By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A recent report of black pastors urging their congregations to stay home on Election Day incensed local ministers who equate the message with something akin to heresy.
An article written by The Associated Press and published in newspapers across the nation — including the Phoenix — cited black pastors purportedly concerned about voting for either major-party presidential candidate. The perceived problem stems from the Democratic nominee’s support for same-sex marriage and the Republican nominee’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Rev. Rodger Cutler, the pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church, said there are “greater things at stake” than gay marriages and Mormonism. Regardless of who is elected president this year, Cutler said, the president must represent all Americans and should do so without regard to religion, sexual orientation, national origin or other factors.
“For us to coerce our people not to vote would be wrong,” Cutler said, recalling “Bloody Sunday,” when police officers armed with billy clubs and tear gas attacked 600 civil rights workers marching for minority voting rights on March 7, 1965, in Selma, Ala. “Every chance we get, we must exercise our rights to vote.”
Cutler was joined by the Revs. Larry Smith of Macedonia Baptist Church and Marlon Coleman of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in his criticism of the pastors who urged their congregations to sit out the presidential election.
Smith said the importance of voting is a message he has shared with his congregation since the AP article was published. Sitting out of the process, he said, would “be a disgrace to all those people” who fought for equal voting rights.
Coleman said the position he shares with his colleagues promotes participation in the political process. He and other black pastors are working this week to register new voters before Friday’s deadline and inform them about voter identification laws. The registration drive is being sponsored by the religious affairs division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Coleman said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 must be commemorated by taking part in the electoral process. The legislation was introduced before a joint session of Congress by President Lyndon B. Johnson eight days after Bloody Sunday and signed into law five months later.
“Not voting puts us 47 years closer to the return of Jim Crow, it puts us 47 years closer to the return of poll taxes, and it puts us 47 years closer to the literacy tests that kept our people from voting,” Coleman said. “Our position is people should register, go vote and participate in the process.”
The voter registration drive will continue today and Friday. Qualified individuals may register to vote from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Mark Baptist Church, 1020 S. Second St., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Center, 627 N. Third St.
Election officials also are urging voters to confirm that their registered addresses are current and substantially match the address on the identification card they plan to present at the polling place. Voters have until 5 p.m. Oct. 31 to request a mail-in absentee ballot.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
WHAT: NAACP voter registration drive.
WHO: Qualified individuals may register to vote.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Friday at St. Mark Baptist Church, 1020 S. Second St., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday at the Martin Luther King Center, 627 N. Third St., Muskogee.