Independent Navajo Presidential Candidate and Former Pastor Mark Charles Confronts American History

Mark Charles discusses his 2020 presidential candidacy with RNS. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Mark Charles may be the only 2020 presidential candidate who can list working as a Christian pastor on his résumé. But when you ask him how his faith informs his politics, he doesn’t exactly preach.

“I’m a member of a community that has endured genocide, the horrors of (Native American) boarding schools and incredible oppression because some people thought their job was to legislate their theologies and make their nation Christian,” Charles, a Navajo citizen, told Religion News Service in a recent interview. “Read the teachings of Jesus — that was never his goal. I’m a Christian, yeah. But I am not trying to make my nation Christian. I’m not trying to legislate my theology.”

Indeed, Charles is loathe to pierce the boundary between church and state: “I’m deeply convinced both the church and the nation will be healthier when the two get out of bed with each other.”

Even so, the consultant, advocate and Washington, D.C., resident has a lot to say about religion. In fact, Charles’ critique of American history, particularly American religious history, is a big part of why he launched his campaign for president in the first place — and why he’s running as an independent.

Charles — who grew up in New Mexico the son of an American-Dutch mother and a Navajo father — is not your average politician, and certainly not your average presidential candidate.

He does not appear overly concerned with the traditional hallmarks of campaigning since launching his bid for the Oval Office in May. When asked a complex question, he rarely resorts to sound bites, choosing instead to offer a complex answer over the course of several minutes (even his announcement video was nearly nine minutes long). For his (nearly two-hour) interview with RNS, he wore a T-shirt and sat in a busy dining spot in Washington, but not once did he stand up to shake hands or talk politics with any of the hundreds of people who meandered by, nor did any patrons outwardly express any knowledge of who he was or his campaign for president.

However, Charles — who once pastored a Christian Reformed Church for two years — is absolutely serious about his campaign and very concerned about the plight of America’s poor and marginalized, particularly Native American communities. He explained that the decision to run for president came after he organized an event in Washington in December 2012 to draw attention to an apology to Native Americans written into the 2010 Defense Act.

Charles was frustrated by what he saw as poor attendance at the gathering, but he remained committed to highlighting issues important to Native American communities and other marginalized populations.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the United States of America needs a national dialogue on race, gender and class,” he said. “It’s a conversation I would put on par with the Truth and Reconciliation commissions of South Africa, Rwanda and Canada. I’d call it truth and conciliation because reconciliation implies there was a previous harmony, which is inaccurate.”

Then came the 2016 election cycle. Charles found himself especially impressed with the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom he credited with helping trigger a national awareness about economic inequality.

Suddenly, Charles had an idea.

“Every four years we have a dialogue about who we are and where we’re going — that’s our presidential election cycle,” Charles said.

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Source: Religion News Service