Jewish World ReviewNov. 9, 2004 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Rochelle Riley

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Dems get a lesson in morality | The Democratic Party better get some religion.

Not just because the Republican Party strategy to place gay marriage bans on the ballot in 11 states got President George W. Bush re-elected.

Not just because Protestant voters preferred Bush to Kerry 54 percent to 45 percent.

No, the party needs religion because as America embraces its spirit, its moral values and its love of God, the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency — African Americans — are, too, making decisions based on moral values.

As a matter of fact, moral values, that elusive, hard-to-define issue that voters felt was more important than terrorism and Iraq, may be the one thing that finally connects blacks to whites, rich to poor. In a world where a filthy, violent video game is the best selling in history and teenage girls dress like prostitutes, moral values are making a comeback.

And politicians who refuse to recognize that might find themselves standing outside voting polls in 4 years wondering what happened.

"It appears that nationally the 4 million Christians that didn't come out for the president in 2000 did," said Bishop Keith Butler, pastor of Michigan's largest black church, the 21,000-member Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield.

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Butler, a Bush supporter, was among dozens of southeast Michigan black pastors who either support the president or his policies or both — and then urged their congregations to separate the man from the issues.

"We just re-emphasize what the Scripture teaches about marriage, that it is between a man and a woman," Butler said.

If you think this is a wartime fluke, a national moment of prayer fueled by fear of terrorism and Iraq, consider the words of the Rev. Edgar Vann, a Kerry supporter whose 5,000-member congregation in the heart of Detroit supported Bush's moral ideals, but not him.

"This election was won largely by the evangelical community, which is predominately white, but also has a significant black component, a very strong black component," said Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he encouraged members to vote for community approval of expanded gambling and against gay marriage.

"There were people who, even in these various battleground states, even who had lost jobs, chose to take a high moral stand on issues they felt speak to the unraveling of our country."

Most African Americans have been morally conservative even as they've been liberal on social and civil rights issues, he said. But when asked to choose between the two, more and more often, G-d wins.

"African Americans are more opposed to gay marriage than whites are," said David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Forty-six percent of African Americans oppose any legal recognition of homosexual relationships, compared with 37 percent of whites who oppose it, he said.

Sen. John Kerry got 89 percent of the black vote, but if the gay marriage bans had not been on the ballots, Kerry would have won, Bositis said.

When the Joint Center released a poll of likely black voters that found that 18 percent planned to vote for Bush, double the 2000 total, the numbers included some black ministers who think Bush is right to provide easier access to government dollars for church-run community programs.

"I think that faith-based initiatives are one reason a number of these major ministries support the president," Vann said. "He seemed to recognize the strength and the ability of these organizations to meet needs that the government can't meet anymore.

"I saw a number of major pastors supporting Bush, and I was not surprised," Vann said. "I've been trying to tell people this for a long time. Nobody seems to want to listen, especially the Democratic Party. I see all over the country a significant rise in Bush's way of thinking: that the Democratic Party has become the secular party of America, the regional party. If you notice the map and look at the red states, that's basically the heartland of America."

If the campaign of 2004 masqueraded as a campaign on terrorism and the economy, the campaign of 2008 will be about America's heart — and its values, both moral and spiritual.

Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Comment by clicking here.


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