*Roland Martin recently wrote about the Associated Press and its proclamation that there are several prominent black pastors telling their congregations not to vote.  According to Martin, the story was an overblown and misguided assertion that ultimately misled the public into believing that the men and women running black churches across America are hungry to violate their 501c(3) status.

Martin was right to point out that the media seems to have a hunger for sensationalizing the black church into a backward bastion of perpetual ignorance, where people hold onto ideals that appear to be from another planet.  Since several pastors spoke up against President Obama’s support for gay marriage, many of our fellow Democrats on MSNBC spent countless hours depicting members of the black church as primitive fools incapable of forming their own opinions.  They even hired a few black people to do their dirty work, with none of them providing a perspective that was in any way sympathetic to why a spiritual leader might choose NOT to ignore the teachings of the bible.

I personally have no issue with gay marriage, but as the son of a pastor, I found myself insulted by the way liberals tend to abandon black folks when we are not in lockstep with their agenda.  The liberal telephone connection with the black community only goes one way, where we are expected to hear what the liberal establishment thinks, but they don’t spend much time listening to us.  Black people are expected to hand their political power over to the Democrats without saying a word, like an uneducated NFL player signing his paychecks over to an agent who uses the money to buy himself a Mercedes Benz.

Now, with regard to the media’s claim that black pastors are telling their congregations not to vote, we must note that there are thousands of pastors across black America.  So, the idea of singling out three or four of them as representing the entire black community is absolute nonsense.  The opinions of pastors are as diverse as any other group of people, and we don’t all attend the same church.

Roland and I agree on the media’s misrepresentation of black folks, but here’s where Roland I slightly disagree.  Martin mentions that our ancestors died for African Americans to be able to cast their ballots.  This is true.  But we have to remember that they died for us to have the RIGHT to vote, not the OBLIGATION to vote.  So, like WEB Dubois, 50 years ago, some African Americans are choosing to conscientiously abstain from the election until one of the parties gives them a reason to support a given candidate.

While this strategy may seem awkward to some, it should be noted that many members of the Congressional Black Caucus chose to abstain from the House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. Abstention is a powerful political strategy that has been used throughout history in order to make a point.  A woman choosing between dating a man who beats her and a man who ignores her might get more leverage if she chooses to withhold her “goods” from both of these men until they learn some respect.  Even President Obama abstains from using his voice to speak on the violence occurring in Chicago or any other matter that is not politically convenient for the Obama Administration.

Many experts and pundits have rightfully claimed that part of the reason that the Democratic party has almost never mentioned racial inequality anywhere in its agenda is because they are using their resources to get votes from people who are NOT already in their pocket.  The problem with this approach is that while we celebrate the collective high of seeing the Obamas hanging out in the White House, black kids are being murdered on their way to school, families are starving and children suffer as their parents rot away in a money-hungry prison system still being fed by the failed War on Drugs.  We DO NOT have time to waste on symbolism in an era that requires us to focus on substance.

There are some who think that you are wasting your vote by not showing up to the polls.  But there are others who say that the best way to waste your vote is to support a candidate and get nothing in return.  The point is not to convince anyone to stay home from the ballot box, but we don’t have the right to tell anyone what to think during the next election.  The only thing we should ensure is that we all think for ourselves and not let any black public figure tell us what our opinion is supposed to be:  That includes your pastor, some radio show host or even President Obama himself.

When people ask me if I think everyone should vote, I say, “Yes, I think they should.  But that doesn’t mean you have to vote for a Democrat or a Republican.”  By telling anyone how they must use their Democratic freedoms, we are being no less sinister than the leaders of countries we claim to despise. Members of the black church have a right to honor their God over their president should they choose to do so, and that might mean choosing to abstain.

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins

As far as the media depiction of black church leadership, Roland Martin is correct in that African Americans continue to be misrepresented in all walks of life.  This is the reason that we must tell our own stories and shape our own agendas, not allowing others to hijack our Democratic freedoms.  We didn’t liberate ourselves from slavery 150 years ago. The psychological liberation is occurring right now.

Dr Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of YourBlackWorld.net. He also stars in the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” with Steve Perry, Marc Lamont Hill and Jawanza Kunjufu. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.