Statement From CDA Founder on Burns Strider and the DNC

by Christina Forrester

By now you have likely heard about the former Hillary Clinton faith adviser, Burns Strider, who had been accused of sexual harassment in 2008. After much personal prayer and struggle, I have decided that because I was directly involved in 2016 with Mr. Strider, and had relocated for approximately six months to D.C. to work in his offices, and have been receiving questions on my knowledge or involvement, it is my responsibility make a statement on this story and clear up any possible connections or misconceptions that could arise. This is simply a factual account of my own experience that I feel is owed to our community and to all those using this story as a distraction and another way to malign Hillary Clinton – I want to make it clear exactly what happened in my own experience with Mr. Strider and my experience with the DNC.

I met Burns in 2012 when I was in D.C. working on faith-based outreach for the Obama campaign and to take part in the Democratic National Convention in Charlottsville, NC. I met with the DNC faith outreach team, at the time lead by Pastor Derrick Harkins, and was invited to take part in their faith panel and say the opening prayer for the Faith Caucus meeting. It was during this time that I met Mr. Strider, the faith adviser for Hillary Clinton in 2008. We met at a local coffeehouse and discussed Christian Democrats of America, the organizations he was involved with and our shared vision of wanting to see a progressive Christian voice rise up in the country. We kept in contact via email and late in 2015 the CDA team as well as Burns and his team had a phone meeting discussing the 2016 campaign, including our mutual goals and how we could work together to bring up the voice of Christian progressives. Burns and his team invited us to occupy one of the Eleison Group offices in their suite in Rosslyn, VA and I relocated to Washington, D.C. The CDA Director of Operations and my sister, Jessica Forrester, relocated with me and we shared the office.

During this time there were numerous meetings with Burns and his team on the things I outlined above, as well as our involvement in plans for the Faith Caucus events at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. In the numerous accounts of the story of Mr. Strider, the focus has been on Hillary, and I have yet to see it mentioned that Strider also worked for the DNC. Burns was in charge of planning and coordination for the DNC faith outreach, and we were part of the early planning stages of the DNC faith caucus. The plans fell through however, and besides attending and conducting press interviews at the events, we did not, nor was CDA, invited to represent or participate in any of the faith events. Since I had had an active role in the 2012 DNC faith events, this was obviously a surprise and disappointment. Shortly after the DNC, I relocated myself and CDA back to my home state of Arizona.

Never, at any time, did either myself or my colleagues hear anything of these breaking news allegations against Mr. Strider until the news broke over the weekend in the New York Times. I have had little communication with Mr. Strider since the DNC in 2016, and though there was disappointment for the way Christian Democrats were given a cold shoulder from the DNC, we left on amicable terms and until last weekend have since shared articles, press releases and continued helping each other further the voice of progressive Christians. My team and I were grateful for the opportunity to be in D.C. for the time we spent at the Eleison office and with the supportive team assembled there. Never, at any time, was there any inappropriate behavior, emails or insinuations towards myself or any of my colleagues from Mr. Strider or anyone on his team.

This is a sad situation, and our prayers are with all who are affected by these events. The current movement is a long-overdue and important one for women to finally have their voices heard and I hope to see major institutional change in a wide variety of industries. I am in full support of this, as is CDA and our team. It saddens me to learn of these allegations against Strider, and that women were hurt by a man I considered a friend. I pray for these women and admire their bravery. I also believe we should not allow this movement to get lost in politics and outrage on social media – there is a tendency to paint every allegation with a broad brush and not every allegation deserves the “death penalty.” As a #metoo and #timesup advocate, I want to focus on solutions to bring lasting change and true equality for women and our culture.  I cannot comment on these allegations as I had no previous knowledge of them and during my time working with Burns I never knew of them, nor have I spoken to any of the women or Strider. I will say, however, that any chance to pile dirt onto Hillary Clinton and thus distract from the daily diminishment of our democracy by President Trump will be used by many on the Right and Right-Wing media will push stories such as these while ignoring the serious issues that face us each day.

Unfortunately, even under new leadership the DNC has continued to reject our requests for a meeting or a recognition of the movement of Christian Democrats and Progressives – we have appealed directly to Tom Perez and his team with no response. As the largest organization of faith with “Democrat” in the name, since 2012 we have met resistance to any platform, assistance, our offerings to help reach faith voters, or even to have a meeting with the DNC. If Democrats are going to win again, they must open their doors wide to people of faith, and show the same tolerance towards groups like ours as they do other communities. The Religious Right is successful in its political machine and swaying voters of faith because they are fully supported by the Republican party. Though we do not want the same kind of misuse and abuse of Christianity on the Left, we also cannot have the doors shut to these communities, our concerns, and our voice. We have a voice of over 135k  followers and 2016 we were reaching over 1 million people per month on social media, leading conversations on Religious Right hypocrisy and why Christians should be supporting the Democrats in ways the DNC never tried. I still hope that one day the DNC will open its doors to hear us, but no longer is it the goal of our organization to be the Christian arm of the DNC, especially now as I watch continuing coverage that puts all the blame for Burns Strider squarely onto the shoulders of Hillary Clinton, when it was the DNC that had made Strider in charge of their entire faith outreach program in 2016.

Though the DNC is not perfect, the Democratic Party or Independent candidates who support a platform such as CDA has put forward is now the only real choice for Christians who uphold the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Republican Party, under Trump, is no longer an option. The hypocrisy of the Right Wing to point out indiscretions of anyone on the Left when the President sits in the oval office with multiple accusers of sexual assault and misconduct is absurd. Conservative Evangelical leaders such as Tony Perkins and Franklin Graham have abandoned all sense of Christian values and even teachings by shrugging off the President’s alleged affair with a porn star after his wife had just given birth to their son, tying themselves into all sorts of theological knots to try to excuse his bullying, insults, divisiveness, condoning of White Supremacist ideas and anti-immigrant sentiment.

We have an opportunity now to step out and speak out, with or without the institutional support of the Democratic Party. Let us not be distracted, but keep our eyes on the goals before us. Christian Democrats in America can make an impact and fill the void and our country needs us now. #ChristiansResist!