Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Election 2008: What Would Jesus Do???

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (2nd are followed by Cindy McCain and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as they descend a ramp into ground zero during the seventh anniversary September 11 Commemoration Ceremony in New York, September 11, 2008.
(Timoth A. Clary/Pool/Reuters)

For Obama, McCain, View From the Pews Shows White-Black Divide

Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Christopher Stern

Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- In the U.S. presidential race, where voters stand depends on where they sit, particularly on Sunday morning.

The Reverend Dwight Jones, 60, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of South Richmond, Virginia, asked ushers to pass out voter-registration forms in addition to collection plates, emphasizing the momentous nature of the campaign.

``If you know anyone who's not registered, get them signed up, your friends and your enemies,'' Jones said. ``This is a historic election.''

His black congregation, he said, doesn't view Christianity through single issues.

``We believe the whole Bible, and it's about more than abortion and gay marriage,'' Jones said. ``We want to know a politician's stance on the living wage, fairness to all people, tax breaks for the middle class and not just the wealthy, standing up against the death penalty.''

That represents one side of a cultural divide in America that analysts believe could tip the election.

The other can be seen nearly 300 miles away at a mostly white evangelical church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pastor Mark Harris's members are energized by the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate precisely because she so strongly opposes abortion. ``Republicans were waiting for something to get excited for, and Sarah Palin is it,'' he said.

`Most Segregated Hour'

Forty-five years ago, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. called 11 a.m. Sunday ``the most segregated hour in this nation.'' If some views expressed in these two churches are an indication, that's still in many ways the case.

Tens of millions of Americans attend church each week, and studies show the overwhelming majority attend services where members are almost entirely of the same race. They also hear the messages of candidates in a different way, and that has strong implications for the presidential race.

That's because both Obama and McCain are heavily counting on each group to win -- blacks for Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee for a major party, and conservative white evangelicals for McCain.

For Jones, Jesus's teachings on social justice are central to his mission. He's a member of the Virginia state legislature, is running for mayor of Richmond, and has endorsed Obama -- though never from the pulpit.

Harris said he also doesn't endorse candidates from the pulpit. Rather, at the First Baptist Church of Charlotte he preaches a world view that is ``Christ-centered'' and his congregation ``will vote for candidates who support those views.''

Deep Divide

The views of the two churches underscored a deep cultural divide even among Americans with the common bond of attending Sunday services.

Burges Burrows, a self-described conservative Christian, hadn't been able to summon much enthusiasm for McCain. The choice of Palin, however, made him an instant supporter -- even though he'd never heard of her before McCain picked her.

``It's her beliefs as a Christian and the choices she has had to make,'' said Burrows, 47. Those choices included giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome, Burrows said.

Some 26 percent of Americans identify themselves as Protestant evangelicals, who are overwhelmingly white, while 6.9 percent belong to historically black churches, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While they are united in calling themselves Christians, their votes break down along racial lines: In 2004, President George W. Bush carried 78 percent of the vote of those who called themselves conservative Christians, while Democrat John Kerry won almost 91 percent of black votes.

Changing the Dynamic

The divide is especially sharp in a year that pits Obama, 47, against the McCain-Palin ticket, with Palin changing the dynamic for McCain with her appeal to religious conservatives.

``We come out of a black church experience, and since the early days, when a preacher spoke, they provided leadership that got us through difficult times,'' said the Reverend Cheryl Ivey Green, 50, executive minister of ministries at the Richmond Baptist church.

``I can see that whites may be hearing a very different message,'' she said. ``At 11 a.m. on Sundays, America is still pretty polarized.''

At yesterday's 11 a.m. service, an hour and a half was devoted to prayer, black spirituals, a Gospel reading and a passionate sermon urging regular church attendance.

In conversations afterward, some members were critical of reports that Palin's selection energized Christian voters to support the Republican ticket led by McCain, 72.

``I was already motivated to vote from the moment I registered 20 years ago,'' said Sandra Norman, 45, the director of a Virginia state agency.

Not Their Base

Said Jones, ``How can we as Christians be part of their base when you look at the Republican National Convention and you see no blacks, no Asians on the floor. I don't know who that Christian base is, but it's certainly not us.''

In Charlotte, views weren't framed in racial terms, but in terms of Christian conservatism. Palin, not McCain, was the candidate they said made them confident. ``It was a true conservative pick,'' said Stephen Agnew, 26, an insurance salesman who hadn't been a strong McCain supporter.

Asked if they fear race will be an important consideration in voting by the majority of Americans, First Baptist members said it's always a factor.

``There's some number of people who if Jesus said to do it, they still wouldn't vote for a black person,'' said Green. ``But God specializes in those left out and running behind, and there are millions of people like me who are praying for'' Obama to be elected.

To contact the reporters on this story: Indira Lakshmanan at in Richmond, Virginia or ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net ; Christopher Stern in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 1966 or cstern3@bloomberg.net .

Copyright © 2008 Bloomberg

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about he subject, what should a Christian vote. I've posted my thoughts on my web page:


Please tell me what you think on my Forum there.