Dissatisfied Black Clergy Urging Members To Stay At Home On Election Day

Apparently, the lesser of two evils is not a viable alternative to some disappointed African-American clergymen who are encouraging their flocks to stay at home on Election Day.

That news should be particularly worrisome to President Barack Obama because it was the record turnout from the black community four years ago that helped make him the nation’s first black president.

But some pastors have expressed disappointment that the president came out and backed same-sex marriage in May. African-Americans tend to be among the most conservative groups when it comes to issues of religion, crime, education and other social issues.

Not that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offers them much of a real choice, they say. Many black clergymen still have problems with his Mormon faith that once banned men of Africa descent from the priesthood.

Obama won 95 percent of black voters in 2008 and is likely to get an overwhelming majority again.

But any loss of votes could prove critical in what is expected to be a tight race.

“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,” the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder of the predominantly African-American Christian Cultural Center in New York, told the website thegrio.com.

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.

It’s unclear just how widespread the sentiment is that African-American Christians would be better off not voting at all. Many pastors have said that, despite their misgivings about the candidates, blacks have fought too hard for the vote to ever stay away from the polls.

“This is the first time in black church history that I’m aware of that black pastors have encouraged their parishioners not to vote,” Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant told the Washington Informer last month.

Bryant, who opposes gay marriage, said the president’s position on marriage is “at the heart” of the problem.”

The circumstances of the 2012 campaign have led to complex conversations about faith, politics and voting.

The Rev. George Nelson Jr., senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, participated in a conference call with other African-American pastors the day after Obama’s announcement during which the ministers resolved to collectively oppose gay marriage. Nelson said Obama’s statement had caused a “storm” in the African-American community.

Still, he said “I would never vote for a man like Romney,” because Nelson has been taught in the Southern Baptist Convention that Mormonism is a cult.

Nelson said he intended to vote, but declined to say which candidate he would support.

“Because of those that made sacrifices in days gone by and some greater than others with their lives,” he said in an e-mail. “It would be totally foolish for me to mention staying away from the polls.”

Romney has pledged to uphold conservative positions on social issues, including opposing abortion and gay marriage. But many black pastors worry about his Mormon beliefs. Christians generally do not see Mormonism as part of historic Christianity, although Mormons do.

African-Americans generally also still view the church as racist, although Latter-Day Saints leaders lifted the ban on blacks in the priesthood in 1978.

The dilemma of sorts has left some African-American clergymen unsure as to what to do on Nov. 6.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, a prominent Southern Baptist and black preacher, describes himself as a political independent who didn’t support Obama in 2008 because of his position on social issues.

McKissic said Obama’s support for same-gender marriage “betrayed the Bible and the black church.” Around the same time, McKissic was researching Mormonism for a sermon and decided to propose a resolution to the annual Southern Baptist Convention that would have condemned Mormon “racist teachings.”

The resolution failed.

On Election Day, McKissic said, “I plan to go fishing.”

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