(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
With just 50 days until Americans go to the polls to select their next president, many black Christians find themselves in somewhat of an unusual predicament. Their choice is between reelecting a president who embraces same-sex marriage or a former governor whose religion practiced racial discrimination longer than most of the once segregated South. It may cause some to exercise a third and formerly unthinkable choice of sitting at home on Nov. 7.
Many political pundits never imagined that some black voters would even consider not supporting President Obama this year. After all, he is the nation's first African-American president and he received somewhere in the neighborhood of 95 percent of the black vote in 2008. Irrespective of the debate on whether most blacks are better off now than they were four years ago, few would want to see their race's first elected president not earn a second term and fall into the category of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
But black Christians have more to consider this election cycle.
On the front burner is President Obama's surprise announcement in late May that he now supports same-sex marriage. While he solidified his support among liberals, many black voters viewed the issue in a different light. Even more so than some traditionally white conservative denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, predominately black churches have long held that homosexuality and specifically same-sex marriage, is a sin.
Plus, the language that gay activists use in comparing the fight for what they term "marriage equality" to the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 60s is insulting to many who marched along Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma and other places.
"Using the civil rights struggle to promote the sexual appetites of the homosexual agenda is an affront to the dignity of black people," Dr. J.M. Hunter of told The Christian Post. "No other group in America has had to suffer the wicked injustices as did African blacks who were forced to provide hard labor with no compensation, and their American descendants."
However, the alternative doesn't make them feel any better. Four years ago, some may could have held their nose and voted for a war hero like Sen. John McCain, but Mitt Romney's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be just as big an issue as Obama's stance on same-sex marriage.
Mormons supported racial discrimination for over a century and would not allow blacks to become a priest until changing their position in 1978. Romney, who had disagreed with the church's policy, said he cried when he heard the news. The church has since condemned racial discrimination.
"To say you have a value for human life and exclude African-American human life, that's problematic," the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder of the predominantly African-American Christian Cultural Center in New York, told The Associated Press about the priesthood ban. "How can I judge the degree to which candidate Romney is going to allow his Mormonism to influence his policies? I don't know. I can't."
Yet the racial aspect may not supersede the fact that many Christians, including black Christians, do consider Mormonism to be part of orthodox Christianity. However, Southern Baptist leaders such as Dr. Richard Land who heads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have reminded Christians that they are not voting for theologian-in-chief, but rather for president of the United States and should evaluate the lifestyle and actions of a candidate and not simply vote on race or what religion they subscribe to.
"John F. Kennedy never defended Catholicism but rather the right of a Catholic to run for president," Land has often said. "That is the same argument Gov. Romney should be making."
During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte two weeks ago, a group of black clergy calling themselves the Coalition of African-American Pastors held another in a series of press conferences to call on black Christians to withhold their support from President Obama until at a minimum, he agrees to meet with the group to justify his support for same-sex marriage.
Asked if the White House has answered his initial request for the meeting first made in mid-summer, the group's leader, the Rev. Bill Owens, was quick to reply. "Not a word, not a single word," he told a group of reporters in Charlotte.
Owens, who marched for civil rights in Nashville and Memphis in the 1960s said he believes the Democratic Party has taken the black vote for granted and that the National Association for the Advancement of Color People is simply just a puppet of Democratic Party leaders.
"At a minimum black Christians should think for themselves and vote for the person that best represents their beliefs," said Owens. "We have more problems than any other group and here we are taking about gay marriage. It is ridiculous."
But when the group of ministers was asked if they were endorsing Romney, all eight men and the one woman gathered at the podium shook their heads "no" in unison. "I'm not voting for no Mitt Romney," one pastor said.
"We don't have time to be playing with God's house," said another minister at the press conference. "All I can say is every person, every black Christian needs to hit their knees and ask God for guidance on this issue and that doesn't just mean reading a ballot some political party hands you," he said.