public safety, I envision a very robust public safety system that includes investment in intervention and prevention programs while supporting, educating, and professionalizing policing. On issues of democracy, obviously, getting money out of politics. In thinking about gerrymandering, structure our voting processes so that they are smarter and more accessible to folks. There are a whole range of policies I think ASP members would be excited to get behind that I plan to champion in the United States Congress.
Interview conducted by James Todd. The interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
James G Hanink
Great interview. Many thanks!