WASHINGTON – A number of black evangelical leaders are rising up as a new voice in the conservative movement traditionally dominated by white Protestants.
Their centerpiece agendas are abortion and same-sex "marriage" – the same two key social issues emphasized by most conservative evangelicals.
But unlike the typical white evangelical Christian that is most likely part of the conservative wing of the Republican party, these African American leaders may be card-carrying Democrats but willing to switch over to the Republican side if their conservative values are addressed.
Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., who heads the socially conservative black pastors group called High Impact Leadership Coalition, is often found urging his black congregation outside of Washington and other black conservatives to "stand against" abortion and same-sex "marriage," but is a registered Democrat, according to the Washington Post.
The official Democrat status, however, did not stop Jackson from praying for the reelection of Republican President George W. Bush during the 2004 election and supporting the Republican Party.
But Jackson, like many other evangelical leaders, is taking a different approach for the 2008 election, pushing the issue and opening himself up to both parties rather than throwing their force behind a candidate.
During the highly publicized Value Voters Summit in October, for example, Jackson joined a line-up of influential white evangelical leaders to denounce a bill that would give special rights to homosexuals in the workplace. Jackson approached the summit meant to help values voters decide the next U.S. president by pushing a social agenda rather than a particular candidate.
The black evangelical leader explained that he will not be "carrying the water for the Republican party" because "they are not reliable enough." Jackson was referring to the possibility that the Republican Party will nominate current frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, who is pro-choice, supports gay rights and has had three marriages.
"You don't have someone who is a Christian evangelical like Bush to really revitalize the black evangelicals this time around," commented John C. Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, to the Washington Post.
While black voters overwhelmingly identify themselves as Democrats, they attend religious services more frequently than whites and are less supportive of gay rights. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll this summer found 43 percent of white Democrats to be supportive of same-sex "marriage" - about double the percentage of black Democrats who gave the same response. Overall, more than half of blacks said they oppose both same-sex "marriage" and legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.
As a whole, however, only five percent of blacks in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll listed abortion, moral or family values issues among their top concerns for the upcoming presidential election. Rather, the war in Iraq, health care and the economy and jobs were the top concerns among black voters.
"When African Americans say they are conservative, it doesn't mean they are politically conservative," said David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "It means that they are conservative in terms of their personal behavior."