Since the enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Black churches have always played a pivotal role in the electoral process. During the Civil Rights Movement, Sunday morning pulpits were preachers’ soapboxes to commingle God’s word with inspiration and information regarding civil rights initiatives, including rights and privileges guaranteed by that law.
In response to the civil rights political victories, African-Americans exercised their right to vote with passion. Within months of the act’s passage, one quarter of a million new Black voters had been registered. By 1969, Tennessee had a 92.1% turnout; Arkansas, 77.9%; and Texas, 73.1%.
The enthusiasm with which African-Americans vote has diminished over decades. It remains the Black church’s responsibility to encourage its membership to participate in the electoral process; remind them of their history; and empower them to be heard through their vote.
Black voter turnout, or the lack thereof, will have a significant impact on the election of the next president of The United States of America. This presidential campaign season, many Black evangelicals find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. I am a Pentecostal pastor who is a pro-life, registered Democrat. Thus, I am biblically and doctrinally opposed to policies that support same-sex marriage and abortion. But simultaneously, I support policies that empower the middle-class, poor, uneducated, disadvantaged, and effectively improve the civic, economic, religious, and cultural conditions of our African-American communities. An agreement or disagreement on one issue cannot dictate one’s vote. We must look to the totality of the candidates’ platforms to make an informed voting decision.
As the Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a 6 million member denomination, and the Pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ, a 25,000 member congregation in the inner-city of Los Angeles, I take seriously my obligation as an American citizen to vote, despite the complexity of choice we sometimes face. To that end, my vote must be cast for the candidate who cares most about my community, my family, the Black church, its rights and our parishioners.
There are many pastors formally endorsing presidential candidates this campaign season, to much fanfare. It is an insult to the intelligence and savvy of the Black church membership for political candidates, strategists and pollers to assume that for whomever a “church leader” cast his or her vote, the membership will follow blindly. Moreover, legally and constitutionally, the church should not exert influence over the outcome of elections and individuals involved in elections. In fact, a 1954 Tax Reform Act, commonly termed the “Johnson Amendment” noted that all tax-exempt organizations are banned from supporting or opposing political candidates.
However, the Tax Reform Act does not require the church to remain silent. Morally and from a humane perspective, the church should take positions on issues that impact people; the poor, disenfranchised, those who cannot speak loudly for themselves either because of lack of resources or lack of access.
Every once in awhile, an issue rises to the level of potentially contributing to the good or ill of our African-American society; or an issue rises in relationship to those things that are most sacred to us. Consequently, on occasion, it is imperative for the Black church to articulate its position. This presidential campaign season represents one of those occasions where the Black church must articulate its position and express its expectations of the presidential candidates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
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Bishop Charles E. Blake