Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Real division is between liberals, conservatives

Published in Cumbelrand Times-News letters Sunday, November 16, 2008.

"[T]he real division among voters overall is between liberals and
conservatives and rests squarely in the moral issue of abortion
A short Associated Press article on page 2A in the November 7 Cumberland Times-News titled “Election shows deep racial divide in churches” troubled me. The viewpoint seemed to be slanted to conclude that white Christians were motivated by race preference to vote against the black candidate and that the situation was causing tumult among black Christians and their clergy.

The first sentence reads: “The barrier-crossing election of Barack Obama did little to bridge the deep racial divide in American churches.” The writer’s second paragraph states: “While nonwhite Christians voted overwhelmingly for Obama, most white Christians backed John McCain, according to exit polls. Several black clergy said that criticism of Obama by some white Christians over his religious beliefs and support for abortion rights crossed the line, hurting longtime efforts to reconcile their communities.”

The Times-News 4-paragraph version of the AP story had two more paragraphs, one that presented exit poll numbers breaking out the white Christian vote and another that concluded: “The pattern is not new and fits the larger trend of white voters overall, the majority of whom voted for McCain.” (The full AP national exit poll summary can be viewed at

But Obama won. So clearly there was a great amount of support for him among whites, Christian or otherwise. What’s the full story? I wondered who the cited black clergy were and what line they felt was crossed by legitimate concerns about Obama’s religious beliefs and support for abortion rights.

I found that the article was written by AP religion reporter Rachel Zoll and is 18 paragraphs in its entirety, published November 6 at web sites for both the Sentinel and Enterprise in Fitchburg, Mass. and the San Francisco Examiner.

Ms. Zoll presents a balance of quotes in her article, though not a balance of data. It seems important to note that, among white religious affiliations, Obama was supported overwhelmingly by the Jewish vote, 83 percent; “something else,” 67 percent; “none,” 71 percent; and “non-white,” 79 percent. And of the white vote overall, Obama received nearly half, 43 percent. Percentages of other races voting for Obama were 95 percent black, 67 percent Latino, 62 percent Asian, 66 percent other.

Based on information presented in (and left out of) her own article, Ms. Zoll’s conclusions about strained Christian race relations continue to confound me. The quotes actually show that Ms. Zoll’s so-called “racial divide” describes contention within black churches, while racial accord prevails among conservative blacks and whites surrounding questions about Obama’s moral formation and in opposition to his position on abortion rights.

Ms. Zoll establishes in her article that most (55 percent) white Christians voted for McCain. She highlights the fact that 74 percent of the evangelical vote went to him. She cites Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as saying that white evangelicals were motivated by opposition to abortion rights, not by race preference, to vote for McCain. She also writes that “white and black Christian conservatives generally share an opposition to abortion rights.”

Ms. Zoll unerringly gets to the heart of her “racial divide” matter when she writes that Derrick W. Hutchins, a leader in one of the country’s largest predominantly African-American Pentecostal denominations, “was angered by repeated accusations that he and other black theological conservatives had abandoned their religious beliefs simply to vote for an African-American. The claims came not only from white Christians,” writes Ms. Zoll, “but also from some blacks who backed McCain.”

So Ms. Zoll’s “racial divide” manifests within black churches. Even though nearly 100 percent of blacks overall voted for Obama, tension arises now over church members’ commitment, or lack of it, to the abortion issue.

Also apparently of lingering tension in black churches, according to Ms. Zoll’s article, is Obama’s Christian formation under the leadership of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She cites African-American Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C.: "Many, many people question whether Barack Obama had been under a legitimate Christian leadership figure.” And of “criticism” over Obama’s religious beliefs that “crossed the line,” Jackson calls it “fair game” and says, “I personally never ascribed any vitriolic character assassination to it."

So it seems that the real division among voters overall is between liberals and conservatives and rests squarely in the moral issue of abortion rights. Obama has said, according to a Wikipedia article about the bill, that he will pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which, Wikipedia notes, “would abolish all restrictions and limitations on the right of women in the United States to have an abortion, whether at the state or federal level.”

In Ms. Zoll’s article, African-American conservative Dallas megachurch Bishop T.D. Jakes says: "I would love to see black and white Christians find common ground, and a deeper understanding of each other's needs." I wonder if Bishop Jakes would agree that black Christians need to re-unite to advocate “right to life” and join white Christians to take a strong stand against “freedom of choice.”

by Nancy E. Thoerig (written 11-11-08)

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