Mayor Adams, who believes in God, has a unique perception of a higher power, which many people in New York City are now aware of.
In an interview with the Daily News, he described his view that God is a universal concept of something greater than ourselves that we rely on and have faith in.
How do you describe the God you believe in?
“People have defined it as Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, so many other Gods throughout the generations, but still the underlying principles are really altruism, compassion, treat your neighbors with kindness, help those who need help — the underlying principles are the same. They don’t change,” he said.
“So when I think about it, I don’t see any image. I don’t see an individual characteristic. I see this universal idea that there’s something bigger than us, and that there’s some underlying principles that are universal in all our faith and beliefs.”
Adams credits his love for God during childhood to his mother, some ministers, and the acts of kindness from others. These experiences have greatly influenced his recent statements about religion.
The mayor has expressed a significant amount of thoughts on the matter.
He has called into question the separation of church and state, said that “when we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools” and expressed his hope that the Big Apple will become “a place of God.”
At the start of this year, he indicated that his administration would incorporate breathing and mindfulness exercises into schools throughout the city, a step that some argue is rooted in the principles of Eastern spirituality.
In his interview with The News, Adams acknowledged that although he was raised in the Church of God in Christ and described it as a positive experience, others may have had different experiences with religion.
“I have so many wonderful experiences in church. The Salvation Army coming into our home feeding us from time to time, the women of the church delivering food to us, giving us Christmas gifts, the church members on the block coming out and helping us,” he said. “A negative experience can impact your belief on a good principle. What I mean is that there are many people who demonize those who are Muslim because of the exploitation of the Muslim belief when the actions of those who were abusive had nothing to do with the belief.
“When you look at my life — just the devastation of it — I’m supposed to be sitting in Rikers right now,” he added. “And it was only because in the darkest moments, people were praying, and that prayer gave me this sense of hope.”
Amid the city’s challenging financial situation, migrant crisis, and increasing homelessness, Mayor Adams aims to inspire hope among New Yorkers. As part of his strategy, he plans to involve the city’s faith leaders more extensively.
“They fill the gap where government has missed. If we don’t have these religious institutions, we’d be in a lot of trouble. Go look at where all the food pantries are,” he said. “I want to get the faith-based leaders more involved than what we have been doing because I think they’re a powerful force, and for the most part, they do it for free.”
Mayor Adams frequently shares his personal experiences, including his teenage arrest, being beaten by police officers with his brother, and facing retaliation from NYPD officers when he spoke out against the department where he later became a captain. He believes that these experiences have influenced his spiritual journey.
“Minister Nixon is the one that sticks out in my head so much. He was just a larger than life figure. I remember when we were arrested, we thought we were going to come to church that Sunday and everyone was going to sort of ostracize us, but it was just the opposite,” he said. “They talked about praying for us, being with us.”
During a press conference a few weeks ago, Adams stated that he is not in favor of imposing prayer in schools. However, he strongly believes in the positive effects of prayer, meditation, and other related practices.
“Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, walks, sitting by the park — none of these things have to do with religion. They all have to do with going inward, and what I’ve learned going through my own health journeys , it’s so amazing to me that although all the data is there — how all of these ways of going inward are extremely helpful — for some reason we have become ashamed of them, and we have treated them I think incorrectly,” he told The News. “Prayer is another way of going inward.”
Not surprisingly, not everyone is convinced his rhetoric is adding value to the city’s political discourse.
David Orenstein, a former head of the Secular Humanist Society of New York and anthropology professor at Medgar Evers College, has expressed concern about Mayor Adams’ comments on prayer, stating that they could be a “slippery slope” that may result in legal challenges for the city if he does not exercise caution.
“The closer we get to the line of sanctioning — whether we want to call it prayer, whether we want to call it meditation — you’re getting closer and closer to the line where you’re going to essentially get to the point where you’ve worn down the law,” he said. “It’s deeply concerning for the mayor of a very important American city, which prides itself on its diversity and its secularism, to come out and say he’s making his political choices and his policy decisions based primarily on his faith”
Adams appears unfazed by such admonishments.
“I’m not going to govern with the signature of the bishop, of the pope, of the imam, of the rabbi,” he said. “But I’m going to take those faithful spiritual beliefs that I have to make the right humane decisions. And you’re seeing them.”