The Black Church and The Ballot
By Dr. Amos C. Brown and Dr. Gina Stewart
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. (3 John 2)
These words have been expressed from pulpits across this nation for decades. The Bible verse underlines the notion that beyond the plight and obstacles of the moment, we can desire and pursue the very best for a person or community. The church has traditionally been considered the nucleus and the place where these sentiments could be found in abundance. The Black church for many within our community has always symbolized more than just a house of worship. It has represented an educational institution for young boys and girls and a place of protection and solace for Black people's minds and bodies.
The year 2020 has seen unprecedented circumstances resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives lost, economic pitfalls and protests over Black people being killed at the hands of law-enforcement. Yet, the church, amended in its presentation, remains the center for the Black community. Perhaps more than ever, the significance of our religious institutions and its leaders, whether virtually or in modified and safe gatherings, is reverberating across the nation as communities organize for what may be the greatest assembling of our lifetime, to cast our vote in the 2020 presidential election. The NAACP, the church and its leaders understand that this will be its finest moment.
Understanding the magnitude of this moment, the NAACP launched the Faith Forward Initiative in April 2020 to acknowledge and lift up religious institutions' role as beacons of hope, healing, and organizers of actions in communities all across this country. This initiative's charge has led to various creative and critical virtual convenings and messages, all narrated by religious leaders throughout the country who recognize the importance of this moment in history and the power that their voices carry within the Black community in encouraging people to vote. Gospel recording artists The Walls Group and Jekalyn Carr joined a lineup of national leaders with their musical voices during the Black the Vote Homecoming festivities on Saturday, October 24th. On October 25th, the NAACP hosted an Instagram Live conversation with gospel superstar Kierra Sheard and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson on the church's critical role in calling for social justice and mobilizing our community polls.
That conversation served as the precursor to a powerful intergenerational virtual conversation. The panel discussion, titled The Value of a Black Woman's Vote, was moderated by gospel recording artist and radio host Erica Campbell and included such guests as the Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts of The Potter’s House church in Los Angeles, Jekayln Carr, Dr. Tiffany Lloyd of Tarrant County College in Texas, and many others. They offered their insights and perspectives on the leadership role of Black women in organizing the Black community's participation in elections.
With more than 86 million Americans turning out to early vote in record numbers and the NAACP mobilizing over 200,000 volunteers for texting, phone banking, and no-contact canvassing, Black people cannot afford to take our hands off the plow. Even throughout this week, messages from notable Black religious leaders and other faith influencers will be amplified across social media to encourage people to vote and to sign up to volunteer through the "Souls to the Polls" voter mobilization efforts. These leaders include Bishop Greg Davis of The Word Network; gospel singer Tasha Cobbs Leonard; Bishop Joseph Walker III, Presiding Prelate of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International; and the Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Missouri.
On November 1st, two days before Election Day, the NAACP will host another intergenerational conversation, this time with men of faith discussing the importance of Black men stepping forward as consistent and active voters. The panel will include such notable religious leaders as Dr. Jamal Bryant of New Birth M.B. Church in Georgia, Dr. Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, Dr. Freddie Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Bishop Timothy Clarke of the First Church of God in Ohio, and many more. The conversation will conclude with the mini-documentary Otis' Dream, which follows the life of Rev. Otis Moss Sr. and his quest to fight through racial barriers to cast his vote in rural Georgia in 1946.
Yes, 2020, one of the most critical election years in history, has indeed challenged our lives and altered our concept of normal. It has opposed our future and argued against our humanity. But if the Black community is ever to see the manifestation of 3 John 2, it must begin with us assembling at polling centers, drop box locations, community centers, courthouses, and even churches, under one message and on one accord.
Vote. Our Lives Depend On It.
Dr. Amos C. Brown is chair of the NAACP’s Faith Forward Initiative, and Dr. Gina Stewart is chair of the NAACP’s Religious Affairs Committee.