Although he’d been vague, his flock knew exactly what he meant. And on a Sunday morning before the Nov. 6 election, in a county with 800 mostly black churches, it was a familiar refrain.
What didn’t need to be said was that Davis believes the Bible teaches that homosexuality and gambling are sins; that he will vote against measures to legalize same-sex marriage and to allow the state’s largest casino. And he would hope his congregants would do the same. On a third controversial measure, which would allow in-state tuition breaks for some illegal immigrants, Davis sees it as many other clergy do — as the kind of charity lauded by the Bible.
Not since Maryland voters were asked to weigh in on abortion 20 years ago has a ballot so deeply drawn church leaders in to the state’s political fray. Then, however, there was one emotional issue, and most were on the same side. This time, the religious community has focused on three key measures, and conflicting interpretations of Scripture and priorities have roiled congregations statewide.
A consortium of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders was among the most outspoken last year in Annapolis in promoting the state’s version of the Dream Act, which appears as Question 4 on the November ballot. The group has continued to be a force in the campaign, marshaling more than 500 members of the clergy to an event last week to praise the measure. Not all faiths are on board, but for churches, it’s turned out to be the easiest one on which to agree.
Clergy have split more forcefully on Question 6, about same-sex marriage. Most have remained opposed, but some vocal Episcopalians, Unitarians and leaders of black churches have supported the cause, casting it as a civil rights issue more than a religious one.
But in church, Maryland’s ballot measures have come to a head in Prince George’s more than anywhere else. And with polls showing that voters are leaning slightly in favor of same-sex marriage and the gambling measure a toss-up, the county could play a pivotal role in whether the measures pass.
The county is among the most religious in the state: Three quarters of likely voters in the majority African American county say they attend services at least monthly, according to a mid-October poll by The Washington Post.
Fully 45 percent of registered voters in the county who are African American say they have heard about same-sex marriage from their clergy, compared with 31 percent of blacks in the rest of the state.
And when religious leaders have spoken about gay marriage, fully 80 percent of the voters say they have heard their pastor register opposition and 9 percent heard a supportive message; 11 percent heard a mix of opinions. Roughly two-thirds of voters — black or white — who oppose same-sex marriage say their religious beliefs have the biggest influence on their views.