New York City Mayor Eric Adams may well fit in somewhere between the great actor Frederic March’s portrayal of a fanatical lawyer delivering God’s instructions to the world, and that of lesser-known actor Jay Robinson as a frenzied Caligula when, as Rome’s emperor, he demands his court to “kneel…kneel…kneel to your God.”
“When I walk, I walk with God, when I talk, I talk with God. When I put policies in place, I put them in with a God-like approach to them – that’s who I am,” Adams declared at an interfaith breakfast last week, as The New York Daily News reports.
The mayor might have meant this in a positive way, but it almost sounds as if he is proclaiming himself God-like. It compounds his claim last month that “God” told him to become mayor.
He already dismissed Thomas Jefferson’s concept of separating church from state during his appearance, in which he said, “Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state. State is the body, church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies. I can’t separate my beliefs because I’m an elected official.”
These and even further statements, issued without context or explanation, are scary. Attendee Rabbi Abby Stein retorted, “When elected leaders start calling their beliefs more important than serving the people, that’s very dangerous.”
Stronger language was expressed last Friday when religious leaders and community activists staged a protest outside the mayor’s Manhattan office. “I’m not sure what god he’s praying to, but it should stay out of our government,” declared Alicia Nascimento, director for New York Communities for Change.
Nothing wrong with acknowledging the role of religion in society. For better or worse, religion is intertwined with government, business and social services. It is a precarious balance. Many schools, social agencies and hospitals are rooted in religious movements. Jewish and Catholic organizations operate a wide range of services that are enmeshed with government in financial and administrative terms.
Remember, too, that many religious-based ventures are exempted from taxes.
They do operate through a system based on inclusion and comfort for those of different religions who patronize their services.
However, I recall sitting through meetings as a reporter when prayers accentuating Jesus were recited in central Pennsylvania. I would read something during those periods.
New York’s mayor, a Christian, flubbed the opportunity to discuss religion in a comfort zone by giving religion far more than its due. Adams’ approach was hardly subtle that Tuesday morning, as he also said, “Today, we proclaim that this city, New York City, is a place where the mayor of New York is a servant of God.”
“The Gospel according to Adams,” Spencer Tracy might himself proclaim, as in his portrayal of a defense lawyer in “Inherit the Wind” during the infamous monkey trial regarding the teaching of evolution. “God speaks to Adams, and Adams tells the world! Adams, Adams, Adams, Almighty!”
And Frederic March, playing the preaching lead prosecutor, would respond: “All of you know what Adams stands for – what Adams believes! New York’s mayor believes in the truth of the Book of Genesis! Exodus! Leviticus!…”and so on as he recites the remaining books of the Bible.
Let us hope that Adams does not command his subjects to “kneel…kneel…kneel to your God!” as did Jay Robinson as the Roman emperor Caligula in “Demetrius and the Gladiators,” after Susan Hayward deceitfully anoints him a God.
Of course, the mayor also contradicts the First Amendment which prohibits any given religion from driving government policy.
Adams’ arrogance knew no bounds that day when his spokesman, Fabien Levy, turned on his critics, saying, “While everyone in the room immediately understood what the mayor meant, it’s unfortunate that some have immediately attempted to hijack the narrative in an effort to misrepresent the mayor’s comments.”
Even the mayor misrepresented himself. Who can figure out what he meant? Need we worry about it?
As Rabbi Abby Stein told a Daily News reporter, “There was a lot of people who were like, ‘No, no, no, no, what is happening? What is he talking about?’ At least half of the room was not with him when he talked about separation of church and state.”
Adams was coaxed into vaguely walking back his claims while appearing this past Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” opening with, “I want to be clear.” He did not quite accomplish this simple goal.
The host asked the mayor if he fundamentally believes in the separation of church and state “from a governing standpoint,” and he said “no.”
He quickly added: “What I believe is you cannot separate your faith. Government should not interfere with religion and religion should not interfere with government. But I believe my faith pushes me forward on how I govern.”
Adams manages to contradict himself here, and otherwise I can merely conclude that he means well. So, to be generous, let’s tell the mayor: Vaya con Dios. He may need to hear it.