NATIONWIDE – Some black clergy see no good presidential choice between a Mormon candidate and one who supports gay marriage, so they are telling their flocks to stay home on Election Day. That’s a worrisome message for the nation’s first African-American president, who can’t afford to lose any voters from his base in a tight race.

The pastors say their congregants are asking how a true Christian could back same-sex marriage, as President Barack Obama did in May. As for Republican Mitt Romney, the first Mormon nominee from a major party, congregants are questioning the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its former ban on men of African descent in the priesthood.

In 2008, Obama won 95 percent of black voters and is likely to get an overwhelming majority again. But any loss of votes would sting.

“When President Obama made the public statement on gay marriage, I think it put a question in our minds as to what direction he’s taking the nation,” said the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder of the predominantly African-American Christian Cultural Center in New York. Bernard, whose endorsement is much sought-after in New York and beyond, voted for Obama in 2008. He said he’s unsure how he’ll vote this year.

It’s unclear just how widespread the sentiment is that African-American Christians would be better off not voting at all. Many pastors have said that despite their misgivings about the candidates, blacks have fought too hard for the vote to ever stay away from the polls.

Black church leaders have begun get-out-the-vote efforts on a wide range of issues, including the proliferation of state laws requiring photo identification cards to vote, which critics say discriminate against minorities. Last Easter Sunday, a month before Obama’s gay marriage announcement, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore formed the Empowerment Network, a national coalition of about 30 denominations working to register congregants and provide them with background on health care, the economy, education and other policy issues.

Yet, Bryant last month told The Washington Informer, an African-American newsweekly, “This is the first time in black church history that I’m aware of that black pastors have encouraged their parishioners not to vote.” Bryant, who opposes gay marriage, said the president’s position on marriage is “at the heart” of the problem.

Bryant was traveling and could not be reached for additional comment, his spokeswoman said.

The circumstances of the 2012 campaign have led to complex conversations about faith, politics and voting.

The Rev. George Nelson Jr., senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, participated in a conference call with other African-American pastors the day after Obama’s announcement during which the ministers resolved to oppose gay marriage. Nelson said Obama’s statement had caused a “storm” in the African-American community.

Still, he said “I would never vote for a man like Romney,” because Nelson has been taught in the Southern Baptist Convention that Mormonism is a cult.

As recently as the 2008 Republican primaries, the SBC’s Baptist Press ran articles calling the LDS church a cult. This year, however, prominent Southern Baptists have discouraged use of the term when addressing theological differences with Mormonism. Many Southern Baptist leaders have emphasized there are no religious obstacles to voting for a Mormon.

Nelson planned to vote and has told others to do the same. He declined to say which candidate he would support.

“Because of those that made sacrifices in days gone by and some greater than others with their lives. It would be totally foolish for me to mention staying away from the polls,” he said in an email exchange.

Romney has pledged to uphold conservative positions on social issues, including opposing abortion and gay marriage. But many black pastors worry about his Mormon beliefs. Christians generally do not see Mormonism as part of historic Christianity, although Mormons do.

African-Americans generally still view the church as racist. When LDS leaders lifted the ban on blacks in the priesthood in 1978, church authorities never said why. The Mormon community has grown more diverse, and the church has repeatedly condemned racism. However, while most Christian denominations have publicly repented for past discrimination, Latter-day Saints never formally apologized.

Bernard is among the traditional Christians who voted for Obama in 2008 and are now undecided because of the president’s support for gay marriage. But Bernard is also troubled by Romney’s faith.

“To say you have a value for human life and exclude African-American human life, that’s problematic,” Bernard said, 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.”

Romney said in a 2007 speech that LDS authorities would have no influence on his policies as president. He also said he wept when he learned that the priesthood ban had been abolished because he was anxious for it to be lifted. But that has done little to change perceptions among African-Americans and others.

“Obama was supposed to answer for the things that Rev. Wright said,” said the Rev. Floyd James of the Greater Rock Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, at a recent meeting of the historically black National Baptist Convention. “Yet here’s a guy (Romney) who was a leader in his own church that has that kind of history, and he isn’t held to some kind of account? I have a problem with that.”

Obama broke in 2008 with his longtime Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after videos of his incendiary sermons were broadcast.

Many Democrats and Republicans have argued that Romney’s faith should be off limits. The Rev. Derrick Harkins, faith outreach director for the Democratic National Committee, travels around the country speaking to African-American pastors and other clergy. He said concerns over gay marriage have receded as other issues take precedence, and no pastors have raised Mormonism in their conversations with him about the two candidates.

“There’s just no space in this campaign for casting aspersions on anyone’s faith,” Harkins said in a phone interview. “It’s not morally upright. It’s not ethically appropriate.”

The Rev. Howard-John Wesley, who leads the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, said he is telling his congregants, “Let’s not make the election a decision about someone’s salvation.” Last spring, when it became clear that Romney would be the Republican nominee, congregants starting asking about Mormonism, so Wesley organized a class on the faith. He said congregants ultimately decided that “we could not put Mormons under the boundaries of orthodox Christianity.”

But Wesley said, “I don’t want Gov. Romney to have to defend the Mormon church, the way President Obama had to defend Jeremiah Wright.” Wesley, whose congregation has more than 5,000 members, said he will be voting for Obama.

The Rev. Lin Hill, an associate pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, said in a phone interview that he plans to travel with other local pastors to about 50 congregations over two weeks to hold discussions and distribute voter guides that will include a contrast between historic Christianity and Mormonism, and educate congregants about the former priesthood ban.

Hill is active in his local Democratic Party but said he’s acting independently of the campaign. He said Mormon theology becomes relevant when congregants argue that they can’t vote for Obama because, as a Christian, he should have opposed gay marriage.

“If you’re going to take a tenet of a religion and let that dissuade you from voting, then we have to,” discuss Mormon doctrine, Hill said. “We want folks to have a balanced view of both parties, but we can’t do that without the facts.”

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, a prominent Southern Baptist and black preacher, describes himself as a political independent who didn’t support Obama in 2008 because of his position on social issues. McKissic said Obama’s support for same-gender marriage “betrayed the Bible and the black church.” Around the same time, McKissic was researching Mormonism for a sermon and decided to propose a resolution to the annual Southern Baptist Convention that would have condemned Mormon “racist teachings.”

McKissic’s Mormon resolution failed.

On Election Day, McKissic said, “I plan to go fishing.”

AP Religion Writer
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report.

8 replies on “African-American Christians Waver Over Vote”

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not consider same-sex attraction to be a sin! Period, end of story!

    On the other hand, sexual transgressions are sinful no matter who commits them. Therefore, here is a question or two for those who think God should not hold all people to the same moral standards.

    There are tens of millions of heterosexuals who for one reason or another never have a chance to marry. My question is – doesn’t God expect those people to remain chaste and morally clean all the days of their lives?

    That prompts another question. Wouldn’t God be a prejudiced and discriminatory God if he excused those with same sex attractions from keeping those same commandments as this group of heterosexuals?

    Mormons have never have been, and never will be racists, and don’t believe anyone who tells you differently. Here’s why I say that:

    1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never forbidden blacks from joining the Church, or forced them into separate congregations.

    2. In 1833 Joseph Smith received a revelation from Jesus Christ that said “Therefore it is not right that one man should be in bondage to another.” See Doctrine and Covenants Section 101:79

    3. In 1838 the Mormons were expelled from the slave state of Missouri under threat of extermination (Executive Order 44 issued by Gov. Boggs). You might ask why did Boggs issue this order? Well in this case one of the main reasons was that the anti-Mormons were complaining that the Mormons had invited “free negroes and mulattos” to join them in Missouri. That complaint sounds like those people were of the same mindset as the KKK doesn’t it?

    4. Then, in 1844 Joseph Smith ran for President with a plan to free all slaves by 1850. His plan was for the federal government to purchase them, and set them free. He was murdered four months later. That sounds like what happened to Martin Luther King.

    5. Like so many Mormons, I also had three ancestors who died as a result of that persecution, and other family members who almost lost their lives as well. So you see, Mormons have always been the black man’s friend.

    6. To all of these things I would add my testimony that during my 45 years as an adult in the Church (1967 to present) I have never seen anything but brotherly love extended to our African American members and black visitors in any of the various ward congregations I have lived in. And, I have moved around a lot.

    7. Furthermore, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that every man, woman, and child on this earth is literally a child of God. That means we are all brothers and sisters, and any black person who has ever met with our missionaries or attended our church services can testify to you that they were treated with brotherly Love and kindness.

    8. Now, our detractors will tell you that the Church did not ordain those of black African decent to the ministry from 1830’s until 1978. That is basically correct. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that he should refrain from doing so. Then, in June of 1978 God gave a revelation to the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball that the time had finally come when all worthy men in the Church should be given the Priesthood. So, the question arises, why did the Lord wait so long to give that revelation?

    9. First, let me say that the Lord has never given his reasons for this delay. However, it is my “personal opinion” that if blacks had been called and ordained to the Priesthood, and later become leaders within the Church, then every Mormon both black and white would have been lynched or shot instead of being forced to leave the state of Missouri under threat of extermination.

    Not only that, but we have sent our missionaries throughout the United States and around the globe from the very beginning of the Church to the present day. With that in mind, note that by 1860 the KKK came into existence with a vengeance. Now imagine the persecution, beatings, lynching’s, etc., that they would have carried out against mixed Mormon congregations led by black priesthood holders prior to the Civil Rights movement. So you see, our not ordaining blacks of African descent prior to 1978 had absolutely nothing to do with Mormons being racists. In fact, according to my way of thinking, it was exactly the opposite.

    10. The persecution of our Church and its members took on a new form when the main body of our Church membership moved beyond the reach of the rapists and the hate filled murderers of the 1800’s. Since that time, we have mainly been persecuted by anti-Mormon publications which are built upon misinformation, out of context quotes and private interpretations of our doctrines by non-members, atheists, excommunicated members and former members who have left the Church after being sucked into the circle of hate.

    11. Last of all, the detractors of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will point to past views and opinions which were expressed by leaders of our Church as to why the Lord didn’t want us to ordain those of black African descent. Of course, the truth is they didn’t really know, because the Lord had never revealed his reasons.

    The Apostle Bruce R. McConkie was present in June of 1978 when the Lord finally gave the revelation instructing the Church to ordain all worthy men to the Priesthood. The revelation was received by the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, and confirmed by revelation to all of the Apostles at the same time by the power of the Holy Ghost. Elder McConkie of the Twelve later wrote the following:

    “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.”

    In other words, the gospel was at one time only preached to the Jews. Then, after the crucifixion of Christ, the time came when Peter received the revelation that it was time for it to be preached to the gentiles. That’s the way it was with us. At first we were instructed not to ordain those of Black African descent, but on the first day of June 1978 the Lord said the time for doing so had arrived. That revelation was received 34 years ago, and we have been ordaining all worthy male members to the Priesthood ever since.

  3. Since 1978, the Mormon Church has quadrupled in size, so 75% of its members were born or joined after the ordination restriction was lifted. Over half a million of the Mormons who joined since 1978 are black, including 400,000 mormons in a dozen African nations like Nigeria and Kenya and Uganda. There are many black Mormons in Haiti and Brazil. Black Mormons include leaders of congregations in Philadelphia and Atlanta and Harlem.
    There are manynthousands of Polynesian Mormons, including a third of Tonga and a quarter of Samoa.
    From Mongolia to the Philippins therebare a million Mormons.
    There are a million Mormons in Mexico and millions more throughout Latin America.
    Over half of Mormobs live outside the US.

    The priesthood restriction only affected the small number of black Mormons, not anyone outside the Church. And there were people who wanted to join the church in spite of it, like the black Army sergeant I helped baptize in 1974 in Colorado Springs. There were no segregated schools or drinking fountains in Utaah.

  4. Your ideas on morality may be fine for you but you have no right to expect that others must subscribe to them. Attempting to force others to live their lives according to your ideas shows disrespect for their ideas. The First Amendment protects your right to believe what you want and allows others to believe as they want. Your ideas are no better than the ideas of others; when you seek to deny the full enjoyment of civil rights to others based on your faith or beliefs, you’re a religious bigot.

  5. Don’t forget the explosive growth of the Mormon church in the Sogere of Western Papua, New Guinea.

    Since the only two ways in which people enter into Mormonism (or into any Christianity) are either childhood brainwashing or in rather profound ignorance of the Bible, it’s not surprising that the Mormon church has shifted its missionary emphasis to the developing world where ignorance of the Bible is endemic. This includes even the heavily Catholic countries: even if some of those people could quote the entire Bible verbatim they’re still be profoundly ignorant of it. But the Mormon missionaries are also incredibly ignorant of the Bible.

    Turns out the Mormons aren’t the only Christian sect doing well in the developing world, and for the exact same reason.

  6. I don’t pretend to understand why black men were not allowed to hold the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (“LDS”) until 1978 or why the man who penned the moving words “we believe that all men are created equal” felt it was alright to own slaves, or why it took a civil war to end that evil practice. I do prefer, however, to live in the present, not the past and it is my experience that African Americans or those of the black race worldwide are warmly accepted in the LDS faith today. In fact, in my own personal view there is nothing the LDS faith wants and needs more today than to have the powerful faith of the African American community at least on our side if not on our team.

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