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African American clergy telling congregants not to vote are misguided

By Leroy Gilbert,

The Rev. Leroy Gilbert is senior pastor at Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to The Washington Post’s local faith leader network.

Some black clergy are telling their flocks to stay home on Election Day because the choice between a Mormon candidate and a candidate who supports gay marriage is an unacceptable choice from a Christian and theological perspective.

A few weeks ago, a letter was sent to my church from a conservative white pastor soliciting me to influence my congregation to vote our values and oppose Obama for his stance on same-sex marriage. The writer of the letter perhaps was under the illusion that sexuality is the only or primary value of the black church. The black church does not vote on a monolithic issue. The candidate that wins our vote must speak relevantly to a plethora of issues affecting our lives and communities.

I want to present a few reasons why black parishioners must vote in this election. Some African American pastors and religious leaders need to wake up. They must realize that whenever you advocate to your constituents not to vote, you dishonor the memory of civil rights warriors like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was severely tortured trying to gain the rights to register and vote.

Some black religious leaders need to realize that whenever they do not vote and advocate to others not to vote, they participate in the beating of Fannie Lou Hamer. We ought to consider it our sacred obligation to vote because of the sacrifices, blood, sweat and tears that unsung, oppressed and disenfranchised people sacrificed for us to have and exercise the privilege to vote.

In 2012, we are not prohibited by Southern whites and the Ku Klux Klan from voting, but we have two new nemeses: voter suppression initiatives in some states and the voice of some misleading black pastors and religious leaders who are advocating to their parishioners to stay at home. We have a moral obligation to cast our ballots. Thousands of African Americans have endured beatings and even killings for our right to vote. By not voting, we do moral injustice to such people who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Whoever will be president for the next four years will most likely pick one to three Supreme Court justices. These justices will shape America’s history. If we stay home and do not vote, it is possible that many judges will be chosen who do not share our values and interests.

When we abdicate our right to vote, we allow people with distorted views about our lives —past, present and future — to occupy the highest office in the land, and to make decisions that will be detrimental to our livelihood, health and economic well-being. The decision to vote should not be based upon a single issue. There are multiple issues that impact our lives. This election is about the price paid by the hundreds of whites and blacks who died for our right to vote. Voting is a way to ensure that what they did continues to matter, and that we matter.

Black religious leaders who advocate staying at home this Election Day should be reminded that we have formidable foes trying to keep black and brown people from voting. Don’t you realize that when you tell your flocks not to vote, you are siding with those who strategize how to keep black and brown people from the voting booth? By influencing people not to vote because the president supports same-sex marriage and Romney is a Mormon is, in actuality, telling people: Do not be concerned about equality, unemployment, health care, housing, foreign policy, poverty or voter ID laws, just think about sex and religion. This is unbiblical and will impact African Americans adversely. We have to fight for our rights and privileges as citizens continuously. We do not need black religious leaders to make our struggles harder, or our opponents’ jobs easier. Whether you vote for Romney or Obama, you should vote.

Remember, if you do not vote, you are acquiescing to strategies to suppress your votes, and making it possible for politicians who do not share your interests and values to be elected and to make decisions concerning your life and future. Your vote is your voice. Do not be silent. Vote.

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