Righteous politics: the role of the black church in contemporary politics.


Someday the Awakening will come, when the pent-up vigor of ten million
souls shall sweep, irresistibly toward the Goal, out of the Valley of
the Shadow of Death, where all that makes life worth living-Liberty,
Justice and Right- is marked "For White People Only."
--W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
Sunday morning visits to large, influential black churches have
been a standard strategy of Democratic office-seekers for more than
fifty years. Black churches are a site of organized, committed,
well-networked, partisan faithful who can be influenced and mobilized by
adept candidates. No local, state or national official can claim to have
actively courted the African American vote without regular and visible
attendance at black worship services. In both 1984 and 1988 Reverend
Jesse Jackson's primary presidential campaigns were built on the
structure of black Southern and urban congregations. (1) Not only did
Jackson employ a rhetorical style reflecting his training as a black
preacher, but he built a campaign organization centered on black
Christian volunteers, black church contact lists, donations from black
religious services and an ideology that relied heavily on black
Christian understandings of the connection between the sacred and the
political. (2) President Bill Clinton was adept at using black
rhetorical styles borrowed from the church as well as the organizational
resources and networks of black churches to motivate black electoral
support. (3)

Black church voters have been such powerful and reliable allies toDemocratic candidates that Republican "Big Tent" strategieshave targeted black Christian voters, hoping to chip away at the loyaltyof African American believers through moral wedge issues like gaymarriage and abortion. (4) In both his initial and reelection campaigns,President George W. Bush actively courted black religious voters throughhigh profile connections with black ministers like T.D. Jakes andFredrick Price. (5) As we enter the 2008 presidential campaign season,the black church is likely to retain its centrality as a site ofpolitical mobilization. What shape this influence on contemporaryelectoral politics takes depends on changing organizational, theologicaland cultural elements of the African American church.Can the church still move the people?

Much of the study of African American religiosity and political
behavior has largely centered on one defining question: does
Christianity encourage or discourage political activism among African
Americans? Religion scholars Lincoln and Mamiya refer to the black
church as the "womb" of the community because it gave life to
important social, economic and cultural institutions of African American
life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (6) While few question
the historic centrality of the church as an organization, there are
scholars who suggest that the church is a force of quietism in black
communities, discouraging political action through other-worldly focus
on divine restitution in the afterlife. (7) "Opiate theorists argue
that religion works as a means of social control offering African
Americans a way to cope with personal and societal difficulties and
undermining their willingness to actively challenge racial
inequalities." (8)

Other researchers have vigorously defended the connection between
the church and political action, stressing both the organizational
resources that accrue to black churchgoers, such as the networks,
skills, mobilization and contact opportunities nurtured in the church,
(9) and mapping the psychological resources that contribute to the
political actions of black church congregants, such as self-esteem and
internal efficacy. (10) These scholars claim that the black church acts
as an inspiration for political action by galvanizing black people to
work toward political righteousness. Sociologist Aldon Morris
articulates this position, stating that "the black church
functioned as the institutional center of the modern civil rights
movement. Churches provided the movement with an organized mass base;
leadership of clergymen; an institutionalized financial base; and
meeting places where the masses planned tactics and strategies and
collectively committed themselves to the struggle." (11) Political
scientist Fred Harris points to the church's capacity to cultivate
psychological resources writing, "Religion's psychological
dimensions could potentially empower individuals with a sense of
competence and resilience, inspiring them to believe in their own
ability, with the assistance of an acknowledged sacred force, to
influence or affect governmental affairs, thus--in some instances--to
act politically." (12)

Regardless of the scholarly debates, potential office holders havefound the church an effective site of mobilizing black voters and havefound that many black churches are actively committed to providingworshippers with the organizational and psychological resourcesnecessary for political action. However, there are two importantorganizational trends within the black church that may potentiallyimpact the church's effectiveness in upcoming elections.First, African Americans are increasingly un-churched. (13)
Although African American respondents to national surveys overwhelming
report that they believe in God, that they pray daily, that they believe
the Bible to be the inspired or literal word of God and that they use
religious beliefs as a guide to daily life choices, (14) fewer black
Americans are members or regular attendees of church. The declining
attendance of black Christians mirrors a larger trend in American
society, as church attendance rates have leveled or declined for many
demographic groups. (15) However, the political implications of
declining church attendance by blacks are potentially more meaningful.

One way to think about the organizational significance of the
church to black politics is to see it as a kind of subsidy to less
affluent citizens. The black church underwrites the cost of political
participation for African Americans by providing reliable and regular
contact with elected officials, political information, opportunities for
mobilization and advice about identifying political interests. Those who
do not attend politicized black churches must bear the cost of
deciphering and navigating the political world without this subsidy,
which means that they must gather all the information and opportunities
on their own without having it provided through the church. This means
that for the un-churched political participation is more expensive.
African American communities remain vastly poorer than their white
counterparts. Losing the participation subsidy provided by black
churches can make the costs of political participation too high to bear
and push many potential voters out of politics altogether. In this way,
the decline of black church attendance represents a rising cost of
political participation for black Americans.

The second important institutional trend among the black faithful
is that African Americans are increasingly mega-churched. While a lower
proportion of African Americans are regular church attendees, those who
do go to church increasingly choose nondenominational megachurches over
mainline black denominations. The Baptists, Methodist and A.M.E.
congregations that provided the vanguard of black political mobilization
fifty years ago are increasingly irrelevant as the Church of God In
Christ (COGIC) and a cadre of large, nondenominational churches have
taken their place as the primary location of African American
worshippers. Churches of two thousand or more members are a fast growing
segment of black religion in America. These churches can be found in
traditional migration cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, and in
Californian enclaves like Oakland, but are mostly concentrated in
Southern sunbelt cities like Atlanta and Dallas. Black megachurches tend
to be located in or near large African American suburban communities.
(16) These churches are attracting increased journalistic and scholarly
attention and criticism as observers question "whether black
megachurches have effectively maintained the African American
church's traditional commitment to an active engagement with broad
black-community issues." (17) Alternatively, the rise of the
mega-church may mean that black Americans can be more efficiently
mobilized toward political action because their church homes provide
expansive networks and substantial resources.

In The State of Black America 2000, R. Drew Smith and TamelynTucker-Worgs released some of the first available data on blackmega-churches. Based on surveys of more than fifty black churches withmemberships over two thousand, these preliminary data suggest thatmegachurches outperform their smaller counterparts in terms of bothpolitical activity and community development. Ninety-six percent ofblack megachurches indicate that they have helped in voter registrationdrives, 87 percent have provided rides to polls, 63 percent haveadvocated on behalf of ballot issues, and 10 percent reportparticipating in protest rallies or marches. "Black megachurchesmay not be as apolitical as they have sometimes been thought to be. Theapolitical image is possibly a problem of perception, created by thefact that the political aspects of black mega churches have not been asconspicuous as other aspects of their ecclesiastical and communityactivities." (18) However, these data are highly aggregated. Theyask about the activities of churches, not of individuals in the church.It is possible that a church can be classified as politically active,even if only one hundred of its ten thousand members are involved inpolitical action. There is no way to discern from these data whetherthousands of African Americans are being mobilized for action or not.Organizationally, the church has often served as a place where
African Americans learn important civic skills. Black men and women who
are active in the church learn about chairing meetings, passing motions,
organizing groups and mediating competing interests. These skills can be
used in the political realm. The church is a place where black people
become available to mobilization by political entrepreneurs and groups.
Candidates, parties, and organizations go to black churches to find
voters, campaign workers and community organizers. The church has also
served as a place where African Americans develop psychological
resources of self-esteem and efficacy. Black Americans reaffirm their
intrinsic worth as human beings and use those psychological resources to
bolster their capacity to engage with an often hostile American state.

However, new patterns of church attendance and membership raise two
central questions at the intersection of black religion and politics in
upcoming elections: (1) whether un-churched black Christians can be
motivated to vote and participate given that they do not receive the
informational and mobilization resources that accompany regular
attendance and (2) whether the movement of remaining black churchgoers
from one kind of church to another signals a shift in the political
influence of the African American church. While these challenges emerge
from what we observe about changing organizational elements of the black
church, they can only be answered through an investigation of the
theological orientations of the contemporary black church.

What black voters believe about God

The black church is not only an organizational space that gives
rise to unique racial and cultural formations, but also as an
interpreter of the black experience in America that gives rise to unique
theological formulations. The black church offers African Americans
indigenous religious ideas and organic theologies that distinguish black
religiosity. (19) These mass-based theologies of the black church are
rooted in specific understandings of biblical texts that grow out of
black experiences of bondage and oppression. Black Christianity is
distinct theologically because of its specific theodicy. Theodicy is the
issue of reconciling God's justice in the presence of human
suffering. Many elements of Western theology have grappled with how an
all-loving and all-powerful God can coexist with evil. While not unique
to black religion, theodicy takes on specific and racialized form in
black religious experience. For African Americans, evil takes the very
specific and identifiable form of white supremacy first through
enslavement, then through Jim Crow and lynch mob rule and continuing in
seemingly intractable racial inequality. The evil of racism must be
reconciled with the idea of a loving and powerful God. The shocking
difficulty of resolving this uniquely racialized theodicy led William
Jones to question, Is God a White Racist? (20)

Having to confront, if not resolve, this fundamental dilemma of
God's love for black people in the midst of black oppression is a
central, if implicit, theological tenet linking black religion and black
political action. As we consider the political implications of an
increasingly un-churched and mega-churched black population, we must
consider how African American believers grapple with theodicy and how
the resolutions to which they come influence their political engagement.

One important way that black people have grappled with theodicy is
through distinct interpretations of the bible that recasts God as
primarily egalitarian. Biblical studies professor Vincent Wimbush argues
that African Americans have a distinct approach to reading and
interpreting biblical texts. "African Americans used the Bible to
make self-assertive claims against a racist America that claimed to be a
biblical nation. African Americans were clamoring for realization of the
principles of inclusion, equality, and kinship that they understood the
Bible to mandate. Beginning in the nineteenth century and extending into
the twentieth, African American consistently and systematically
attempted to make use of the Bible to force 'biblical' America
to honor biblical principles." (21) Guided by this hermeneutical
key, African American religiosity chooses to emphasize particular
elements of the Bible, "the adventures of the Hebrews in bondage
and escaping from bondage, and those about the wondrous works,
compassion, and resurrection of Jesus ... and the prophecies, especially
the prophetic denunciations of social injustice and the visions of
social justice." (22)

To reconcile an egalitarian God with their deeply unequal
circumstances in America, black religious traditions developed a
jeremiad that serves as "the constant warning issued by blacks to
whites concerning the judgment that was to come from the sin of
slavery." (23) Named for the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, a
jeremiad is a form of literature or rhetoric associated with the divine
destruction of a wicked people and the deliverance of the children of
God. The jeremiad warns that those who have sinned against God or
God's chosen people will soon pay the consequences of their sinful
actions, and that the chosen people will be led to a land of safety and
peace far from the pains of their oppressors. The black jeremiad has
been an important form of black political understanding that has helped
structure the expectations of black America related to the politics. The
black jeremiad understands African Americans to be living in a land of
oppression similar to the Old Testament experience of ancient Egyptian
bondage. As Yahweh delivered His children then, so too will He deliver
black America.

Other elements of the black religious tradition have sought to make
Christianity relevant for African Americans engaged in political and
cultural struggle against white racism by asserting that God has a
unique relationship with African Americans and reimagining a black
Christ who sides with African Americans as they struggle against social,
political, and economic marginalization. (24) This liberation theology reasons that Christ takes on the position of the poorest and most
despised in any historical moment, thus in the American context, Christ
must be understood as black. This theological formulation allows African
Americans to see themselves through a lens that asserts their inherent
uniqueness as individuals and emphasizes spiritual qualities, such as
wisdom and morality, over material possessions as a standard for
self-evaluation. (25)

The traditions of black jeremiad and liberation theology mediate a
particular understanding of the relationship between blacks and the
Americans state. From the late nineteenth century to the contemporary
era black America solidified its relationship to the state as communal
rather than individual. In this regard, black politics drew heavily from
black religiosity. Political scientist Michael Dawson explains,
"The communalism of African American public life shared its roots
with the communalism of African-American religious thought. One of the
critical differences between black and white Protestantism is the
African American belief in self-realization of individuality within
community. In opposition to the American liberal tradition, African
Americans have adopted the worldview that individual freedom can be
realized only within the context of collective freedom, that individual
salvation can occur only within the framework of collective
salvation." (26)

Today, there is evidence of a shift in this communal orientation
toward both religion and politics in contemporary black religious
patterns. The megachurch phenomenon is not driven primarily by the
jeremiad or liberation elements of black religious tradition. Instead,
many large congregations with fast-growing populations of black
adherents preach the prosperity gospel. Prosperity gospel is a
constellation of beliefs that are variously grouped under the titles
Health-Wealth, Word-Faith, or Name it-Claim it. In its crudest form
prosperity gospel teaches that followers who tithe regularly and
maintain positive, faithful attitudes and language will reap financial
gains in the form of higher incomes and nicer homes and cars. In more
subtle forms, prosperity gospel connects God's mission for his
people to financial freedom and security for individual Christians.
Visualization and positive confession are advanced as part of a
spiritual law that encourages God to bless individuals. Wealth is seen
as evidence of God's blessing and Christians who follow certain
formulas in their personal and spiritual lives will reap substantial
material rewards. (27)

Prosperity gospel offers a radically different interpretation of
God's relationship to His people. The prosperity gospel asserts
God's desire to help his people be financially free and secure. It
teaches that Christ helps individuals who follow certain formulas in
their personal and spiritual lives. Christ is an investment strategy and
a personal life coach whose power can be accessed by believers to
improve their finances, protect their families, strengthen their faith,
and achieve personal authenticity.

Data from a survey of black Americans suggest that liberation
theology promotes political action while prosperity gospel reduces it.
Survey respondents who believe that Christ is black are more likely to
vote, contact public officials, attend protest demonstrations, and sign
political petitions. Those who see God through the lens of the
prosperity gospel are less likely to engage in all of these political
activities. (28) Through the narrative of jeremiad and liberation
theology there is a mandate for a collective approach to politics and
critiques systems of inequality. Christians are called by Jesus'
example not both to serve the poor and to destroy the structures that
create and reproduce poverty. The prosperity gospel advances a
pervasively individualistic conception of Christ. To the extent that the
prosperity gospel promotes an individualized, dispositional
understanding of the world, it discourages collective political action.
Beliefs in more instrumental and individual ideas of Christ, like those
prosperity gospel, make black Americans less likely to engage
politically.

This has implications for the future of black politics. Prosperity
gospel is a fast-growing theology among black Americans. Preachers like
Creflo Dollar and TD Jakes have congregations, viewers and readers
numbering in the tens of thousands. There is some evidence that their
individual and instrumental message dampens political activism among
African Americans. When the black church offers a theology rooted in a
social gospel tradition, emphasizing the alleviation of poverty, the
advancement of racial and gender equality, and the promotion of peace as
moral values, it leads to a progressive political agenda among African
Americans. When black churches advance a pervasively individualistic
conception of the gospel that breaks the link between moral reasoning and structural inequality, it leads to a more conservative political
agenda focused primarily on private morality.

Taken together these organizational and theological patterns of
black religious life may suggest a shifting contribution of the black
church to black political life. The growing un-churched population means
that fewer black Americans are learning civic skills in churches and
fewer are available for political mobilization through the organization
of the church. Therefore, Democratic Party office seekers will have to
find new ways to reach out to and mobilize this powerfully important
segment of the partisan base. Further, if the influence of the
megachurch prosperity gospel is supplanting the more racially
progressive social gospel, then there may be opportunities for
Republican office seekers to mobilize black church-goers. To the extent
that prosperity gospel encourages a strict focus on individual action,
accountability and sexual morality, it can increase the salience of
sexual ethics issues that have been key to building GOP victories in
2000 and 2004. However, before concluding that current black religious
trends all point to an increasing conservative influence of the black
church on black politics, it is important to recognize that the
influence of the church in black political life extends beyond both its
organizational and theological centrality in black communities. The
church also directs and influences important elements of black cultural
life. Lincoln and Mamiya argue that the black church is deeply embedded
in black culture. "The core values of black culture like freedom,
justice, equality, an African heritage, and racial parity at all levels
of human intercourse, are raised to ultimate levels and legitimated in
the black scared cosmos." (29)

Black Church as Black Culture

The black church operates as a kind of cultural training ground for
African Americans, extending its influence far beyond Sunday morning
worship and penetrating black political discourse, ideas and practice at
many levels. Sociologist Mary Pattillo demonstrates the "power of
church rituals as cultural tools for facilitating local organizing and
activism among African Americans." (30) The church is a place where
actors learn cultural norms and styles that are then employed in secular
settings. African Americans use prayer, call-and-response-interaction,
and Christian imagery when coordinating non-religious activities. From
this perspective, the black church helps us to understand not only the
what of participation, but the how of social action. "Black church
culture constitutes a common language that motivates social
action." (31) The centrality of the black church to black culture
requires that we consider the capacity of church culture to mediate the
relationship between African American voters and partisan office
seekers. The church is organizational, theological and cultural.
Therefore a candidate must come to church, must present political ideas
in a way that connects to black religious thought, and also must be able
to speak in the language and style of the black church.

In 1998 Nobel Prize winning, African American author Toni Morrison suggested in a New Yorker article about Bill Clinton that, "white
skin not withstanding, this is our first black President."
Morrison's description of Clinton as black was prompted by his
experience of personal, public humiliation at the hands of his political
foes. When Morrison labeled Clinton black, she was not making a claim
about his genetic heritage, but instead drawing parallels between his
public debacle and the historic treatment of black public figures. She
was also commenting on his experience with and use of cultural markers
that often stand for the denigrated elements of black life in America.
"Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent
household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing,
McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas." (32)

Although Morrison drew a firestorm of responses from African
American observers angered by the assertion that these
"negative" traits constituted blackness, Morrison had
correctly tapped into an important and unique connection between Clinton
and African American people. One of the most fascinating elements of the
black president label was that Clinton himself relished it. Clinton
acknowledged his "honorary blackness" in a 1999 speech at the
Congressional Black Caucus' annual dinner and frequently
thereafter. His choice to locate his personal office in Harlem at the
close of his Presidency confirmed the deep connection he had cultivated
with black Americans. Morrison's critics notwithstanding, on the
whole African Americans perceived Bill Clinton as a great president and
as a friend to the race. Clinton's willingness to pay attention to
racial issues and Clinton's "comfort with black people"
were among the most frequently cited reasons that blacks assessed him
positively. (33) Both the intensity and character of Clinton's
popularity among African Americans is unique among modern presidents.

Journalist DeWayne Wickham compiled a fascinating array of
interviews with African American leaders and lay persons chronicling the
unique relationship between Bill Clinton and black America. The
interviews throughout Wickham's text enunciate common themes of
shared cultural understanding and genuine personal connection that
Clinton exuded to both black leaders and masses. The interviews in
Wickham's text point to the deeply rooted cultural practices that
Clinton shared with black America. Among the most important was
Clinton's command of and ease with African American religious
rhetorical styles. In delineating his support for affirmative action,
Clinton spoke of experiences of discrimination and segregation he
witnessed while growing up in the American south. (July 19, 1995)
Clinton made the widely heralded step of offering an apology for the
Tuskegee Study on black men in Alabama. (May 16, 1997) He used the
language of the black national anthem and turned on its head the cheer
of southern segregationist in his celebration the desegregation of
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas saying, "Let us
resolve to stand on the shoulders of the Little Rock Nine and press on
with confidence in the hard and noble work ahead. Let us lift every
voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, one America today, one
America tomorrow, one America forever." (September 25, 1997)

Most visible in the case of President Bill Clinton, but resonating
throughout black electoral politics, is the role of religious culture in
mediating the relationship between African Americans and political
leaders. African American politics is imbued with religious cultural
practices, even when the issues being discussed are not overtly defined
as religious in nature. The cadences of racialized religion resonate in
black politics even among the un-churched or newly megachurched.
Political leaders intent of securing the black vote are more effective
when they can readily adapt to and make use of these religious cultural
practices.

The centrality and power of black religious culture has been
criticized by some observers who argue that Clinton used the style of
black religious culture to dupe African Americans into believing he had
a prophetic voice when, in truth, his politics failed to promote racial
equality. These critics argue that many of the political and policy
choices Clinton made in office were both symbolically and substantively
troubling to black political interests: his abandonment of Lani Guinier;
the precipitous increase in the numbers and percentage of incarcerated African Americans; the imposition of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.
Minimally, Clinton's presidency never produced legislation of the
magnitude and importance of Johnson's 1964 Civil Rights Act and
1965 Voting Rights Act, but Johnson left office with far lower approval
ratings among blacks than when Clinton left office. Some question how
Clinton could be broadly adored when his policies frequently clashed
with community interests, and these critics point to the possibility of
using religious culture to obfuscate troubling politics by tapping into
black cultural expectations. However, black cultural norms associated
with black church life provide African Americans a standard against with
to determine the validity and relevance of the political claims of
elected officials. Candidates are judged, in part, by their authentic
invocation of black religious styles and ideas.

Toward the 2008 Elections

The centrality of black church--organizationally, theologically and
culturally--to African American politics illuminates the fascinating
choices facing black voters in the 2008 Democratic presidential
primaries. Which of the three leading candidates--Senator Hillary
Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, or former Senator John Edwards--will
benefit most from the continued relevance of the black church?

If we consider only the organizational element of the African
American church, Senator Clinton may have the advantage in mobilizing
black voters. Building on the existing and enduring networks established
by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton enjoys a substantial grassroots network
of Southern, Midwest urban, and Northeast urban black churches.
Clinton's organizational capacity in key primary states has been
touted by some journalists as among the most powerful political machines
in American politics. One key ingredient of that political base has been
the vocal, visible and willing support of black religious leaders
throughout the country. Senator Clinton and her supporters have access
to black church pulpits and the influence that goes along with them.
There is no question that she commands the longest standing and most
influential set of supporters among black clergy. Thinking of the black
church solely as an organizational asset for the Democratic Party,
Senator Clinton appears to be the frontrunner. However, with an
increasingly un-churched but religious youth population among black
voters, candidates will have to employ theological and cultural aspects
of black religiosity in addition to traditional organizational uses of
the black church.

Thus far, Senator Barack Obama has made the most compelling claim
on the black church's theological understanding of the connection
between the sacred and the political. Memorializing the anniversary of
Bloody Sunday in March 2007, Obama articulated a vision for his
leadership drawn specifically from a racialized, Biblical tradition.
Senator Obama argued, "I'm here because somebody marched.
I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the
shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation; but we've got to
remember, now, that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was,
despite all that he did, leading a people out of bondage, he didn't
cross over the river to see the Promised Land. God told him your job is
done.... We're going to leave it to the Joshua generation to make
sure it happens. There are still battles that need to be fought; some
rivers that need to be crossed. Like Moses, the task was passed on to
those who might not have been as deserving, might not have been as
courageous, find themselves in front of the risks that their parents and
grandparents and great grandparents had taken. That doesn't mean
that they don't still have a burden to shoulder, that they
don't have some responsibilities. The previous generation, the
Moses generation, pointed the way. They took us 90% of the way there. We
still got that 10% in order to cross over to the other side." (34)

The Exodus narrative in which Moses leads the people of Israel out
of bondage by the authority of God is the single most important anchor
of black religious thought. (35) Martin Luther King, Jr's final
"Mountaintop Sermon" drew on these same themes of leading the
people to, but not himself entering the promised land. (36) Therefore,
when Senator Obama frames his own political project with this particular
biblical interpretation, he makes effective use of traditional black
religious tropes. In addition to his capacity to employ traditional,
racialized social gospel theology in his political self-understanding,
Senator Obama has also appealed to the more individualist, private
morality of contemporary megachurches. For example, Senator Obama
explains persistence racial inequality in academic achievement as
resulting from a youth culture that emphasizes cool over smart. (37)
This "individual responsibility" narrative which criticizes
youth cultural practices rather than structural inequality is likely to
resonate with the dispositional analysis offered in the prosperity
gospel.

While Senator Obama has effectively deployed both the more
traditional and the newer forms of black religious ideas in connection
with politics, it is not completely clear whether these multiple
understanding can be easily reconciled among black voters. There has
never been a single black church or a monolithic black politics. African
American religious traditions have always blended concern with social
justice and demand for personal righteousness. Black political attitudes
have often combined political progressivism with personal conservatism,
but in the current political context of highly partisan politics,
African Americans may find it difficult to combine these multiple
traditions. For now, Senator Obama is leading the Democratic hopefuls in
his ability to employ black religious ideas in connection with his
political project.

While Senator Clinton is leading in the organizational capacity of
the black church and Senator Obama is superior in deploying black
religious ideas, it is not clear who leads in connecting with African
American voters through black religious culture. Although Barack Obama
is himself an African American who regularly attends a black church, it
is not clear that this identity and these experiences are translating
into a sense of shared cultural experience with black voters.
Substantial press attention has been given to the question of whether
Barack Obama is "black enough" for black voters because of his
mixed-race parentage, his childhood socialization that differs from
typical black experiences, and his apparent unease with offering strong
opinions on issues of race. (38) Senator Clinton may reap the benefit of
her marriage to President Clinton who was widely heralded as being
highly adept at black religious cultural practices. However, Senator
Clinton is sometimes judged against the standard of President Clinton
and regularly falls short. (39) Further, some black voters are
uncomfortable with President's Clinton's campaign presence on
behalf of his wife in black communities because it is seen as a cynical
attempt to entice black voters based on the earlier connection between
black voters and the Clinton administration. Although former Senator
John Edwards has not yet distinguished himself as an important contender
for black voters, he may have a cultural edge on both Obama and Clinton
as the campaign continues. Like President Clinton, Senator Edwards is a
southerner from a disadvantaged background. His personal narrative of
uplift, struggle and a particular Southern commitment to faith in the
midst of personal crisis may translate particularly well in the
vernacular of black religious culture.

It is possible that the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries will
not produce a single candidate with a majority of the black vote, but
instead the frontrunners may divide the vote based, in part, of their
command of different elements of black religious life at the
intersection of black politics. Regardless of the electoral outcomes,
the black church is likely to remain the single most important political
organization among African Americans. It is the oldest indigenous black
institution and it is historically and presently significant in
developing African American political culture and encouraging African
American political participation. But churches are not political
organizations. Their sacred and spiritual functions, not their political
ones, are the primary purpose of their existence. However, worshipping
in black congregations, believing racialized religious http://www.panoramio.com/user/sherlynpopelkagolf - search engines - ideas and imbuing
black religious culture continues to have relevance in the political
world as well as the sacred.

Notes

1. Barker, Lucius and Ronald Walters (editors). 1989. Jesse
Jackson's 1984 Presidential Campaign: Challenge and Change in
American Politics. University of Illinois Press: Champaign.

2. Barker, Lucius and Ronald Walters (editors). 1989. Jesse
Jackson's 1984 Presidential Campaign: Challenge and Change in
American Politics. University of Illinois Press: Champaign. Tate,
Katherine. 1994. From Protest to Politics: The New Black Voters in
American Elections. Russell Sage Foundation: New York.

3. Wickham, DeWayne. 2002. Bill Clinton and Black America.
Ballantine Books: New York.

4. Philpot, Tasha. 2007. Race, Republicans, and the Return of the
Party of Lincoln (The Politics of Race and Ethnicity). University of
Michigan Press: Ann Arbor.

5. Grossman, Cathy Lynn. 2000. "TD Jakes: Spiritual
Salesman," USA TODAY. December 27, 2000. Winner, Lauren. 2000. T.D.
Jakes Feels Your Pain. Christianity Today. February 7, 2000. Wilson,
Rick. 2000. Jakes makes the best of his time. The Grand Rapids Press.
February 19, 2000.

6. Lincoln, C. Eric and Lawrence H. Mamiya. 1990. The Black Church
in the African American Experience. Durham: Duke University Press.

7. Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America. New
York: Schocken Books. Marx, Gary T. 1969. Protest and Prejudice: A Study
of Belief in the Black Community. New York: Harper Row. Reed,
Adolph. 1986. The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon. Yale University Press: New
Haven
8. Harris, Frederick C. 1999. Something Within: Religion in
African-American Political Activism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. P.
5

9. McAdam, Doug. 1982. Political Process and the Development of
Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
Morris, Aldon D. 1984. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black
Communities Organizing for Change. New York: The Free Press. Brady,
Henry; Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman. 1996 Voice and Equality:
Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Harvard University Press:
Cambridge.

10. Harris, Frederick C. 1999. Something Within: Religion in
African-American Political Activism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Calhoun-Brown, Allison. 1996. "African American Churches and
Political Mobilization: The Psychological Impact of Organizational
Resources." The Journal of Politics. Volume 58, Issue 4, 935-953.
Ellison, Christopher G. 1993. "Religious Involvement and
Self-Perception among Black Americans." Social Forces. Volume 71,
Issue 4, 1027-1055.

11. Morris, Aldon D. 1984. The Origins of the Civil Rights
Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: The Free
Press. P. 4

12. Harris, Frederick C. 1999. Something Within: Religion in
African-American Political Activism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.,
82

13. Nelsen, Hart. 1988. "Unchurched Black Americans: Patterns
of Religiosity and Affiliation," Review of Religious Research.
Volume 29, Number 4, Black American Religion in the Twentieth Century
pp. 398-412

14. Hunt, Larry and Hunt, Matthew. 2001 "Race, Region, and
Religious Involvement: A Comparative Study of Whites and African
Americans." Social Forces. Volume 80, Number 2. pp. 605-631

15. Hunt, Larry and Hunt, Matthew. 2001 "Race, Region, and
Religious Involvement: A Comparative Study of Whites and African
Americans." Social Forces. Volume 80, Number 2. pp. 605-631.
Taylor, Robert Joseph. 1988. "Structural Determinants of Religious
Participation among Black Americans." Review of Religious Research.
Volume 30, Number 2 pp. 114-125.

16. Smith, R. Drew and Tucker-Worgs, Tamelyn. 2000. Megachurches:
African-American Churches in Social and Political Context. In Daniels,
Lee (editor). The State of Black America 2000.

17. Smith, R. Drew and Tucker-Worgs, Tamelyn. 2000. Megachurches:
African-American Churches in Social and Political Context. In Daniels,
Lee (editor). The State of Black America 2000. Hutchinson, Earl Ofari.
"New Worries About Mega-Black Churches." Black World Today.
February 2, 2001. Liblaw, Oliver. 2001. "God on a Grand Scale:
Mega-Churches Grow Bigger and Bigger." ABC News.

18. Smith, R. Drew and Tucker-Worgs, Tamelyn. 2000. Megachurches:
African-American Churches in Social and Political Context. In Daniels,
Lee (editor). The State of Black America 2000 .p. 187.

19. Some have argued that the black church does not have a distinct
theology or did not have one until the mid-1960s. Cone, James H. and
Gayraud S. Wilmore, eds. 1993. Black Theology: A Documentary History,
Volume One: 1966-1979. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. In the
introduction Cone and Wilmore argue that "when blacks separated
themselves from White denominations and organized their own churches in
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries they did not perceive
their actions as being motivated by theological differences. They
accepted without alteration the church doctrines and politics of the
White denominations from which they separated." (pp. 89) In some
ways this assertion is an overstatement, one that does not credit the
distinct worship styles and religious emphases that distinguished slave
religion from the Christianity of white Americans, but it does reflect
the lack of a fully articulated academic theological perspective to
guide black Christian worship. I am making a claim to a more organic
form of theology built around commonly held understandings of religious
texts that circulate in black churches.

20. Jones, William R. 1973. Is God a White Racist? Beacon Press:
New York

21. Wimbush, Vincent. 2003. The Bible and African Americans: A
Brief History. Fortress Press: Minneapolis. pp. 40-41

22. Ibid, p. 24

23. Moses, Wilson Jeremiah. 1993. Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms:
Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth. Pennsylvania
State University Press.

24. Cone, James H. 1969. Black Theology and Black Power. New York:
The Seabury Press. Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black Theology
of Liberation. New York: Maryknoll.

25. Ellison, Christopher G. 1993. "Religious Involvement and
Self-Perception among Black Americans." Social Forces. Volume 71,
Issue 4, 1027-1055.

26. Dawson, Michael. 1994. Behind the Mule: Race and Class in
African-American Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp.
99-100.

27. Harrison, Milmon. 2005. Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith
Movement in Contemporary African American Religion. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

28. Harris-Lacewell, Melissa. 2007. "Liberation to Mutual
Fund: The Political Consequences of Differing Conceptions of Christ in
the African American Church." Chapter in edited volume, From Pews
to Polling Places: Political Mobilization in the American Religious
Mosaic, J. Matthew Wilson: Editor. Georgetown University Press:
Washington DC. In this chapter I analyze data from the 1993-1994
National Black Politics study. The analysis shows that there is an
independent role for black theology in influencing African American
political action. Even after controlling for demographic variables,
racial attitudes and organizational resources, key tenets of African
American theology have a discernable impact on black political
participation. Those who perceive Christ as a black messiah are
significantly more likely to participate politically. Conversely, those
who see God more instrumentally, asserting that black oppression is a
reason for perceiving God as absent, are less likely to be politically
engaged. The black Christ of Black Liberation theology has a separate,
discernable, and positive impact on black political action.

29. Lincoln, C. Eric and Lawrence H. Mamiya. 1990. The Black Church
in the African American Experience. Durham: Duke University Press. pp 7.

30. Pattillo-McCoy, Mary. "Church Culture as a Strategy of
Action in the Black Community." American Sociological Review.
Volume 63, Number 6. pp. 767-784.

31. Ibid, 769

32. Morrison, Toni. 1998. The Talk of the Town. The New Yorker.
October 5,1998.

33. Bobo, Lawrence and Dawson, Michael. 2001. "Poles and Polls
Apart: Blacks and Whites Divided on the Clinton Legacy."
Preliminary report from joint project of Dubois and CSRPC.

34. Obama's Selma speech. "How should I cite?"

35. Raboteau, Albert. 1978. Slave Religion: The "Invisible
Institution" in the Antebellum South. Oxford University Press: New
York.

36. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his last public sermon on
April 3, 1968, at Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) in
Memphis, Tennessee. At the close of the speech he invoked the biblical
experience of Moses saying, "Like anybody, I would like to live a
long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about
that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to
go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the
Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know
tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

37. Bacon, Perry. 2007. "Obama Reaches Out with Tough Love:
Candidate says criticism of black America reflects its private
concerns." Washington Post. Thursday, May 3, 2007.

38. Coates, Ta-Nehisi. "Is Obama Black Enough." Time.
Thursday, Feb. 01, 2007

39. Morris, Dick and McGann, Eileen. "The Democrats: Hillary
Blunders; Obama Surges (Again)" Saturday, March 17, 2007

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