Local pastors are using their spiritual gifts and community influence to get out the vote.
Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr., pastor of Union Baptist Church, hosted a two day revival last week that was designed to educate and engage local voters. The more than 1,200 attendees heard from powerful speakers like Rev. William Barber III, president of the state NAACP, and Dr. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church and a well-known social justice advocate.
“We feel like this election is critical, and we thought that a revival would be a way to awaken people to the reality of the urgency and to get people motivated and excited, as well as informed about this upcoming election and voting privileges in general,” Mack said.
With so many states adopting new voter identification laws and legislation barring ex-offenders from voting, Mack said he felt that concern about restrictions and “red tape” might keep some local eligible voters at home.
“We wanted the revival to bring some clarity and to also empower people to exercise their right to vote,” he stated. “…We believe that the church has a responsibility to help shape the culture for which it exists, and part of that culture is helping people understand who it is they’re electing that will govern the people.”
Union advocates for voter registration on a weekly basis, Mack said. He believes it is their Christian duty.
“The suffering and attack that Jesus (sustained) came directly from him addressing political issues,” he remarked. “…The things that Christ did upset the justice system and the political system, so we use that model to say that we need to be addressing like issues.”
The church will also serve as the starting point for this year’s Souls to the Polls effort, where hundreds will march to the Forsyth County Government Center and cast their ballots during the early voting period. Rev. Donald Jenkins and members of his congregation at St. Paul United Methodist Church will be among the Souls to the Polls voters on Oct. 28, the only Sunday that early voting will be offered.
On Tuesday, St. Paul partnered with members of the Wake Forest University Black Law Students Association (BLSA) to host a community forum on voters’ rights.
“It’s extremely important for us to be sure that people go and vote and for people to know what their rights are,” Jenkins said. “With everything that’s going on nationally and with state legislators wanting to make it more difficult to vote, I just think it’s important that we get accurate information out to the community. We do our part to provide a place where people can come and hear and learn accurate information.”
The African American church is no stranger to social justice issues, and Jenkins said championing voting rights follows in that tradition.
“The black church has historically been involved in advocating for the rights of all people, especially African American people, who have been denied their rights, so that’s a part of our history,” he commented. “…That’s our prophetic work. When we find wrong, when we find injustice, we have to fight it.”
Bishop Todd Fulton, the Political and Public Affairs liaison for the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, said the Conference isn’t taking on any voting rights or education efforts as a group, but most of the pastors involved are tackling the issue within their own churches. Fulton, the pastor of Mount Moriah Outreach Center in Kernersville, said he and some of his congregants have been doing their part by canvassing the community to register voters.
“We’re praying for this country and we’re praying for our government,” Fulton said. “…It’s a very critical time, not just for the presidency, but also for Congress and the Senate. It’s very critical that our voices be heard.”
Forsyth County Democrats Chair Susan Campbell said she is also working to educate voters about lesser known opportunities available to them, such as curbside voting, which is open to voters who have physical limitations that make it difficult for them to stand for long periods of time. Such voters can send a friend or family member into the poll location to retrieve a ballot and vote from the comfort of their cars, Campbell said.
Campbell is also organizing a contingent of volunteers to assist Democratic voters who do not have transportation in getting to the polls, both during the early voting season and on Election Day. She’s expecting the volunteers will be quite busy once early voting commences on Oct. 18.
“We’re a month out and we’ve got several hundred people needing rides so far,” she reported. “It’s going to be big.”
Early voting runs from Thursday, Oct.18 – Saturday, Nov. 3. For more information, voting times and locations or to view a sample ballot, visit http://www.forsyth.cc/Elections” www.forsyth.cc/Elections or call 336-703-2800. Those who still need to register may register and vote simultaneously at any early voting location; however, on the spot registration will not be available on Election Day, Nov. 6.