by Heather Roote Faller
January 2009 found M.Div. middler Grant Brooke spending mornings in his theology and film class at PTS, then driving to Washington DC in the afternoon, leaving the next morning at 6:00 a.m. to return to Princeton for his morning class. Brooke had just been named executive director of the Matthew 25 Network, a 30,000-member PAC and 501(c)(3) named for the passage in which Jesus says, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” After the inauguration, the office of Matthew 25 moved to Princeton for the year and a half until Brooke graduates.
Brooke says it was his upbringing in southeast and central Texas that led to his calling to put his faith into action in the public realm; he credits his mother, a single parent and a juvenile justice advocate, with inspiring his progressive political views. Brooke attended American University in Washington DC, and created his own major in the political sociology of religion and political science. Then, on the advice of his professor, James Spring (M.Div., 2000), he came to Princeton.
In March 2007 Brooke was looking for a way to become more involved in politics. He saw an episode of The Colbert Report featuring Mara Vanderslice, founder of the political consulting firm Common Good Strategies. Brooke emailed the firm the next day, and spent the following summer there in a field education placement newly created for him. Vanderslice later left the firm to found Matthew 25 and in December 2008 was named director of religious outreach in the Office of Public Liaison with the Obama transition team.
As the new director, Brooke says his to-do list is long, including calling reporters to introduce himself, relaunching the organization’s web site, and working with the new administration on policy issues. During the presidential campaign, Matthew 25 released ads on Christian radio stations and worked with the media, including offering reporters information about black theology in the wake of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright scandal. Matthew 25 conducted exit polls and compared states where they ran ads and states where they didn’t, and Brooke says their efforts made a 3–4% difference among Christian voters. He also notes the nature of media coverage of political issues. “In 2007 we were dominated by articles about the religious right, with the religious left not mentioned. [But] I haven’t seen an article since the summer [of 2008] that doesn’t also take into account the religious left.”
To those who prefer not to mix their politics, left or right, with religion, Brooke says that’s just too easy. “We have hard decisions to make and that’s part of being human. Being involved in the political process is part of our task as Christians and as citizens.”
And it’s also about the issues. There are issues where people of faith are the only advocates, Brooke says, “whether that be prison reform and the death penalty, torture, or immigration reform, which is largely a faith-based issue. From a practical level, people on the margins of society often have no other voice, and they’re dependent on people of faith to stand up on their behalf.”
Brooke spent the first few weeks of January 2009 working with the Obama transition team. The administration is proposing a plan in which those who give two years of service, such as in the military or Americorps, can receive tuition for two years of college. “I wanted faith groups to be included, so I asked Mara [Vanderslice] to be sure that happened. And it hopefully will,” says Brooke.
While Brooke is obviously pleased with the opportunity to work closely with the new administration, he also knows that “there will be points where we disagree…there are places the administration can’t be as progressive as we can, and I’m not going to hold back letting them know how I feel about that.”
On January 20, Brooke attended the inauguration to hear Obama speak. In the years to come, Obama will be hearing from him, too.