I needed somebody else to say it first, so I’ve waited, wondering who was hearing the same radio ads and whether others’ stomachs were churning with concern over November’s election turnout.
Rumblings started early last week. By Wednesday, a group of ministers, speaking solely on their own behalf, gathered at Martin Street Baptist Church alongside politicians and community leaders doing the same. Also by Wednesday, a Facebook campaign buzzed with the news that public backlash may have made a difference.
At issue: A radio ad aired on R&B and Gospel stations across the state in which the Rev. Patrick Wooden encourages African-Americans to reject the re-election of President Barack Obama in November because of “his strong endorsement of the homosexual movement.”
Wooden, pastor of Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, championed the state’s Amendment One campaign to outlaw gay marriage. It passed May 8. In the ad, Wooden contends Obama “turned his back on the values of our community” when he “the very next day, came out for homosexual marriage.”
The ad, paid for by the National Organization for Marriage, closes as Wooden urges, “Join me in saying no more to President Obama.”
‘A distorted view’
In my mind then, the obvious, most immediate alternatives are either to vote for the GOP opposition whose agenda on several key issues – health care, poverty, jobs, women’s rights, Medicare and housing – reject the needs of the poor and people of color, or to not vote at all. Clearly, either alternative supports a GOP victory.
Others see the ad as dangerously deceitful.
“It is a distorted view of the political process,” said the Rev. Earl C. Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist who hosted Wednesday’s gathering of about 25 people. “The attempt to confuse black voters through cultural issues is a trick that has been played by the right for too long. Issues like abortion, gun rights, welfare, marriage amendments, and the like have been used to divide the black community in no uncertain terms.
“But, this year, we will not be tricked,” assured Johnson, who also is president of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association. “As African-Americans, we have never been single-issue voters. We stand against anyone who would suggest that the black community would be best served by sitting out this election.”
Johnson said he called the meeting at his church in conjunction with other clergy across the state who also are taking a stand against similar tactics among religious leaders in their cities.
He also wanted remind us of a different message: We have a right to choose our own candidate and an obligation to vote in record numbers.
“Staying home would be unprecedented and foolish, given the nature and importance of this election,” Johnson said. “Our ancestors have fought too hard for us not to exercise the right to vote.”
It makes sense for clergy to stand first.
“The black church has a history against such divisive tactics,” said Portia Rochelle, the vice president of the Raleigh Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and president of the Raleigh/Apex NAACP.
It hasn’t gotten past folks in the community, either. “The Light,” 103.9-FM, a local radio station that aired the ad, later hosted Wooden to entertain calls from the community.
Many were as concerned as Dorothy Thompson, who attended Wednesday’s gathering.
“America is not a theocracy,” said Thompson, a longtime Southeast Raleigh resident and community activist. “For Rev. Wooden to sway a democratic process based on his ideology and his theology is absolutely against the constitution.”
The Rev. Curtis Gatewood, who posted an open letter to Wooden on Facebook, believes it’s also absolutely against what the Bible tells us.
“When we see you and certain other ministers who use the Bible in such an inconsistent and politically motivated manner in an attempt to defeat President Obama, you are not carrying out the will of our God of justice, you are instead engaging in Selective Scriptural Amnesia and committing Ministerial Malpractice like ‘Blind Leaders of the Blind,’ ” Gatewood wrote. “My love for justice is not based upon politics, but largely upon Jesus the Christ’s indisputable call for social justice as an essential component of his ministry.”
Gatewood called for Wooden to remove the ad. In a response that Gatewood posted from Wooden, Wooden said, “the Lord showed me that we had achieved our objective.” He said they had already pulled the ad.
Gatewood’s take: “We will continue repairing the damage, standing against what we believe to be unholy divide and conquer tactics, voter suppression – all aimed at this president and this election like no other in history.”