Openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is working hard to court the favor of black voters in the Bible Belt. But polls show him struggling to catch on among the socially conservative Democratic voting bloc whose beliefs conflict with his lifestyle.
In South Carolina where six in 10 Democratic primary voters are black, the Rev. James Keeton, who leads Morris Brown AME Church, told CBS News that even though Buttigieg has presented himself as a progressive Christian, he is likely to struggle to court black voters because of the role of the church in the black community. Pastor Joe Darby of Nichols Chapel AME Church agreed.
“Black church folks, particularly Southern black church folks, tend to be very progressive when it comes to issues of advocacy, equity, justice, that kind of thing but tend to [be] socially conservative on issues of the flesh … there’s slight discomfort that I’ve learned, with someone simply being LGBT,” Darby said. “It’s unfortunate because he’s got a good message … and he does an excellent job in articulating his faith, so I think if folks look beyond the issue of [sexuality] and listened to what he said, they would probably be impressed [but] I don’t know if a lot of folks are going to do that.”
Older black churchgoers have proven critical in securing the Democratic presidential nomination and Buttigieg recently acknowledged to CBS News that he has a lot of work to do in courting minorities.
“I still need to work to get known in a lot of communities,” the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said last weekend. “And that’s certainly true when you’re new on the scene and you are not yourself from a community of color. It’s certainly true in reaching out to black and brown voters who often want to know what you’re made of in a way that takes time to explain.”
A Buttigieg campaign spokesperson told CBS News that part of its ground game strategy in South Carolina is “relationship-focused” and includes “meeting folks where they are,” including in churches.
Some 81% of black people in South Carolina say religion is very important to them and 59% of black people in the state oppose same-sex marriage, a survey from the Pew Research Center shows.
Josh Gadsden, a member of St. Stephens AME Church, told CBS News that while he and many other members of his church don’t have a problem with him running for president, his morals conflict with their beliefs.
“It’s not the fact that we won’t be able to accept him as a person with his own beliefs, but I think it will conflict with the morals of our beliefs,” Gadsden said. “Whether [a candidate] be gay or lesbian or whomever, they do have a place [in the Democratic field] and I feel very strongly about that, but it doesn’t mean that I have to be totally accept[ing].”
In April, a defiant Buttigieg declared that his same sex-marriage has moved him “closer to God,” and told Vice President Mike Pence and conservative Christians to “quarrel” with God if they have a problem with his homosexuality.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair