“Our goal was to help folks think through the political process,” said Grier, who also questioned Shelton and McCoy on other social issues, including abortion rights. At one point, he told the two men, “I take issue with supporting political party over principles.”
It was typical of Grier. During 15 years as head of Grace Church, a 3,000-member congregation in Dumfries, he has sought to be a nonpartisan, centrist voice on hot-button issues — on which many black pastors have weighed in heavily — while also providing his flock with religious leadership.
In many ways, he illustrates a new kind of high-profile African American pastor. He is well educated. He is not a member of a major religious convention. And he refuses toalign himself with the Democratic or Republican parties.
“I am politically independent,” said Grier, 48, who remarked that for too long African Americans have been blindly loyal to the Democratic Party or too quick to tilt toward socially conservative views. “I think it is important for people of faith to think through social justice issues on both sides.”
Traditionally, high-profile African American pastors are thrust into political debates and asked to take a side. Often they are members of the Democratic Party, or they take the lead on socially conservative causes, such as opposition to same-sex marriage.
“Because I am not in lock step with the Democratic Party, [many] assume that I am a Republican, but I am not,” Grier said. “On one level, the Democratic Party has kicked me out, taking God out of the platform, supporting same-sex marriage, but at the same time, I do see racism in the Republican Party. I also see racism in the Democratic Party.”
Although Grier opposes same-sex marriage, he doesn’t employ fire-and-brimstone sermons to condemn those who support it. His style is more conversational. He preaches in open-collar shirts and says he’s more interested in discussing political and social issues than promoting an ideology.
That is not to say that Grier does not want to have a long reach. Like generations of pastors before him, he uses television evangelism to send his message to a wider audience, and he also makes use of new online social media. His nationally televised broadcast attracts thousands of viewers each week.
According to the Rev. Al Sharpton and other prominent ministers, Grier exemplifies the way some pastors have become more sophisticated about delivering their messages or pursuing their goals while taking middle-of-the-road positions on certain divisive issues.