Sunday, March 05, 2006

Religion and Politics -- Appropriate Bedfellows?

During presidential election season, how often do we see the white candidates, both Democrat and Republican, parading themselves at black churches, spouting off about how the issues that are important to African-Americans are important to them? After election season, do we see the candidates (victors or losers) at the black churches anymore? The answer to this question is two-fold. No, the candidates no longer have a physical presence in the churches. However, their presence is still alive and well in the churches, by way of the pastors.

Historically, the African-American church has been the central institution in the African-American community. In days past, they were the gathering places not only for worship, but also to address the economic, social, and political impact of a racist and segregated society on African-Americans. Yes, political. Black churches and their pastors have historically served as champions in the fight for equality for African-Americans, and against the oppression we have endured from the white community.

So why, you're probably thinking, does the title of this entry suggest that the marriage between politics and religion is inappropriate? I think this relationship becomes troublesome when pastors start using politics as a way of advancing their own beliefs, rather than advancing the needs of the black community at large. As leaders of the black church, black ministers have a massive amount of access and visibility among the black community. Politicians know this, and that is why they attempt to use the pastors to get the black vote.

This practice is so much more evident now because of the increasing support that black ministers are giving to Republicans. (Note -- I said "increasing" support -- which means I recognize that not all black pastors conduct themselves in this fashion.) For me, this really became evident during the 2004 presidential election, during which the Republicans used gay marriage as their platform (and only platform, I might add) to attract the black vote. They know that black folks are some of the most homophobic people in this country, and played on that by getting black pastors to support them solely for that reason.

So is it okay for Republicans to line the pockets of our black pastors with a little money, in exchange for their support (and indirectly, the support of their congregations)? As a sidebar -- I hope you don't think black pastors provide this support for free. I have personally seen some very high-profile and prominent Indiana elected officials (both on a state and local level) "give" money to a group of black pastors; in exchange for the group's support of Republican initiatives.

Personally, I think this sort of behavior is completely inappropriate. As leaders of our communities, I think black pastors have a duty to conduct themselves in a way that best serves the black community at large. This does not include using one issue -- gay marriage -- as their platform to support Republicans; while ignoring the issues that really affect the black community, such as unemployment, lack of healthcare, and a failing public education system.

I know this post will offend many religious black folks, so I am prepared to deal with it, and look forward to your comments. However, I think it is an atrocity for some black pastors to use their power in a way that ultimately defeats the individual struggles of members of their own congregations; and I think it is time that they are held accountable for that.



tryin2learn said...

I personally do not believe that religion and politics mix! Religion we believe in GOD only and follow his commandments which are true and never changing… Politics are man made laws and rules that suppose to serve and govern us equally…yeah right. (Do the words loop holes for the rich and powerful mean anything to you?). Politician lie their way into office and then turn their backs on folks (all minorities) that voted them in. Our GOD is true he does not discriminate nor play favoritism to anyone, we are all equal in his eye.

Let me get on my soap box for just a second… After 911 ALL Americans were saying “GOD Bless America”. At that time GOD name was advertised everywhere on cars, TV, businesses and etc... Now that time has passed those same Americans who ate, sleep and breathe GOD name has now voted to remove him from our schools, government buildings and TV. Come on Americans don’t put GOD on the back burner!

Notta you are right they only come to get our votes and votes only. Some Ministers are blinded by the money and the photo opts they get seen with Politicians. I even see our current president seen with some well known black ministers on TV. This is nothing but a ploy to trick Black Americans into believing “master cares about us”!

Look at how healthcare is going up and the cost of gas, the everlasting rising of heating and electric. I am not even going to touch the War that is going on and how the vice prez is getting paid via Halliburton! The Fahrenheit 911 movie holds some truth in what is really going on…I had to catch myself I had to delete a lot of what I just wrote because it went off subject (back on the old soapbox). So to sum it up if oil and water don’t mix neither does religion and politics!

Curry said...

I hear a few different things being said inside of this topic. To be honest, I’m not mad at Republicans for trying to reach out and get our vote, and I’m not even a Republican, nor do I agree with the majority of there agenda. But here’s the broader problem: why is it that church is the only place that black people congregate in masses big enough to be reached by politicians? Why can’t our numbers be counted high in non-religious social gatherings? Ok, Million Man March, whoopty do!

Example: Sometime not too long after the New Year, I went to a political party thrown by an organization called Young Democrats of San Fernando, comprised mainly of people between 25-40 years old. In a nutshell this was basically a meeting/party thrown by local officials, councilmen/women, and a few film directors who are very active Democrats. They were there to help push local support for city & state issues that were important for Democratic Party in some upcoming votes/elections. Guess what? I was the only black person there, out of maybe 60 or 70 people. Moral --> Why aren’t we involved in supporting similar things in our community? If we had this type of organization, maybe Republicans wouldn’t have to come to our churches and expose the “sellout” mentality of SOME of our Pastors. It’s almost like they’re saying “If nowhere else, we can get to blacks in churches!”

You can say that those religious “representatives” are doing a service to the black community by being the “word” of our community. But do you reeaaallllyy think the President is listening to Creflo Dollar (NOT that he’s one of “those” Pastors). Seriously!! When all of those black congressman & congresswomen stood up to protest the election counts in the last presidential vote, how many people listened to them?

Increase the VISIBILITY of political organizations in the community; decrease the opportunity for black pastors to be bought. Throw a show on black politics on BET once a week, the world can do without video hoes for 30 minutes.

r. parrish said...

I think Curry has diagnosed most of the problem with politics and religion in the black community. All I would add is that it doesn't seem to me that black churches continue to be the center of political activity among blacks either. While the church has historically been the nexus of grassroots poltical organizing efforts among blacks, it has largely become ineffectual since the end of the civil rights movement. I'm not sure why that is the case but there don't appear to be many galvanizing issues for the black community generally, and the church community specifically to rally behind.

But like Curry mentioned, there are few secular organizational alternatives to the church or the mosque. Perhaps that speaks to a general black apathy, a lack of faith in the political process, or a feeling of powerlessness. In any event, there doesn't appear to be much political organizing among black folk within or outside the church walls, and Curry is correct to identify that as a more pressing problem.

As for Notta's question: Is it okay for Republicans to line pastor's pockets? My answer is a qualified yes. Politicians regardlesss of their party affiliation aren't telling pastors or their parishioners what to believe or vote for. You can perhaps find fault with them for pandering or exploiting reactionary tendencies within the church community regarding homosexuals, but politicians and pastors aren't leading parishioners anywhere they weren't already willing to go.

Do I think the payments unseemly or unethical? Yes, but the bottom line is that no-one is putting words in pastor's mouths or pulling the voting levers of the parishioners. Politicians are simply manipulating people's beliefs for political gain. My stance on that is if folks aren't clever enough to realize they are being manipulated--then more power to the manipulator.

Lastly a question for Notta: Are you more concerned about the method or the message of politicians? Would you feel the same way if politicians were paying for face time to discuss improving educational opportunities within black areas or funding for inner-city small business initiatives?

Notta Golddigger said...

In response to r.parrish -- To be clear, my problem is not at all with politicians, it is with the ministers who allow the politicians to line their pockets. So my question "is it okay for Republicans to line the pockets of our black pastors with a little money, in exchange for their support? -- should probably be re-worded to read: "is it okay for our black pastors to allow Republicans to line their pockets with a little money?" My answer to that question is a resounding NO.

As for your question RE: method v. message, my problem is with both. I don't think ministers should be accepting money into their own pockets from any politicians, just for allowing the politician some "face time" with his congregation, or for advocating for that politican's particular cause. However, I do have a problem with the message that Republicans transmit to the black church vs. the message of a Democrat. As I stated in my entry, the black church has a history of standing up for the rights of black folks, and like it or not, Republican initiatives do not tend to lend themselves to the good of the black community (i.e., cutting taxes for the wealthy, and taking money out of the child support system does not in any way support the black community).

Lastly, I'd like to address something you said in your comment. You said, "if folks aren't clever enough to realize they are being manipulated--then more power to the manipulator." I have a problem with that statement in that not everyone has the education (or the common sense) to know better. I believe you made your comment with the "politician" in the role of the "manipulator." However, I look at the "manipulator" as being the "pastors" who do the sorts of things we have discussed. I think especially in that sense, you can't make a broad comment like that. People put their faith and beliefs in their pastors, and trust that their pastors will conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with that faith and those beliefs. Many people are not so cynical (like us) that they question the motives of everything and everybody. So to praise the manipulator (in my case, the pastor) because he's able to "get one over" on his congregation, is, in my opinion, a bit overreaching.

r. parrish said...

O.K., if the focus is on pastors, here is my response. (1) I agree with you that any pastor willing to accept money for some time at his or her pulpit and a bit of influence over their flock has spiritually bankrupted themselves and compromised themselves morally. I believe neither the church nor its leadership should be in the "business" of politics for many different reasons (some of them const., some of them ethical).

With that said, however, I also believe that each pastor and church has the right to support candidates and issues they feel reflect their beliefs or values. I would advocate for that right even if I didn't agree with the pastor's stance or their political alliances. I just wouldn't go to or support their church.

I'm a strong liberal and don't support many Repub./Cons. initiatives, but that doesn't mean I think that other black folk must think and act similarly to me. If the Repubs. are speaking to a segment of the black pop. in a way the Dems. aren't, I don't think it's up to us to judge them or tell them what to think. While I agree with you that many of the Repub.'s initiatives are adverse to the interests of most blacks, their agenda is also adverse to the interests of middle income and low income whites, many of whom ardently support the conservs. Many of these folks have been led to believe that gays and abortions are going to bring the country to ruin and to cast their votes solely on that basis--why should black folk be any different?

(2) I did make my manipulation comment with politicians in mind, but pastors aren't excluded either. As much as we'd like to believe they don't, some pastors are great manipulators on various levels. How many times have we seen pastors that exort poor parishioners to give to "God" only to see the church leader driving a luxury car to his or her home in an exclusive neighborhood? There are other manipulations at work as well that are made possible because, as you mentioned, we want to trust our pastors implictly. Unfortunately, some people have abused that trust.

Notta's Sista said...

Here’s my question…Why is all of the negative focus solely on the backs of the pastors? I’m in agreement that political face time in exchange for money is unethical, but do we excuse the politicians from taking any responsibility here? I understand that the religious leaders of the black community or any community for that matter are held to a higher standard than most, but I think it would be safe to say that the same goes for the politicians. Although they have different jobs, they hold the same position in my eyes. Bottom line….as hard as it is to believe, not all religious and political leaders are “bad” people nor are they strictly out for personal gain. It’s unfortunate though that people in general have allowed themselves to be impacted either way, thus leaving a bad taste.

As for the black community, I don’t think we’re getting the credit we deserve. Yes, historically, we as a people did not show up at the polls, but since the days of Clinton there has definitely been an increase in those numbers; a lot of which is due to several national marketing campaigns endorsed by many celebrities (who also I might add, accept monetary compensation for their support) in an effort to reach various demographics (black, white, gay, straight, young old). I think that many Americans, not just blacks, are starting to become more politically aware. If a pastor chooses to support a candidate, with or without monetary incentives then that is between him and his God. Jimmy Swaggert, a prominent religious leader, led thousands and thousands of people to Christ, but like many people of flesh, got caught up in his own scandals. That doesn’t make him a bad person; it only means that he is human just like the rest of us. That being said, I would hope that we (black folks) are intelligent enough to not just be followers, but to take the initiative to become more cognizant of the issues in order to make sound voting decisions based on our own beliefs.