Quardricos Driskell has always believed in God. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had questions.
“The church I went to was historically Black, but the image of Christ on the stained glass was white,” says Driskell. “So, I asked, who is this white man that we are praying to?”
The church clergy, though formally educated, didn’t have an answer that was sufficient for Driskell, and he began to wonder more. “I began asking deeply theological questions about human sexuality, gender, and the end times,” he explains. “I was always a bit of an oddity in the church space.”
Driskell’s habit of exploring his faith evolved alongside his political consciousness, which he developed from helping his mother support political campaigns in his hometown of Atlanta, GA. By the time Driskell enrolled as an undergraduate at Morehouse College, he had grown into someone political, faithful, and curious. He wanted to know, why do people believe what they believe? Pray like they pray? Vote like they vote?
He brought these questions with him to Harvard Divinity School, where they shaped his studies. Today, these same questions shape his work as a health care lobbyist, professor, and pastor. Curious about how religion and politics intersect in his current vocations, we spoke with the Reverend Professor Driskell about his work, his commitment to pluralism, and his views on the roles of religion and politics in the world today.
HDS: You’re a professor, a reverend, a lobbyist, and a writer. How do you describe your multifaceted work when people ask what you do?
Driskell: I describe the work that I do as making—hopefully—a transcending social change at the intersection of religion, politics, and education. It is often hard for people to categorize me or give me a title because I have multiple things going on. For example, for my day job, I manage the legislative and political affairs department for a medical professional trade association. I also teach graduate and undergraduate students at The George Washington University and serve as pastor at the Beulah Baptist Church, a historic African American congregation in Alexandria, Virginia.
One of the things that I loved about the Divinity School is that it allowed me to not be completely limited to one aspect of study. HDS said to me, in a very academic way, that it’s okay to have and explore multiple interests.
HDS: In your eyes, how are religion and politics connected?
Driskell: We often think of politics as being separate from religion—but it’s not. Religion is political, and we must understand that first. We also must realize that not all religious beliefs are the same. Even people within the same faith tradition can believe vastly different things. So, we know that religion is vitally important for most people in the world, but few people really understand religion. Yet, we operate in the polis, the city-state. That results in these two competing, and sometimes complementary, identities: religious identity and political identity.
One of the reasons why America was founded was simply because of religious freedom, right? This allows America to be this melting pot, which allows for religious pluralism. Now the question becomes, how does that play out politically? What does that look like when all these religious voices are coming to the public square, or they’re advocating for certain policies or for certain legislation?
“Pluralism, for me, is holding space and the acceptance of various identities and complexities that meet at the intersection where worlds collide. In my different professional and personal spaces, I hold these tensions at the forefront.” Quardricos Driskell, MTS '08
HDS: We talk a lot about pluralism—the idea that multiple beliefs can and should coexist in the same space—at the Divinity School. How has pluralism shaped your path?
Driskell: When I was a kid, I remember my dad saying something along the lines of, “Son, we’re not Republicans, we’re Democrats.” I asked why, and he said, “Well, we’re Black.” And that didn’t make sense to me. I knew that his father, my paternal grandfather, was a Republican.
That conversation led me to decide I was a Republican at an early age. It was within that identity that I began to explore political pluralism.
In college, I really began to interact with people who believed differently than I did. I was at Morehouse College, where I re-chartered Morehouse Republicans. We worked closely with Morehouse Democrats and the NAACP, and I was heavily involved in the Georgia Association of College Republicans. I was also involved in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, a pre-seminarian program. At the same time, I was beginning, informally, to study Buddhism.
In the political space, I’ve always been bipartisan—a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat, if you will. I’m always having courageous conversations within this identity, from both a political and religious perspective.
Pluralism, for me, is holding space and the acceptance of various identities and complexities that meet at the intersection where worlds collide. In my different professional and personal spaces, I hold these tensions at the forefront.
HDS: Your work involves spending a lot of time caring for others. How do you restore and take time to care for yourself?
Driskell: I practice the sacredness of self-care. I love the outdoors, and I’m an avid hiker. I’ve been hiking across the world. I’m intentional about my time, and I often take time for myself, because that time is just as important as my work. I’ve told my congregation and students: if I am not healthy and whole, then I cannot be present for you. I have to take time to rejuvenate and to have fun. There is always suffering around us, but life is meant be enjoyed and lived.
A Week in the Life
Set priorities and schedule accordingly.
(Start thinking about this week’s sermon!)
Teach classes on religious and political identity.
Hold office hours to talk with students.
Meet with members of Congress to plan getting a bill passed.
Attend health care fundraiser (on Zoom).
Meet virtually with church leaders to talk through COVID-related challenges and future plans.
Hold time and space for pastoral care.
Time to climb a mountain or meet up with some family and friends (the importance of self-care)!
Preach at Beulah Baptist Church.
Spend time with congregants, eating good food and catching up on their lives.
—by Gianna Cacciatore