Churches Reach Out To Mayoral Candidates

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The president of the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington decided this summer for the first time in the century-old group's history to take a partisan political stand, announcing his endorsement of a mayoral candidate.

The city's largest interfaith group says it has more volunteers registering people to vote than it has had in 15 years.

In June, religious leaders held a conference to pull together a common agenda for the city's future.

Such preelection organizing has been ratcheted up in the city's religious community in an effort to regain something it once had in abundance: political clout.

After years of feeling ignored on issues including parking near churches, the closing of D.C. General Hospital and the construction of a new baseball stadium, faith leaders say they want their voices back.

But even as religion becomes a bigger player in national politics, D.C. ministers, former city officials and religious activists say the opposite has been true in the nation's capital, where the majority of houses of worship are black churches. The trend is striking in a city that during the 1970s picked a minister to be its first representative to Congress and elected two ministers to its first city council.

But today, mayoral candidates skip key church-organized rallies. Ministers say it's easier to get a building permit for a bar than for a church. And a mayoral candidate recently told the Rev. Anthony Motley, president of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, that same-sex marriage "isn't a church issue."

Explanations for the trend vary: Houses of worship and their voting congregations are moving to the suburbs, advocacy groups are maturing and there is a perceived cultural clash between clergy and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

"What it boils down to is when the budgets are being considered for the city, when the big decisions are being made, the faith community, for the most part, isn't part of that discussion," Motley said.

The Ministers Conference, led by the Rev. Louis B. Jones II, was one of the few groups that stayed out of partisan politics -- until this summer, when Jones put his name behind mayoral candidate Linda W. Cropp, chairman of the D.C. Council.

Historically, D.C. politics were shaped by towering religious figures, including the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, 10-time D.C. representative in Congress; the Rev. Jerry Moore, city council member from 1969 to 1984; and Bishop Walter "Sweet Daddy" McCollough, whose political blessing was coveted into the 1980s. Around election time, politicians and thousands of McCollough's followers would wait until the middle of the night at his Pentecostal United House of Prayer for All People to hear him read his endorsement list.

Candidates sought the endorsements of prominent clergy -- particularly Baptist leaders -- and looked to be on an informal but important survey called the Clergy 100 list, organized by city ministers.

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