Political Hay

The Straw That Broke the Donkey’s Back

Black and white Christian folks are discovering they have much in common -- not happy news for liberal Democrats.

By 7.19.04

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Back when I was working as director of public policy for Georgia Family Council (GFC) a few years ago, I received a phone call from Eli McKenzie, president of Citizens for Community Values (CCV) in Atlanta. McKenzie's group focused its efforts on inhibiting the advance of pornography. I knew the group had excellent downtown office space and that McKenzie happened to be an African-American. He called me to forge an alliance for installing Internet filters on public library computers. I readily agreed. As a longtime library aficionado, I'd witnessed the new spectacle of reckless individuals openly viewing pornography in space shared by families and children. Shame went completely out of style sometime during the Clinton presidency.

We made a pretty good team. GFC had a strong suburban support base. CCV had more backers in urban Atlanta. Both were backed largely by successful, well-educated Christians. We took our bill to the Georgia Assembly, testified before committees, and worked with sympathetic members. Although we easily passed the Senate, our bill stalled in the House, despite the fact that we had a very senior conservative Democrat sponsoring the legislation. We even met with Governor Roy Barnes to ask for help. Though he was sympathetic, he wasn't prepared to spend big political capital on our library bill. The speaker of the house and the chairman of the Rules Committee listened to the American Library Association instead of our quickly assembled black and white grassroots coalition, and the bill was never released to the floor by the Rules Committee.

The black and white Christian folks got a little revenge this year on a much bigger issue. The usual suspects in the white evangelical world pushed to have Georgia change its constitution to forbid gay marriage. The votes weren't quite there for the Assembly to put the measure on the ballot for Georgia voters. In particular, a few black representatives insisted on voting with upscale white liberals against giving voters input on the definition of marriage. Black pastors got involved and those same legislators experienced a well-informed change of heart. Georgia voters will be deciding the marriage issue for themselves in the near future.

For years we've been hearing that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. For all I know, that may still be true. But what keeps whites and blacks in separate pews is less a matter of racism than it is different worship styles. In charismatic and Pentecostal churches, which feature more energetic services, congregations are beginning to look nicely mixed. Nevertheless, liberals have depended on the divide between black and white Christian party allegiances to maintain their political power. Thus, we've witnessed the odd spectacle of culturally conservative African-Americans throwing their lot in with the ultra-secularists who rationalize the religious habits of their allies as a relic of slavery.

That fragile, old rainbow coalition is in very great danger and is about to be replaced by a new slate of blacks, whites, yellows, and browns. Every time the multi-colored group from the Alliance for Marriage steps up to a podium you can feel liberal radars lighting up in New York City and San Francisco. The same was true of the Promise Keepers rally in Washington back in the late 1990s. These moments when Christians look across the two parties at each other and wonder why they aren't voting together are becoming more common.

The devout, particularly black and white evangelicals, have had a long time to chew on their failure to stand up and be counted on abortion when it still mattered in the late '60s and early '70s. Now, the very nature of marriage and family is on the line. The white evangelicals are going to be right on the front lines with Catholics. As is demonstrated by the new energy of black pastors in Georgia and the exciting Senate campaign of cultural conservative Herman Cain, the African-American church is definitely showing signs of marching to the front.

Liberal Democrats know this and that's why they are essentially trying to run out the clock. Instead of coming out and expressing their usual antipathy for the one man-one woman family Christianity and Western civilization strove so mightily to produce, they now worry endlessly about altering the Constitution. Never mind that Supreme Court Justices alter the Constitution in virtually every decision they make. Heaven forbid someone should actually go to the trouble to amend the document in the way actually provided for by its framers. The liberal strategy is simply to block things up long enough for the question to be decided by right-minded ladies and gents in black robes (secular priests, if you will).

In the final analysis, it seems liberals may well win the battle by sowing confusion long enough to see the Supreme Court create gay marriage in our midst. But in so doing, they are quite likely to lose the war. Only a very small percentage of African-American voters have to decide they've had enough to change the balance of national elections and court appointments for decades to come. The Democratic Party has a hard choice before it. It can keep pleasing wealthy, white elites on the coasts or it can maintain its 90-10 hold on African-American loyalties. Seems pretty clear to me which path they've chosen.

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About the Author

Hunter Baker is associate dean of arts and sciences and associate professor of political science at Union University. He is the author of The End of Secularism and winner of the 2011 Michael Novak Award. His personal website is www.hunterbaker.wordpress.com.