The Fear Merchants

The 2004 Election

A lot of black Christians, obsessed with gay marriage and abortion rights, will be voting for the president, who all but wrote off the black vote. Many black Christians are, ironically, following an agenda white Christian conservatives have set, knowing only that the president is against abortion and gay marriage, the only two issues the religious right seem to care anything about. It's an unexpected bonus for the Republicans: black votes by default.

Part 1: What's At Stake

Abortion. Gay Marriage. Family values. President Bush enjoys the strong support of the religious right, largely on the basis of his strong moral values and his close walk with God. But this is a president who almost never goes to church. A president whose expression of his faith sputters out two or three sentences in. Who cannot speak articulately about matters of faith and who apparently cannot quote even one Biblical scripture without a TelePrompTer. I've heard a great many Christians tell me they will vote for the president because John Kerry supports stem cell research which equals John Kerry supports abortion. Which is patently untrue. A faithful Catholic who actually does got to church, Kerry personally opposes abortion but supports a woman's right to chose; the same right, incidentally, that God has granted all of us— to accept His truth or reject it. Also, embryonic stem cells have almost nothing to do with abortion (though the religious right has done its best to link the two). Embryonic stem cells are byproducts of in vitro fertilization, and would be destroyed anyway if not used for research. There's been no outcry from the Religious Right over in vitro fertilization (and it's fair to assume some percentage of in vitro fertilization is done for conservative Christian couples, who must implicitly understand their unused embryos will eventually be destroyed. Check this web site for additional information about stem cell research.

Which ever way you are leaning, it is extremely vital that you ask questions. Don't just believe the TV commercials, ask real questions. Do some homework. More than any election in this century, this election is too important to our future, to the future of our children. We should not oppose the president simply because he is Republican any more than we should support Senator Kerry simply because he is a Democrat. The Democrats have enjoyed a relatively free ride at the expense of the Black community for decades. But where are The Reverend Al Sharpton and Senator Carol Mosley Braun? Why have they been shunted to the sidelines? Voting for the president because he is anti-abortion doesn't help anything because no president alone will ever manage to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Voting for the president because he opposes Gay Marriage doesn't help because no president alone is going to get a constitutional amendment passed banning gay marriage. These two hot button issues, upon which the religious right has built their support for the president, will see absolutely no change one way or the other, regardless of who is elected in three weeks.

So, What Will Change?
Several weeks before 9/11, the president was handed a security memo entitled bin Laden Determined To Attack Within The United States, along with other intelligence warnings of a possible plot to use airplanes as weapons. By all available testimony and evidence, it is apparent the president, enjoying a month-long vacation at his Texas ranch, never read it.

Over 5,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded or killed in a war that has nothing to do with 9/11 and nothing to do with terrorism other than, by killing thousands of innocent Iraqis, it is creating terrorists at an exponential rate. The president has absolutely no plan for getting our troops out of Iraq. Of course he stands by his decision to invade— he HAS to. Of course he says it's the right decision, he HAS to. The flag-waving right wing who claim that Bush is a patriot for supporting a war he started and Kerry isn’t a patriot because he criticizes it are hopelessly naive.

The president inherited a trillion-dollar surplus and now leaves us with a trillion-dollar deficit. The president has spent $120 billion and counting in Afghanistan and Iraq, $70 billion of which went to no-bid contracts for, among others, Halliburton (the Vice President's former company) and United Defense Corporation, which manufactures the Bradley Armored Fighting vehicle, the ubiquitous tank used in Afghanistan and Iraq (and whose investors included the Saudi bin Laden Group and the Bush family).

The president has lost over a million jobs. Millions of people have lost their health care. Fuel prices are at unprecedented highs, and people are having to choose between having heat and having food. The “jobs” being created under the president's economic plan are, on average, lower-paying jobs than those lost during his administration.

This is, by any reasonable and objective measurement, one of the worst presidents and worst records in our nation's history. But nearly all of the major conservative Christian ministries back him. Most Catholic and Episcopal institutions are firmly backing the president. Why? Abortion. Gay Marriage. Family Values. Things that absolutely will not change, one way or another, regardless of who is elected.

Voting for the president on the basis of Abortion, Gay Marriage and Family Values while turning a blind eye and deaf ear to tens of thousands of dead, blinded, crippled and maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the hobbled economy and to genuine questions about this president's motives and his truthfulness, is an abdication of our responsibility as citizens and as Christians. Most people supporting the president never even ask these questions. Most believe whatever the GOP party line of the day is, as well as the president's constantly-revised motives for invading a sovereign country that never threatened us, that never harmed even one of our citizens.

The message seems to be, Bush is saved, Kerry is a sinner. Neither are entirely true. While I don't claim to know where the president stands in terms of his relationship to a risen Christ, Kerry's own claims to faith seem at least as credible as the president's. The difference between the two seems to be the president is trying to lead us to believe there'll be no abortion or gay marriage if he is reelected— which is simply not true. Regardless of who is elected, the key planks of the religious right's political platform will not change. But the larger issues, the catastrophic ones, remain largely ephemeral and vague, glossed over by the pulpit pounding gay bigotry and anti-abortion rhetoric.

The religious right has been aptly described as the foot soldiers of this president's domestic initiates, and the broadest base of his reelection campaign. His most enthusiastic and energized demographic, the masses of white evangelicals, Catholics and Baptists follow the president as a kind of religious mission: to keep the heathens out of the White House. Which is ironic considering, by most any reasonably objective viewpoint, the heathens are already in. And this president is Heathen-In-Chief.

This nation impeached a former president for telling a lie about an affair with a college intern. But this country turns a blind eye and deaf ear to a president who has lied in order to send us to war. We scorn and ridicule the former president who has confessed many faults and admitted many mistakes, but we rally, blindly, behind this president who refuses to admit he's ever made any. A candidate who promised to unite us, this president is, in fact, the most polarizing president in thirty years. Both he and the vice president often appear smug, dismissive, sneering and contemptuous of anyone who does not agree with them. Their current struggle is the effort to appear human and nice, with phony, cheese-eating smiles, as they try and win the hearts of the small handful of undecideds who will, in fact, decide this election.

Just as Black America has blindly followed the Democrats, the religious Right has blindly and solidly backed the Republicans. It is a terrible thing to abandon one's own conscience, to ignore the very obvious and cruel and most certainly un-Christ-like nature of this administration, and make a cal to arms to re-elect him simply because he has “conservative family values.” The president should not enjoy a free ride from you simply because you are a Christian any more than the Democrats should enjoy a free ride simply because you are a minority.

Church, we simply have to do better than that. We have to start demanding accountability of our leaders. Our pastors as well as our presidents. The pastors are shouting “Vote Your Conscience,” which is code for Abortion, Gay Marriage and Family Values. I say, “Vote Your Intelligence.” Vote not only for what is right but for what is a responsible choice.

Look at both candidate's records objectively, outside of the useless argument over Abortion, Gay Marriage and Family Values— things that will not change no matter who wins. And vote for the candidate that will make a real difference in mending fences with our allies across the globe, in implementing sound fiscal policy, in a reasonable education and health policy, in developing a real exit strategy for Iraq.

If you can objectively and faithfully conclude the best person to accomplish these things is the president, by all means vote for him. But don't NOT vote for Kerry because somebody told you he's a sinner who's going to take your gun away, triple the number of abortions and open the flood gates for gay marriage. That's a lie. And it's a lie being promoted by pastors, which is absolutely shameful. Kerry could no more do that than the president could get Roe v. Wade overturned.

The church, ideally, should not be involved in politics. The church should not be buddying up to Bush or promoting Kerry. It's just wrong when the church endorses either candidate. But it is absolutely heinous when the church knowingly endorses a lie. Even worse when it sins by silence.

Don't be used. By the Republicans, by the Democrats, by Jerry Falwell, by the American Council of Churches, by the Christian Coalition of America. Vote your conscience, yes, but don't JUST vote your conscience. Vote your intelligence. Put your faith into action. Ask questions. Be tough on both candidates. Be responsible.

This time, it really is much too important for the Black Church to just sleep through it.

Christopher J. Priest
18 October 2004