It’s no secret that the Democratic Party cannot win national elections without the black vote. Less well understood by major Democratic candidates and donors is that black voters are not a monolith. Particularly in the black church, we fall along a wide spectrum of conservative and liberal social values. Our intersections related to race and gender are complex and nuanced.
When black people say that they are tired of our votes being taken for granted, we are referring in part to this lack of understanding. Gaining our vote requires gaining more than a cursory understanding of who we are as a people. Candidates will need to be able to speak to a full range of issues and concerns and, just as importantly, feel comfortable engaging directly with a range of African American people.
Three years ago, the Black Church PAC was formed to give our historically critical voting demographic a greater voice before we go to the polls. On Friday and Saturday (Aug. 16 and 17), the PAC held its first candidate forum, with an audience of 5,000 African American Christian millennials from 42 different states at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta.
Seven of the top-tier candidates were invited, and five attended: Secretary Julian Castro, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Black Church PAC forum during the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The forum not only gave candidates an opportunity to make their case for why black voters should entrust them with their vote; it tested the candidates’ ability to connect with young black churchgoers who lean in a socially conservative direction — a voting bloc that is not necessarily well acquainted with long-established Democratic politicians and that has not necessarily bought in to the traditional progressive talking points.
Candidates got a chance to address the full conference but also met with small groups of voters and engaged in spirited dialogue about critical issues ranging from gun violence and the criminal justice system to student loan debt, immigration, education, health care and reparations. These sessions tested candidates’ expertise on critical issues but also revealed how comfortable they were listening to and being challenged by those with experiences very different from their own.
During the meeting, we ran a survey of close to 800 conference attendees to gauge their opinions about the candidates and issues, in addition to gathering qualitative responses. We plan to have a briefing with candidates to share these results before we make them public, but some quick takeaways include:
Candidates who attended experienced a significant bump in their support; candidates who didn’t experienced a significant drop in their support.
Close to 10% of respondents are unfamiliar with the candidates who were listed.
The most important issues among those to take the survey: jobs/economy, gun violence, white nationalism.
A critical finding here is that most candidates have simply not broken through to young African American voters. This is alarming because, if this vital demographic is not actively engaged in selecting the eventual nominee, Democrats may end up with a nominee who fails to engage a significant voting bloc in the general election.
Sen. Cory Booker addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
Compounding this problem is the fact that Democrats have a miserable record of investing in black grassroots organizers, black community-based organizations and black political consultants, who are often best equipped to mobilize black voters.
Steve Phillips, the civil rights lawyer and founder of the website Democracy in Color, has described at great length the billion-dollar blunders Democratic and Allied Progressive groups continue to make in their political spending. The lessons to take from these unforced errors, he has said, are clear: Political spending in the Democratic ecosystem must be early, often and targeted to groups who register; and we must educate and mobilize black and brown voters, especially for turnout on Election Day.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, left, takes questions from moderators the Rev. Leah Daughtry and the Rev. Michael McBride during the Black Church PAC forum at the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The same kind of results could be achieved in swing states throughout the country if, rather than centering their campaigns around convincing white “Reagan Democrats” to stay blue, candidates doubled down on turning out reliably blue African American voters in places like Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia.
We suspect that when candidates and their teams forgo this approach, it is because they do not have either the cultural proficiency or the willingness to make the black grassroots investments required to pull off this type of strategy. No one expects large numbers of blacks to vote for President Trump; however, operating as if African American and other voters will come out in droves simply to vote against Trump — without giving them someone who is compelling to vote for — is a risky and reckless approach.
Even within the more conservative bloc of the black church, Trump’s message is repulsive to millennials and their black elders. Unlike white evangelicals, whose support for Trump still hovers above 80%, socially conservative-leaning black church members detected very clearly the racialized rhetoric and dangerous policies of Trump and overwhelmingly do not support him. With meaningful engagement, these voters can be activated to vote for a candidate who promotes a compelling vision of belonging, justice and opportunity for all.
Through this election cycle and beyond, we will continue to give candidates opportunities to make their case and truly listen to black voters.
Presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
(The Rev. Michael McBride is pastor of The Way Church in Berkeley, California, and national director of Faith in Action’s urban strategies and LIVE FREE Project. The Rev. Leah Daughtry, former CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, is presiding prelate-elect of The House of the Lord Churches and a founding board member of the Black Church PAC. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
One of the things that puzzled me growing up, and still puzzles me today, is how devastated and broken many African American communities are although there are a huge number of local churches across America.
I often wondered why there were churches where so many people who claim to be changed and transformed had no effect on the community around them. Before we dive in, I’d like to emphasize that this is not a sweeping indictment of all black churches.
In fact, there are many places of worship where members are doing their part in a variety of ways to glorify God’s kingdom.
However, we can’t deny the fact that there are many street corners in the African American community where crime, violence, and poverty run rampant while the church does nothing, so, here are seven revealing reasons why the black church isn’t more influential in the community.
Reason #1: Failure to Make Faith and Life Intersect
We hear a lot about how Jesus died and rose again but we don’t often hear how this affects us in our everyday lives.
How do the scriptures inform our marriages? How do the scriptures inform our economics? These are just examples of what is left out in most black churches on Sunday morning.
There needs to be more of an understanding of how faith and life intersect.
Reason #2: Systemic Injustice
The primary culprit behind the Church’s lack of influence in the community is plain, old systemic injustice.
Black communities in the inner city are the way they are because of decisions that were made years ago. Whether it was poor and inadequate housing or the choice to build freeways over thriving neighborhoods, most of the problems boil down to systemic injustice.
Reason #3: Church Hypocrisy
Another reason why the Church is not effectively helping the black community is because of widespread hypocrisy. Many people are in church on Sunday but the Church is not in them throughout the rest of the week.
Sadly, there are some closed-minded “regulars” in the Church that are wreaking havoc on the black community.
And as a result of this, many people in the community opt not to attend church for anything other than pacifying their relatives on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter.
Reason #4: No Leadership Pipeline
There is also a case to be made for a lack of leadership.
Many older preachers and other leaders have held on to their positions and are not training the next generation to replace them.
It never occurs to them that not only will they have someone to succeed them when they’re gone, but they will be able to multiply their efforts in the present through the recruiting and training of younger leaders.
Reason #5: Lack of Connection with Youth
Another reason why the church is not more influential in the black community is because it is not willing to tip over its sacred cows.
Traditions are not to be tampered with in the eyes of leadership and older members of these churches. What they are failing to understand is that many of these traditions are irrelevant to young people, which can get in the way of effective ministry.
Reason #6: Pie in the Sky Mentality
One of the things that you will sometimes notice in the black church is a pie in the sky mentality. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Everything’s going to be alright when we get to Heaven. Why do anything now?”
Now, there is nothing wrong with aiming for Heaven. In fact, author C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you will get neither.”
But seeking heaven is to aggressively act as instruments of God’s kingdom here and now. Seeking Heaven is not an excuse to be passive.
When heaven just becomes the reason we don’t do anything that’s being too heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
Reason #7: Lack of Vision
The final thing that stops black churches from affecting the community is that there is no vision for anything beyond Sunday morning.
As long as the tithes are paid and the people are running around shouting, then we can all go home and say “We’ve had church.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ exhortation to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-15).
So, there you have it. And just to be clear, this is not to bash the black church. This is an autopsy of what needs to happen if we are going to see true and lasting change.
The Rev. James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, died Saturday morning, according to Union Theological Seminary.
The cause of death was not immediately known.
Cone, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York City. His groundbreaking 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, revolutionized the way the public understood the unique qualities of the black church.
Cone was a native of Fordyce, Ark., and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.
We would like to hear how Cone influenced you. We invite you to share 200- to 250-word tributes on UrbanFaith.com. Send your tribute with your first and last names, city, state, and church affiliation (if desired) to [email protected]
(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.
And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.
“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.
Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.
In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”
In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.
He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.
The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.
“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.