The Mayor Talks Religion and Makes Waves
Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll look at Mayor Eric Adams’s recent comments dismissing the separation of church and state.
“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” Mayor Eric Adams declared last week at an annual interfaith breakfast, which by tradition the mayor hosts. That remark seemed to disregard the Jeffersonian notion, seemingly embodied in the Bill of Rights, that the religious and political powers in the United States are distinguishable, distinct and different.
He also said the Supreme Court had made a mistake when it banned school-mandated prayer in the public schools in the early 1960s.
I turned to my colleague Dana Rubinstein, who covers politics in New York, to discuss the mayor’s thinking.
The mayor told the interfaith breakfast that his trajectory to City Hall had been divinely ordained. Had he said that before — during the campaign or on election night in 2021, for example?
I don’t recall him saying it during the campaign, though it’s possible he did. It is something that he says with some regularity now, particularly when he’s speaking to people whom he believes to be religious.
For example, the week before last I went to a talk he gave at the Sheen Center, which is Catholic, and he said he believes God made him for this particular moment in time and for the particular role that he now occupies. He’s fond of paraphrasing a line in Esther 4:14, which in the New International Version of the Bible says, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
He does profess to be a man of faith. He says he attended a storefront church growing up, but he doesn’t subscribe to a particular brand of Christianity, and I’m unclear on whether he goes to church for anything other than political purposes.
And he also has some spiritual beliefs that are mystical and fall outside of conventional Christianity. He talks about how New York City rests on rock formations, and he wears a bracelet of stone. He says he has collected Buddha statues, and he meditates in the morning.
At the interfaith breakfast, one of his aides said the Adams administration doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state, and Adams said the same thing: “State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.”
This was at a breakfast that happens every year at the New York Public Library. It’s hosted by the mayor and attended by hundreds of religious leaders of every imaginable faith.
It began typically enough. There was a gospel choir that was great to listen to, followed by one invocation after another from a Buddhist leader, several rabbis, a Muslim leader and leaders from Christian denominations. Then Ingrid Lewis-Martin, who is his closest aide and is also a chaplain, got up and talked about how this administration does not believe in the separation of church and state.
She introduced the mayor, and he said, basically, “Ingrid’s totally right, I totally agree with Ingrid.”
He made the argument that there can be no separation — if you’re a leader who’s filled with faith, your actions will logically flow from your faith-influenced beliefs. But he took it a step further. He said that when the Supreme Court took prayer of out of the public schools, guns came in. It seemed ahistorical.
Some people told me they thought he was pandering to the crowd, but it was a diverse crowd, representing the diversity of religious life in New York, and not everyone agreed with his comments.
The liberal Jewish leaders who were there, the Reform rabbis, seemed particularly taken aback.
Later I got an email from a contact of mine, a retired Protestant minister, who was horrified. “The kind of religion hizzoner professes is one no serious clergy” would embrace, he said.
A lot of people have pointed out that he made these remarks at a time of rising Christian nationalism, and for that reason, they were ill-timed if not dangerous. That’s something he hasn’t addressed yet, or been asked to address.
Did he explain why he thinks the Supreme Court shouldn’t have banned school prayer?
No, but the next day there was a news conference, and he denied saying what he definitely had said. “I didn’t talk about prayers in school. There are clear rules about prayers in school.”
Does he say what he thinks an audience wants to hear?
A classic way to counter what you perceive as negative press is to attempt to reframe the debate. You go out the next day and start rescripting what was said and moving to an entirely different premise. He said he was thrilled that The Daily News put its story on the interfaith breakfast on the front page — with a headline that said “Mixing God & Gov’t” — because he’s thrilled to defend his belief in God. He said he’s happy to be the warrior for that cause. But that was a reframing of what actually happened.
Then, on Sunday, he said this on CNN: “Government should never be in religion, religion should never be in government. And I hope I’m very clear on that.”
Adams said God could have made him the mayor of “some small town or village somewhere,” like Topeka, Kan., instead of “the most powerful city on the globe.” What did the mayor of Topeka tell you?
Our colleague Ed Shanahan reached out to Mayor Michael Padilla of Topeka, who gave us an eloquent comment in defense of his city, which is the natural thing for a mayor to do when they feel his or her city’s reputation is being sullied.
But Padilla also took a very personal tack and urged Adams to learn humility, saying that humility is an asset and one that he himself has found useful in life.
Padilla noted that this was not the first time that Adams had singled out Kansas as a foil in a negative way. After he took a trip to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, he went off on a tangent that New York City is a brand name and said, it’s not like Kansas. Kansas doesn’t have a brand.
That drew a sharp response from Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas. “I was in NYC visiting my granddaughter when you disparaged my hometown Topeka KS” last year, she wrote on Twitter. “It was this granddaughter who, with her parents, delivered Kansas kindness to you at Gracie Mansion when you disparaged my state.”
Kelly added: “Enough already. You owe Kansas an apology.”
Enjoy a sunny day in the low 50s. Prepare for a chance of rain in the evening, with temps dropping to the mid-30s.
In effect today. Suspended tomorrow (Purim).
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Switching to the A
I was taking the subway from my apartment in Carroll Gardens to Washington Heights to have dinner with my girlfriend and her parents.
Ordinarily, I would keep my AirPods planted firmly in my ears for such a trip, but this time I was engrossed in a recent magazine profile of Francis Ford Coppola that focused on his plans to sink a chunk of his fortune into a passion project called Megalopolis.
When the F train I was on got to West Fourth, I stopped reading while switching to the A. Once I got situated, I eagerly returned to the article, staring intently at my phone screen like seemingly everyone else around me.
I barely noticed when a man got on carrying a trombone. He took a spot by the center pole and started to play a distinct, lilting melody — one it took me a second to place. Once I did, I laughed to myself and put down my phone to watch him finish the song.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, walking down the aisle. “That was the theme from ‘The Godfather.’”
Then he exited the car.
— Chris Stanton
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]
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