African-American Christians who don’t support Obama risk being called traitors, defectors and Uncle Toms. But some are defying him for moral reasons.
This past Sunday I shared a pulpit with a delightful African-American recording artist. She recently turned 70, although I would have guessed she wasn’t a day over 55. She sang better than I preached. (After all, she has won Grammy awards in the gospel category.) Then we sat down for a meal and she decided to get very honest with me.
She leaned close to my ear as if to make a dreadful confession. “Can I tell you something? I’m not voting for Obama.”
I wasn’t sure how to react, but I let this woman elaborate. With a pained expression she vented her frustrations about leaders who, in her opinion, are more concerned about loyalty to their race than to Scripture. She scolded pastors by name who have endorsed Obama when they should have been preaching against abortion, which Obama defends.
"I pray that all of us, black and white, will speak for truth and stay on the narrow path even when the crowd has chosen the broad highway."
She continued: “I hear some black pastors saying from the pulpit, ‘Let’s thank God we’re going to have a black man in the White House.’ Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is the right black man.”
I’m not going to reveal the identity of this woman—not because she doesn’t want me to tell, but because outing her as a McCain supporter could close doors for her in the black church. Sadly, African-Americans who aren’t supporting Obama today are viewed as traitors.
It’s not easy to go against the flow when it seems that the entire black community is marching in lockstep with the well-financed Obama machine. Aside from all the endorsements from Hollywood celebrities and European crowds, black church leaders have formed a huge mass choir of support as well:
• Texas megachurch pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell and conference speaker Juanita Bynum have endorsed Obama.
• Gospel artists Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, Byran Cage and Mary Mary have performed at Obama rallies.
• Television preacher T.D. Jakes gave Obama a glowing acclamation the day after he claimed his party’s nomination.
• Obama received a thunderous ovation when he appeared at the convention of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in June.
• When his wife, Michelle, spoke to 7,000 delegates at the National Baptist Convention in Cincinnati in September, her 15-minute speech was interrupted constantly by cheers, chants and applause.
• Last year Obama formed an impressive coalition of pastors and leaders who have mobilized support for him at the polls. The prestigious group includes civil rights icon Joseph T. Lowery; Dr. Cynthia Hale of Atlanta; Bishop Larry Trotter of Chicago; Bishop Cody Marshall of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Illinois; and the presidents of the two largest black Baptist denominations.
• COGIC, the nation’s largest Pentecostal denomination, has not officially endorsed Obama, but the leader of its Pastors and Elders Council, Derrick Hutchins of Florida, told Charisma he supports Obama because he “understands the infirmities of the nation’s neediest communities.”
Never in American history has a presidential campaign so energized the black church. And that makes it hard for black Christians who, for conscience reasons, cannot support a candidate who believes in killing unborn babies or rewriting Judeo-Christian morality.
One black friend who works in my office said family members blasted her when they learned she wasn’t voting for Obama. Another black colleague said she gets icy comments from women at her hair salon when she expresses honest disagreements about Obama’s values.
I have a friend in Baltimore, an African-American pastor, who says black friends have chided him after he admitted he isn’t in Obama’s camp. “They tell me, ‘Why are you voting that way?’ or ‘You’re letting us all down.’ It’s a touchy subject.” He also knows pastors who will tell people to vote for Obama from the pulpit, yet they have never once preached against abortion.
My friend believes there is a spiritual problem at the bottom of this. “It’s a spirit that has to be broken,” he says. “People have allowed an allegiance to race to become more important than the gospel. That’s why we have to fast and pray before this election.”
As divisive as the 2008 campaign has become, it’s even more divisive in the black church. Many African-American churchgoers view voting for Obama as the black thing to do. It’s a given. They see an Obama victory in November as the grand culmination of the Civil Rights movement and, perhaps, as the end of racial intolerance in this country.
My friend Kimberly Daniels, founder of Spoken Word Ministries in Jacksonville, Florida, is an African-American preacher who grew up in the inner city. She sees this conflict quite differently.
If anyone had a reason to be a racist, Kim did. She experienced the worst kind of racism growing up in the “dirty South,” as she calls it. Yet today she unashamedly pleads with black Christians to vote according to conscience, not race.
Says Daniels: “Believe me, I would love to see a black brother in the White House—but not someone like Obama, who has embraced humanistic doctrines. Many white preachers are afraid to say this, and many black preachers won't touch it with a 10-foot pole.”
(I am including Kim Daniels’ editorial at the end of my online column today. Please pass it on. Kim says some things that I, as a white guy, can’t say in our politically correct culture.)
I am thankful for Kim and the many brave African-American Christians today who have risked their reputations by going against the flow of popular opinion. I pray that all of us, black and white, will speak for truth and stay on the narrow path even when the crowd has chosen the broad highway.
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.
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