Some African-American pastors are telling their congregations to not vote this Election Day. Here’s why that’s horribly bad advice.
After President Obama came out in support of gay marriage back in May, many African-Americans who hadn’t supported same-sex marriage before joined the president. In Ohio, for instance, while only 16 percent of Blacks said they supported gay marriage in October of last year, a full 42 percent said they supported it after the president voiced his approval. Similarly, in North Carolina, African-American support for gay marriage or civil unions went from 44 to 55 percent following Obama’s announcement. Unfortunately, despite the fact that many in the Black community are following Obama’s lead toward a more tolerant America, some others are fighting that progressiveness in an attempt to hold onto the past.
In a recent article about how some members of the Black clergy plan on voting in the wake of Obama’s gay-marriage announcement, Associated Press reporter Rachel Zoll found that many of them are planning on not voting at all:
"When President Obama made the public statement on gay marriage, I think it put a question in our minds as to what direction he's taking the nation," said the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder of the predominantly African-American Christian Cultural Center in New York. Bernard, whose endorsement is much sought-after in New York and beyond, voted for Obama in 2008. He said he's unsure how he'll vote this year.
Last Easter Sunday, a month before Obama's gay marriage announcement, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore formed the Empowerment Network, a national coalition of about 30 denominations working to register congregants and provide them with background on health care, the economy, education and other policy issues.
Yet, Bryant last month told The Washington Informer, an African-American newsweekly, "This is the first time in Black church history that I'm aware of that Black pastors have encouraged their parishioners not to vote." Bryant, who opposes gay marriage, said the president's position on marriage is "at the heart" of the problem.
To be sure, not all Black pastors are participating in such foolishness. Indiana Minister Joy Thornton has put up pictures of Blacks being lynched in front of his church to remind his congregation that their forebears lost their lives in pursuit of voting rights:
Thornton said the sign isn’t meant to sway voters to vote for any particular party, but rather to urge participation in November's presidential election. He said he believes some Black voters have grown complacent because of President Obama's stance on same-sex marriage.
“Regardless of who you vote for, you need to exercise your privilege, which is voting,” Thornton said.
Adding to Thornton’s outcry is civil rights legend Rev. Joseph Lowery. Lowery, who performed the benediction at Obama’s inauguration, told a local Atlanta news station that his churchly colleagues’ anger over the president’s gay marriage stance is unfounded. "Our forefathers bled and died and in recent years, we lost lives because people were trying to gain equal rights,” he said. “That's what the president is guaranteeing. That's what he ought to be doing.”
It should be said that if you’re only voting against Obama because of his views on gay marriage, or if you’re only voting against Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon, you’re perhaps voting for the wrong reasons. That said, not voting altogether is a slap in the face to the many people who died trying to enfranchise African-Americans. If you’re a Black person who wants to stay at home on the couch on Election Day, consider that that’s where the Klan wanted you to be.
These views do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)