Has Hillary Taken the Black Churches for Granted?

26 Black Leaders Pen Open Letter to Clinton, Voicing Concern About Religious Freedom

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses a crowd on August 5, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses a crowd on August 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. (photo: Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

African-American voters are perhaps the most homogeneous voting bloc in America, and they tend to vote for the Democratic candidate. This year, though, there is evidence that the African-American community has not warmed toward Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Even President Barack Obama's impassioned plea to the African-American community, saying he would consider it a “personal insult” to his legacy if black voters didn't turn out for Clinton, has failed to elicit a strong response.

Bruce LeVell, a conservative African-American community leader in Georgia, has urged blacks to vote for Trump, rather than allowing Clinton to continue on the track established by Barack Obama. “There's a huge silent majority of African-Americans,” LeVell believes, “who are going to vote for Donald Trump."

Of the 41 million Americans of African-American descent, nearly 80 percent are members of historically black churches which have provided leadership on issues of social justice since the era of slavery. That strong voting bloc got the candidate's attention on Monday, October 31, when a coalition of 26 African-American pastors and leaders from the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the black church delivered a letter to Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. In the letter, they listed their greatest concerns and asked for a meeting with Mrs. Clinton to discuss some of the critical issues in the black community: education and employment, religious freedom, violence, and justice for the unborn.

Church leaders are concerned about unemployment in the black community, especially among young black men who experience rates as high as 33 percent. They are deeply troubled by the fact that in 2013 more black babies were aborted in New York City than were born. They call for justice in cases of reprehensible behavior of police officers in dealing with unarmed black men, as in the Eric Garner case. And fundamental to their concerns in all of these issues is their right as religious leaders to minister to their own members and to the black poor, regardless of their religious beliefs, in a manner consistent with their faith convictions.

The signers of the letter, including bishops of major black churches, expressed frustration with Clinton's positions on their First Amendment right to religious freedom, and shared their deep concerns over her position on abortion which, the letter notes, disproportionately impacts the black community. They also said that religion is what has historically held the African-American community together; and they were deeply troubled by Mrs. Clinton's policy positions that they see as eroding their First Amendment rights.

Titled “An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton Regarding Religious Freedom for Black America,” the letter said, in part:

Almost 80 percent of 41 million black people are members of historically black churches. As leaders of the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the black church, we are requesting a meeting with you to discuss some of the critical issues in the black community: education and employment, religious freedom, violence, and justice for the unborn…

It is the responsibility of the church to speak out in defense of the dignity of the poor as part of our public witness. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, proclaims in Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free…

The black church has, since the time of slavery and right through to the Civil Rights Movement, taken this charge from Jesus Christ as our political mandate. As servants to the poorest of the poor; we are particularly eager to hear how as president you would address our concerns. We are confident that you, a highly experienced and very savvy candidate, know full well the importance of the black vote in this election cycle. We know that you will not make the political mistake of taking the 69,000 black churches in the US for granted.

The letter was delivered by a group led by Dr. Jacqueline C. Rivers, Executive Director and Senior Fellow of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies in Boston. According to Dr. Rivers, the moral concerns raised in the open letter have been largely absent from the presidential debates. Dr. Rivers also expressed concern regarding Secretary Clinton's speech before the National Organization of Women in April 2015, when she said that “...deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” For political leaders to call for changes in citizens' beliefs, Dr. Rivers said, constitutes a denial of religious freedom.

If Secretary Clinton agrees to meet with the black leaders, they hope to ask how a Clinton administration would deal with all these issues, and especially how she would ensure that the constitutional freedoms of all Americans are protected.