Why Black Evangelicals in Alabama Heavily Supported Doug Jones

During a service on Dec. 10 at 16th Street Baptist Church, the Rev. Arthur Price Jr. urges the mostly black congregation to vote in the U.S. Senate election in Alabama, saying, “There’s too much at stake for us to stay home.” (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Another group of evangelicals helped Doug Jones in his unexpected win against Roy Moore Tuesday: Black evangelicals.

In recent years the word “evangelical” has become nearly synonymous with white, conservative Republicans. But in Alabama, one of the most evangelical states in the country, as well as across swaths of the American South — race and religion mix in a different way.

Ninety-six percent of African-American voters chose Jones, a Democrat, and the vast majority of those people self-identify, according to exit polling, as evangelical or born-again. That, combined with the high turnout rate among African-Americans — close to the rates of the two times Barack Obama ran for president —  gave a spotlight to the religious perspective of black evangelicals.

So what does that mean about black Christianity in Alabama? Or about American evangelicalism?

Like much of American identity, the answer is a stew of regionalism, race and faith, among other things.

Alabama is heavily evangelical, regardless of one’s race. In its special election, 76 percent of African-Americans identified as born-again or evangelical, according to exit polling, along with 72 percent of whites. In national exit polls for the 2016 presidential election, 57 percent of blacks and 39 percent of whites identified as born-again or evangelical.

Several Southern states include more Americans than the national average who identify as “evangelical,” and who say religion is important in their lives. But that leads to very different voting conclusions for black Christians than for white ones, as well as for Latino or Asian Christians.

Part of the issue is language.

In many parts of the country, Christians who technically fit the theological-school definition of “evangelical” — have high regard for the authority of the Bible, believe in the essential importance of sharing one’s faith, among other metrics — sometimes don’t call themselves evangelical because the word has taken on such a partisan and even racial tone in recent years. And sometimes people who don’t identify with the theological-school definition use the word because it fits their politics. The faith of many Christians of color is sometimes misunderstood because of chaos over the word “evangelical.”

But in Alabama, black Christians use the label, and experts think faith organizers were able to motivate such voters by urging them to reclaim their own religious values in the public square.

Black Christians in Alabama thought that “we need to show the world that we as people of color have a voice, that this is the place that birthed the dream” of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said the Rev. Marvin Lue Jr., pastor of Stewart Memorial CME Church in Mobile and chairman of the board of the organizing group Faith in Action. Lue said black Christians in Alabama were motivated to turn out by issues such as mass incarceration, a struggling state educational system and a “mentality that continues to consider us as second-class citizens.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Michelle Boorstein

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