Jewish World Review July 29, 2004 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Consumer Reports

Kerry has fundamental problems: Party's support for gay rights a turnoff for black religionists | On Sunday, I was sitting in a rear pew of the Allen Memorial Church of Mount Vernon, ears still tingling from two hours of inspired gospel music, when I heard the Rev. Carlton Spruill compare the Democratic Party to Sodom and Gomorrah.

"George Bush is a meanspirited man," Spruill declared. "He's gone back on his promises about faith-based charity. Everybody knows he's lying about Iraq. But the Democratic Party supports same-sex marriage. Homosexuality is a perversion that will destroy America, just as it destroyed Rome and Sodom and Gomorrah. If the Democrats are right about same-sex marriage, then G-d has to apologize to Sodom. And G-d's not about to apologize."

The congregation responded with applause and amens.

"I know that voting is a precious right," Spruill told them. "But this time I don't see how I can vote. Sometimes you've just got to sit out an election."

Allen Memorial is not just any church. It is a 75-year-old pillar of the community, the largest and most influential black Pentecostal congregation in Westchester. And Spruill is not just any minister. He was introduced to his flock on Sunday as "our Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." When he talks, people listen.

"I'm a Democrat," he told me when I called to make sure I had understood him correctly and that he had instructed his congregation not to vote for John Kerry. "I've been a Democrat all my life. But if I had to vote this year, if I absolutely had to, I'd vote for George Bush."

This is not a personal eccentricity of Spruill's. His denomination, the Church of God in Christ, is unambiguously opposed to same-sex marriage.

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"We believe that to legalize such unions will signal ecclesiastical and social approval of homosexuality and sexual deviancy as legitimate lifestyles," the church's Worldwide General Assembly proclaimed.

The Church of God in Christ has millions of adherents. Traditionally, it has been less political than other black denominations, but that's changing.

"We're getting better at it," says Spruill. Which is not good news for Democrats.

Everyone knows that most born-again white Christians will not be voting for Kerry. They are not part of the Democratic strategy. But black Pentecostals are a different matter. Without them, the party may not get the massive black turnout it must have in swing states like Illinois, Michigan and Florida.

Under the best of conditions, Kerry is not a figure who can inspire African America to rush out and vote. He certainly can't induce black Pentecostals to rebel against or ignore the moral urgings of their church. It's not that these black religious conservatives will vote for Bush. Many just won't vote.

The Democrats are committed to a social agenda that includes gay political rights - rights the Church of God in Christ regard as an abomination.

"America's just not that liberal," says Spruill. "Same-sex marriages could cost the Democrats the election."

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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