Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“Should Black Pastors Tell their Congregations not to Vote this November?”

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Religion is a very touchy matter. Two subjects that cause people to often argue eternally without resolution are religion and politics. Although my religious and political views are progressive, I still believe that people have the right to express their religious views even if they are diametrically opposed to my own. I appreciate the perspectives of different religions and denominations and have spent considerable time studying them to gain a deeper understanding of their essential beliefs and practices. What I have discovered is that there are wide ranging interpretations of the sacred scriptures and the theological views that emerge from those belief systems have adherents whose positions range from conservative to moderate to liberal. I have also discovered that many world religions and Christian denominations possess a common value system that promotes respect, harmony and peace not only among their believers but also with people who may not share their theological views.

Having said this, I am greatly concerned that some black pastors in particular and pastors in general are urging their congregations not to vote for Obama this November and some are even telling their congregations to not vote at all. The main reason cited is the President’s support for marriage equality which many of those pastors say betray the ultimate trust they have placed in him as commander and chief. Many of those pastors believe that since they cannot vote for Obama because of his stance on marriage equality they and their parishioners should not vote at all. My question is if Obama is their candidate of choice why punish the President and risk democracy on this one issue?

I have stated in previous articles on this blog that the President is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States and while he and Michelle are practicing Christians, he must make decisions that are in line with the Constitution of the United States to ensure equal protection under the law for all citizens. America is a democracy and not a theocracy. The determinants for granting equal protection cannot be religious, political, sexual or other, and the President can ill afford to use religious laws or precepts to condemn or prevent people from achieving their full rights as citizens. If he does, he violates his oath as this nation’s Chief Executive Officer.

Thus the Constitution must be his ultimate guide at all times and its undergirding value is distributive justice.  Liberty and justice for all are at the heart of our Constitutional quest for a more just and equal society. Even the Bible describes the importance of such justice in Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 7:5-7 and other prophetic books. (John Dominic Crossan). The ministry of Jesus embodies the practice of justice where the marginalized and alienated made their way to his table as he outwardly affirmed them as members of the family of God even amid their continued devaluation by the larger society. (Marcus Borg)

Often in the practice of our religious beliefs we emphasize the importance of retributive justice– how God punishes sinners, but omit the importance of restorative justice ( Howard Zehr) and distributive justice for the poor, the oppressed, the alienated and dispossessed. In our efforts to homogenize and harmonize people into specific religious points of view, we often obviate the significance of divine justice in building community and establishing God’s kingdom on earth. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be doneon earth as it is in heaven.” This Kingdom should be realized on earth where the customary divisions that polarize people into warring camps are finally abolished and a more just society is established. Although that Kingdom is here but not yet here, we should continue to strive for its realization each day through the practice of love, peace and justice. The practice of these principles transcend race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social categories.

Now these pastors have a right to their religious and theological beliefs. I also realize that sometimes urging people not to vote is a means of protesting the views and actions of a specific candidate. Pastors are moved by conscience and principle.  But should they tell their congregations not to vote or for whom to vote only for theological reasons? Should they exhort their congregations not to vote for Obama on this one issue when there is so much more at stake in the upcoming elections? Should their theological beliefs demand that their congregants not vote for the President or other candidates of choice who may or may not share those pastor’s own political or theological views? Do such theological imperatives impede a person’s right to vote? Is this a form of voter dissuasion?

There is a much larger moral issue here that goes beyond the realm of religious ideals and beliefs. The issue is how all citizens in this nation are to be treated; how they are to receive justice and how they can pursue, life, liberty and happiness notwithstanding their race, gender or sexual orientation. They are entitled to certain rights as citizens in this country and no person has the right to thwart the pursuit of the people’s constitutional rights for any reasons.

Without overstating this issue, we might even go as far as saying that when we cast our vote in the civic realm, we are registering our desire for a specific outcome as we do in our prayers and petitions to God in the religious realm. Christians have an obligation not only to herald God’s kingdom, but must work to establish that kingdom on earth which means that our religious responsibilities require support or non support of our political leaders. This also means extending kingdom practices to people who are beyond the pale of our religious beliefs.

When we pray to almighty God for specific outcomes, we do not always get what we pray for but it does not stop us from praying to God for answers. Even if God does not answer our prayers the way that we want, we don’t stop praying to God altogether. We are expecting God to answer our prayers in some way or another with a “yes or a “no,” or a “maybe” or “not now.”

Likewise, when we vote for a specific candidate we may not get everything we expect from that candidate once in office, but the prospects of that possibility do not stop us from voting. By casting our votes for our candidates of choice, we are hoping that they will have a real chance of winning that office. If we don’t vote, we throw away our chances and forgo the exercise of this right. Praying and voting are ways of effecting specific results, one politically and the other religiously, and even if the desired results do not occur, we should not stop doing either. In fact, we should pray before and after we vote and just as we would never exhort our congregations to stop praying and having faith in God when God does not grant everything that we pray for, we should never urge our congregations to stop voting for candidates of choice in our cherished democracy even when those candidates don’t deliver on every issue they’ve promised.

Some may say that this is a misuse of analogy or drawing false equivalents, but I am just trying to describe another way of looking at this issue. I can hear some of my colleagues questioning how I could possibly compare praying to God with voting for a human being for elected office because they are entirely two different matters. . They might concur with H.G. Wells who once said that “God without man is still God and man without God is nothing.” I get all of this, but it’s all related and connected. We pray to God for specific outcomes. We are blessed to live in a Representative Democracy and a Constitutional Republic where we can cast our vote to effect outcomes and we don’t stop doing either if we don’t get the desired results. That is the point. So why are pastors urging their parishioners not to vote at all because the person they voted for followed the Constitution by ensuring the civil and human rights of all Americans; citizens who have fought in our wars and made sacrifices on behalf of our nation and deserve their full rights as human persons?

Furthermore, no political candidate is going to please all the people all of the time. Even pastors know this. Although we have parishioners who disagree with us on key issues-I have people in my church who are angry with my stance on this issue and some have left the church- but we don’t give up on them. We don’t stop praying and working and “voting” for them and hopefully they won’t stop praying and working  and “voting” for us. We don’t throw the baby out with the bath water because there is such a thing as pardon, forgiveness and grace and doing what is in the best interests of the people even when we all fall short of the glory of God.

Pastors should be careful in telling their congregations not to vote this November election because it might be considered an abdication of political, moral and religious responsibility. They should also stop demonizing the president because he refuses to practice discrimination against American citizens who are members of the LGBT community. Theyare children of God and God loves them too. God loves Obama too as he has made this courageous decision.  That same love is also extended to pastors and pew. We are all beneficiaries of God’s eternal grace and love.

Moreover, too many people have fought, bled and died for the right to vote and to throw it all away on this one issue is to take the easy way out. The forthcoming elections will be watershed events for our nation and the future of America. We cannot afford not to vote. We cannot throw away this blessed right when so many Americans have gone to their graves for this privilege. Every vote is valuable. Every vote counts. To urge voter dissuasion away from the polls is not the answer that we need today be it for religious, political or other reasons. To vote or not to vote that is the question. Let us then faithfully urge our people to the ballot box and protect this sacred right as we strive for a greater and more just America.  Let us keep casting our votes and keep praying for our leaders and our country. Let us never urge our people to stop voting for their candidates of choice and let us never give up as we build a better and more just society.

One response to ““Should Black Pastors Tell their Congregations not to Vote this November?””

  1. taaha biles Avatar

    no they should not because they can’t tell people not to vote its there rights!

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