Anti-voting black clergy make a bad call

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Recently, The Associated Press ran a story reporting that some black ministers are urging their parishioners not to vote on Nov. 6.

President Barack Obama's support of same-sex marriage is cited as the unforgivable sin of his that these ministers can't support.

Because of Mormonism's history of racial exclusion, Mitt Romney can't count on the support of disaffected black clergy, either, even though their stands on abortion and gay marriage are identical.

Just as God waited until 1978 (and a threat to the church's tax-exempt status by President Jimmy Carter) to give Mormon bishops a "revelation" that blacks could finally be consecrated into the priesthood, it may be another century before blacks overlook the previous century's snub to sing from that church's hymnal. When it comes to reconciliation across racial and religious lines, sometimes the Holy Spirit be draggin' his feet.

The AP story used the dilemma of the Rev. Dwight McKissic, a prominent Southern Baptist preacher and self-identified political independent, as a cautionary tale for the Obama campaign. Asked what he's going to do on Election Day given his antipathy for Mr. Obama's stance on social issues and Mr. Romney's Mormonism, Rev. McKissic said, "I'm going fishing."

The article notes that Rev. McKissic didn't vote for Mr. Obama in 2008 because of his positions on social issues, but it doesn't reveal whether he voted for Republican candidate John McCain that year or simply went fishing.

Bob Ray Sanders of the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas, pointed out in his Tuesday column that Rev. McKissic voted twice for President George W. Bush, which makes the pastor less independent and more Republican than he's letting on. Not that it matters, though.

The number of black ministers who are actively encouraging their congregants to stay home on Nov. 6 probably can be counted on one hand. Like the number of people prosecuted for in-person voter fraud, they are statistically negligible.

Still, the fact that even a handful of conservative black pastors are carrying water for Republican state legislators by attempting to depress black turnout on Election Day has enormous propagandistic value. The AP story was widely circulated on conservative blogs and news sites. It was the only ray of hope in a week of unrelenting disaster for the Romney campaign.

It is hard to stay civil on the subject of black clergy who encourage their congregations to "go fishing" on Election Day. A preacher who does that is like the despised plantation snitch who, as soon as he can, runs to tell his massa' about every slave rebellion in the works.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of black clergy understand how much American blood was spilled to purchase the franchise for all of us. What was the civil rights movement if not the most successful, but dangerous, get-out-the-vote movement in American history?

Blacks who fought valiantly in every one of this nation's wars, sometimes in defiance of white commanders who didn't believe they could serve honorably, literally shed blood for the right to vote. Their growing status in the military helped kick open doors back home.

The multiracial coalition of university students who helped register blacks to vote in the rural South were attacked and sometimes murdered because they believed voting was part of the sacred trust of being an American.

How can a nation barely one generation removed from the era of "race neutral" poll taxes, restrictive covenants and segregated water fountains tolerate the soft bigotry of voter ID laws?

That a small number of black pastors are contemptuous of democracy should remind us that even Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms had black supporters who loved them the way misguided field hands loved massa.'

For the record, I have black friends who say they will vote for Mr. Romney. Besides agreeing with him on social issues, Mr. Romney speaks to their economic anxieties. They're sincere conservatives.

I can respect their willingness to vote their conscience even though we profoundly disagree on the worthiness of the candidates. What I can never respect is the black pastor who "goes fishing" on Election Day and tells his congregants to do likewise. Voting, even for the worst candidate, trumps not voting.

The Apostle Paul could've been speaking to Rev. McKissic's congregation when he wrote in Galatians: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach unto you any gospel other than which we preached unto you, let him be anathema."

Thousands of Americans died for that gospel. Voting is good. A civil war was fought over it. If anyone, including a preacher, tries to persuade us otherwise, let him be accursed.


Tony Norman: or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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