After a rough two weeks in office, New York City Mayor Eric Adams sought a familiar refuge Sunday: the pulpit at the Christian Cultural Center, a non-denominational megachurch in Brooklyn.
He gave a 10 minute fiery sermon in which he said the hardest part of running the biggest city in the country was getting the respect he deserved and that he was being demonized for speaking out about his faith. Some in the congregation, mostly made up of Black middle-class worshipers, stood on their feet and roared with approval.
Halfway through his second year as mayor, Mr. Adams is relying more heavily than ever on the religious segment of his multiethnic outer Manhattan base for support, especially when signs of trouble emerge, as they have in recent weeks.
Late last month, Mr. Adams drew criticism for his response to a tenant rights activist whose family escaped the Holocaust. The mayor believed the 84-year-old activist had made disrespectful comments, and publicly compared her to a plantation owner.
The following week, The New York Times revealed that a photo of a police officer killed in the line of duty — which the mayor said he had carried in his wallet for 30 years — had been recently created by employees in the mayor’s office. The next day, a longtime associate of Mr. Adams was charged in a straw donation scheme to raise money for his mayoral campaign; the mayor was not involved.
Amid the wave of negative news, Mr. Adams chose to lay low. He held no public events or news conferences for several consecutive days last week, until he finally appeared on Sunday at the Christian Cultural Center.
“It’s hard to have someone talk down to you and expect you to take it, no matter what they say and what they do,” Mr. Adams told the parishioners. “I am the symbol of Black manhood in the city, in this country, and what it stands for. I’m the mayor of the most powerful city on the planet, and people need to recognize thatt.”
The next morning, the Rev. Dr. V. Simpson Turner, pastor at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and the Fire Department Chaplain, said morning prayer with Mr. Adams. Announcement because the prayer service had an all-caps title: “We stand united in prayer for Mayor Eric Adams, his administration and our city.”
The mayor is not the first politician to hide behind the warm embrace of religion, specifically the Black church, during times of trouble. When Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was investigated for sexual harassment, he visited a black church in Harlem with political leaders, and was often photographed with Latino and black members of the clergy.
“The demographic that supported Eric Adams, who is more centrist and moderate, is the people who go to church,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, an ally of Adams. “That’s his base.”
But Mr. Adams leaned much more heavily on his religious background than most elected officials, especially Democrats.
“Do you want to see people get angry?” Mr Adams said on Sunday. “Tell them you believe in God. Want to expose the devil? Say ‘I believe in God and the devil is a liar’”.
At an interfaith prayer breakfast in February, he stood by comments from his top policy adviser, Ingrid P. Lewis-Martin, that his administration “does not believe” in the separation of church and state.
“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” the mayor said to scattered applause. “State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.”
In the same speech, the mayor also criticized the Supreme Court decision to remove required prayer in schools, saying it contributed to gun violence. And Mr. Adams said God told him three decades ago the exact date he would become mayor and told him to “talk about God.”
He also hired three people in his administration, including two in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, who expressed opposition to gay marriage because of religious beliefs.
Norman Siegel, one of Mr. Adams’ informal advisers, and a former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said he was concerned about the mayor’s focus on religion.
“You are the mayor of the City of New York,” Mr. Siegel said. “You are the government. You shouldn’t do that.”
The Rev. Johnnie Green Jr., pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, considers himself a supporter of Mr. Adams. He said he did not agree with Mr. Adams’ views on the separation of church and state, but that he understood the mayor’s comments about faith informing his work as a politician.
“When you’re an elected official, I think you have to walk a fine line when it comes to religion in politics,” the priest said in an interview, adding that he didn’t think the mayor was trying to impose his religion. beliefs about anyone, but that some might feel differently in the country’s current political climate.
““Many people at the Jan. 6 riot held signs that said ‘Jesus saves’ and ‘God is with us,'” said the Rev. LaKeesha Walrond, president of New York Theological Seminary, who praised the mayor’s efforts. . speaking of faith. “But we must also be careful to recognize that religious freedom is a real gift in this United States in which we live.”
The mayor attended a non-denominational Church of Christ church while growing up in Southeast Queens and maintains an affiliation with that church, said Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor.
The founder and pastor of Christian Cultural Center, the priest AR Bernardo, said that Mr. Adams’ comments on trust indicate that “he practices the social ethic that the people closest to the problem know best how to solve the problem, and it takes government to empower those individuals” to make change.
In one example of government interacting with faith, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships is leading an effort to coordinate with 50 houses to house at least 1,000 asylum seekers. The city has received more than 80,000 asylum seekers since the spring and currently has 52,000 in its care. The effort could send millions of dollars to participating religious institutions.
Mr Bernard said he expected an impassioned speech from Mr Adams, who “knows how to connect with his people”. He described his congregation as a “sophisticated” and “educated electorate” who can tell if you’re “fake or real” quickly.
“He was a preacher,” Mr. Bernard said. “We had two sermons; I did one and he did one.”