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So, should President Obama be concerned about black voters staying home on election day?

I guess it depends on who the reporter is and the interviewees. When the President came out in support of marriage equality there was the predicted flurry of articles about the impact of his statement (which still indicated his support of leaving the decision to discriminate up to the states). It was expected that some elements of the “black church” (it’s not a monolith, people) would bust a gut opposing this evolution on the right of same-sex couples to marry, but there was not an overwhelming outcry. Many clergy either took no position or were supportive.

However, the media loves focusing on dissent, and there were a number of black pastors all too eager to get face time and coverage. Right here on the Blend, Alvin McEwen covered one pimp of discrimination in detail, Rev. William Owens, the president and founder of the Coalition of African-Americans Pastors.

This group takes its cues from the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage, which affiliates with pastors like Owens as part of its bold wedge strategy that was exposed earlier this year by the Human Rights Campaign to divide blacks and gays. In his zeal to “protect the family,” Owens said this to CNN:

“The time has come for a broad-based assault against the powers that be that want to change our culture to one of men marrying men and women marrying women,” said Owens, in an interview Tuesday after the launch event at the National Press Club. “I am ashamed that the first black president chose this road, a disgraceful road.”

Please. And the Associated Press just ran this piece “African-American Christians waver over vote” speculating there is some mass movement afoot to encourage religious blacks to sit out the election because the marriage equality issue represents some tipping point more important than, say voter ID and other Republican voter-suppression efforts, education, health care and the like.

Some black clergy see no good presidential choice between a Mormon candidate and one who supports gay marriage, so they are telling their flocks to stay home on Election Day. That’s a worrisome message for the nation’s first African-American president, who can’t afford to lose any voters from his base in a tight race. The pastors say their congregants are asking how a true Christian could back same-sex marriage, as President Barack Obama did in May. As for Republican Mitt Romney, the first Mormon nominee from a major party, congregants are questioning the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its former ban on men of African descent in the priesthood.

…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.”

McKissic’s Mormon resolution failed. On Election Day, McKissic said, “I plan to go fishing.”

While McKissic plans to go fishing, NOM is trying to seal the deal to encourage black voters to oppose the President by purchasing radio air time in states like North Carolina and engaging the ridiculous homophobic pastor Patrick Wooden, who was prominent on the air during the pro-Amendment One campaign. Wooden, by the way, claims adult gay men have “to wear a diaper or a butt plug just to be able to contain their bowels”; also: “we are armed with the truth about the damage that people are doing to their rectums and anuses as a result of participating in these perversive, sexual acts.

Here’s NOM’s/Wooden’s diatribe to North Carolinians against President Obama over marriage equality.

The fact is that Wooden and NOM are airing this garbage doesn’t mean the religious black community is going to be swayed. While Amendment One passed here, the coalition of several hundred black pastors against it was vocal and statewide. It passed largely not along racial lines, as journalist Barry Yeoman reported; the divide was rural/urban.

Voters in majority-black precincts rejected the measure: Charlotte (52 percent), Raleigh (51 percent), Greensboro (54 percent), Winston-Salem (55 percent), and Durham (65 percent). Durham’s results were dramatic: Not a single majority-black precinct supported the amendment. Several crushed it by margins of 3-to-1 and even 4-to-1.

So I’m not convinced that black voters are going to stay home in some sort of protest action. This is also bolstered by the no-nonsense message to North Carolina pastors by Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President of NC NAACP. In response to the NOM bigot blast, he wrote an “Open Letter to Clergy Who Are Trying to Confuse African American Voters on Wedge Issue of Marriage Equality.

While the NAACP does not endorse candidates for President of our nation, we vigorously debate the issues that should shape national, state, and local elections. And we will challenge those who attempt to mislead our communities. Some clergy are wrongly criticizing and distorting the views of the President on the issue of marriage equality. They are trying to confuse African American voters. They have a right to their opinions but to mislead demands a response. These clergy – whatever their motives – are woefully mistaken if they believe such tactics will work.

President Obama is President of the United States. His position as leader of all Americans represents the noble commitment he made by oath to all Americans when he took office. The President, a former professor of law, respects the 1st Amendment, which preserves the right of and freedom from religion. He, like the Constitution, recognizes that every church has the constitutional right to decide, depending on their faith tradition, how to address the issue of marriage within their ecclesiology. The President also respects the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which he also swore to uphold. This makes it his solemn duty to guarantee the “equal protection rights” of every citizen. Civil marriage is a right protected by the constitution, despite how one feels about what constitutes a marriage personally or religiously. The President swore to uphold the rights of all the people, not just some of us. His position is the same as Republicans like Dick Cheney.

Those who insist on distorting and criticizing the President for doing his sworn duty insult the Civil Rights Movement. These clergy ally themselves with the same extreme right organizations and people who have spent millions of dollars trying to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, what most historians say was the most important achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. These clergy have allied with the same regressive forces determined to re-segregate and rob our public schools of adequate funding. These forces spend millions trying to block workers’ rights to organize; trying to force minorities, the poor, the elderly, and students to spend money to obtain voter photo ID’s to exercise their right to vote; trying to cut the time and opportunities to vote; turning their heads away from the gross racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

These are the same extremists who are stirring the pot about “gay marriage” and other code-slogans they dream up, all designed to divide and conquer the 99% who obviously can out-vote them. Their strategy is based on an arrogant assumption that we, the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement, are too dumb to see through their Trojan Horse trick. They believe they can use wedge issues to seduce us into being a part of their scheme to deny LGBT brothers and sisters of their fundamental rights. This will not happen on our watch!

Many are disturbed and feel compelled to respond to the single-issue moral litmus test being used to publicly denounce the President. Those who are manipulating this wedge issue are unwilling to acknowledge his attempts to lift the poor, lift the jobless, protect the weak from the powerful, provide health care to the sick, educational opportunity to the children, protect voting rights, and protect the rights of all Americans, all of which are efforts that clearly line up with the primary moral concerns of the Judea Christian faith. This intentional ignorance renders their critique suspect and void of credibility.

We believe the issues that should shape our evaluation of Presidential candidates and others is where do they stand and what are their plans regarding 1) economic sustainability, poverty and labor rights, 2) educational equality, 3) healthcare for all, 4) disparities in the criminal justice system and 5) defending and expanding voting rights and voter participation.

Theologically, from a bible-centric perspective, and from the Judeo Christian faith I practice, the issues that should dominate our public square are: How we treat the poor. How we treat the sick. How we treat children. How we treat women. How we treat those on the margins. How we treat the outcasts of society.

There are more than 300 scriptures on these issues, more than any other moral issue noted in the scripture. The second most noted sin in the bible is mistreatment of the” least of these”, and the most noted is the sin of idolatry and self-worship, selfishness, and attempting to raise oneself to god status in judgment of others.

More below the fold.

Rev. Barber continues:

Let us remember scriptures like these that set the normative posture for faithful service in the public arena:

Luke 4

God’s Spirit is on me;

he has chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

Or Isaiah 58

‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?

Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

‘Well, here’s why:

The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.

You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight

You fast, but you swing a mean fist.

The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground.

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:

a day to show off humility?

To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black?

Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?’

‘This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice,

Get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

free the oppressed,

to cancel debts.’

When you look at voting records and public policy positions carefully, the same forces fighting us on voting rights, educational equality, economic justice, addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, are the same forces sponsoring and paying for the current attacks on the LGBT community and the President.

No matter our color. No matter our faith tradition. Those who stand for love and justice are not about to fall for their trick. No matter how you feel personally about same sex marriage, no one, especially those of us whose forebears were denied constitutional protections and counted as 3/5ths of extra votes for their slave-masters, who were listed as mere chattel property in the old Constitution — none of us — should ever want to deny any other person constitutional protections.

What is most concerning about these clergy who try to suggest that this one wedge issue is the standard for measuring the moral fiber of our President, or anyone else for that matter, is that they seem to dismiss the essential call of the Judea Christian faith — to love everybody. We are commanded by our faith and God to care for the stranger, especially those on the margins as Jesus did.

Is it an act of love for these clergy to unite themselves with groups like the Family Research Council, the National Organization on Marriage, and other elements who have been classified as Hate Groups by national organizations who track the extreme right? Is it an act of caring for strangers, when these clergy embrace the right-wing philosophy of othering people? Of demonizing fellow human beings whom God clearly and dearly loves? Is it an act of Christian love to claim allegiance to scriptural standards that say so little about what God says so much and so much about what God says so little? Have these dismissed the “weightier matters of the law”– issues like poverty, caring for children, protecting women, the vulnerable, the least of these, and healing the sick? Do they fail to realize that it is even possible to be religiously heterocentric, without being constitutionally and socially homophobic? I pray that we will stop this denunciation of the President and other public servants and judge Him and them by the totality of their service and not through schemes designed by those outside our community to divide us for their own sinister and cynical motives. Yours in the Spirit of Truth and Justice,

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
President North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

I think the media needs to focus on figures like Rev. Barber, who articulate a much-more nuanced and informed position on these issues and placing them in the perspective of the larger issues that are facing voters this November than an issue like marriage equality — something that affects no one’s marriage. Sitting out an election when the choices could not be more different and issues that affect each voter at the state and municipal level are also on those ballots is a dangerous game these myopic religious leaders like Rev. Owens and Rev. Dwight McKissic are playing. Right into the very hands of extremists who would deny and suppress the vote by any means necessary.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding