South Side Rev. Corey Brooks says he's baffled by a Chicago Sun-Times column criticizing his enthusiastic endorsement of Republican Illinois governor candidate Bruce Rauner.
In a Monday-night dispatch entitled "Preachers belong in the pulpit, not in politics," columnist Mary Mitchell argued that the "level of respect" for religious leaders in the African-American community dissipates when they enter into the political arena, as Brooks has done with his vocal support for the wealthy North Shore investor.
"Well, obviously she doesn't read the Bible," Brooks told me in an interview Tuesday, calling Mitchell a member of the Democratic Party's "status quo." "Obviously she doesn't know scripture. And obviously she doesn't know her history because were it not for the African-American church being involved in the political process, we wouldn't have had such civil rights reformers and abolitionists as we had, so I don't know where she's coming from with that."
Brooks' New Beginnings Church was burglarized Saturday, and afterward the pastor said he thought an $8,000 theft from a church charity box and death threats he received last Friday were related to his backing of Rauner over the Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat. As a result, he vowed Sunday to curb political appearances at the pulpit, saying he didn't want to put New Beginnings "in jeopardy."
After temporarily moving his family to a safe location, Brooks said that he was back at home where he's installed a new surveillance system. He said he's not received any threats since someone with an altered voice made slur-filled calls to his cell phone; the calls, as well as the robbery, are under investigation by Chicago police.
"We've never had a break-in in 14 years of our church, and for us to all of a sudden have this break-in, just seems ... strange," he said. "But do I know who broke in? Absolutely not. Do I think these two things are (related) to each other? I don't know. I would hope not, and I would pray not."
Brooks is among several prominent pro-Rauner African-American supporters on Chicago's staunchly Democratic South Side, home to Quinn's core voter base. Rauner has eagerly courted black voters in an attempt to disrupt the incumbent's influence there and tip the balance of the election outside the powerful Windy City bloc. In a recent debate, Rauner argued that Quinn is "taking the African-American vote for granted," while Quinn asserted: "All my opponent does is grow his bank account and that hurts everyone." A September Tribune survey revealed Quinn out-polling Rauner among African-Americans, with 86 percent touting the governor above his GOP rival.
Mitchell wrote, "even in this Democratic stronghold there are black Republicans. The difference between Brooks and his fellow black conservatives is they don’t let themselves get dragged into a street brawl. ... Religious leaders are supposed to serve the community, not serve up the community to politicians."
Said Brooks in response: "I thought it was the political process, and so how is she making it a street brawl? I know street brawls. I see those on the streets of Chicago every day ... so she must not know what a street brawl is because the political process, (politicians) talking about each other and having words, is definitely not a street brawl."
He said he won't let his politics bleed into New Beginnings services.
"I certainly understand that I'm speaking for Corey Brooks. I'm not speaking for New Beginnings Church," he said. "Never at any time have we told our church to vote for such-and-such. ... I don't stand up and preach political sermons. But I do ... reserve a right to say who I'm voting for and who I'm going to endorse. Do I hope that people will follow my endorsement outside of my church and inside my church? Absolutely. That's why I made the endorsement. But is it something that I try to force upon people? Absolutely not."
Asked whether he's spoken with Quinn, Brooks recalled how the governor snubbed him following a debate against Rauner.
"I tried to shake Governor Quinn's hand after the debate, the last debate, and he refused to shake my hand, told me he was too disappointed with me as if I was his son. But I wanted to tell him I'm a grown man, I definitely have the opportunity to vote for who I want to, and so if he wouldn't even be a respectful, honorable governor and shake the hand of an individual, then I definitely don't expect to hear from him or anyone on his team. And I'm OK with that."
He added: "I understand how they feel—they feel like I'm going against the status quo, they feel like I'm going against them directly, and so they have every right to feel the way that they feel."
Mary Mitchell declined to comment for this article.