In the past, pastors in the black community have been significant in encouraging their people to vote. Often this has led to votes for Democrats. This year, it seems that their message has changed. Many are looking to be theologically consistent across the board on the candidates.
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 A.R. Bernard, founder of the predominantly African-American Christian Cultural Center in New York.
“By embracing gay marriage, President Obama is leading the country down an immoral path,” said William Owens, president of the CAAP, in a statement. “The black church has always been the conscience of America, and today we are calling on black pastors and black Christians to withhold support from President Obama until he corrects course. The man holding the most powerful position in the world is stooping to lead the country down an immoral path.”
“The hijacking of the civil rights movement by homosexuals, bisexuals and gender-confused people is unacceptable. There is no legitimate comparison between skin color and sexual behavior,” he said.
George Nelson Jr., senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, said "I would never vote for a man like Romney," because he believes Mormonism to be a theological cult.
Nelson did not say which candidate he will vote for, but he did say that he was voting and encouraged others to do the same. "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.
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.
"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. "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."
While many Christians, both black and white, have theological problems with Romney's Mormonism some claim it is not pertinent to the issue. It is just as pertinent as it is a Muslim, or a Christian that does not live like a Christian in any sense of the word. Culture and politics are religion externalized.
Some don't want that to be an issue because of the fact that they want a person to separate their religious convictions from public life. That is what we've been pushed to do from liberals for decades now, but ultimately a man cannot separate himself from what he truly believes.
An associate pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Virgina, Lin Hill, said he will be traveling to about fifty congregations over two weeks to hold discussions and distribute voter guides that distinguish between historic Christianity and Mormonism to educate congregants about the former priesthood ban. Hill points out that Mormon theology becomes relevant when congregants say that they can't vote for Obama because of his claims to be Christian, he should have opposed homosexual "marriage." No one has said anything about Mitt Romney signing same-sex "marriage" into law as governor of Massachusetts.
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."
He's right. While the Constitution does not have a religious test according the Article 6, it does not mean that people don't naturally have their own religious test for candidates and there is nothing wrong with that. That my friends is part of the First Amendment. In fact, what is ironic is the fact that that same man will take and oath of office with his hand on the Bible, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and no one will utter a word about that.