The sense of political powerlessness Black Christians expressed in a new Barna research study is a factor in how pastors steer their congregations toward political engagement, two pastors told Baptist Press.
Barna released its findings on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18), showing that 73% of Black adults and 75% of Blacks who attend church felt powerless politically in 2020. The number is up from 61% in 1996, the report said.
Marshal Ausberry, president of a fellowship of about 4,000 Black Southern Baptist pastors, said he encourages Black Christians to be politically engaged, despite his belief that data indicating a feeling of powerlessness might be skewed by recent political events.
“I often remind Blacks that while we have a moral responsibility to engage in the political process, our ultimate hope is not in who occupies the White House, but the One who occupies Heaven, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” said Ausberry, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, and senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va. “I remind Christians that Jesus Christ does not ride a donkey or an elephant. He is the king of kings and the president of presidents.
“So much of the progress for Blacks has come through the educational and political process. So while their first loyalty is to Christ, they must allow that loyalty to influence their political decisions. We want to represent Christ well in all of our politics.”
Emory Berry, senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., described the Barna data as “pivotal in our current spiritual and social climate.”
“This empirical, numerical and quantifiable research can truly help guide the Christian church’s efforts in ministry and politics,” Berry said. “Inasmuch, Micah 6:8 reminds us ‘He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ To this end, my hope is that white, Black and all Christians will take the time to read through these important research data points and pick up the mantle modeled by the Old Testament prophets and the transforming Savior Jesus Christ.”
Barna, in its study conducted April 22-May 6, 2020, also found that 80% of Blacks in predominantly Black congregations, and 65% of Black adults in general, agreed that the “Black Church is comforting because it is a place where Black people have control over their lives.” That’s up from 50% among Black adults in 1996.
Ausberry encourages Black Christians to influence political parties instead of letting political parties influence them as Christians. He said he does not endorse candidates nor allow candidates to speak from the pulpit during worship services.
“I encourage Black Christians to take a missionary approach to politics. That is to represent Christ well no matter their party affiliation,” Ausberry said. “There are Christians who are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, etc. But whatever the party affiliation, represent Christ well in your party of choice.”
Barna, which plans to release the full results of the Trends of the Black Church report in June, also announced Monday the political affiliations of Black Church churchgoers. According to the findings, 76% of the group of Christians identify as Democrats, 5% as Republicans, 14% as Independents and 5% as politically unaffiliated. The numbers compare to 67% of all Black adults who identify as Democrats, 6% as Republican, 19% as Independent and 8% as unaffiliated in 2020. Among all U.S. adults, Barna said, 43% as Democrats, 36% as Republicans, 16% as Independents and 5% as unaffiliated.
Barna gained its data from an online survey of 1,083 Black adults, plus 822 Black Church churchgoers, and reports a sample error of plus or minus 2.3% with a 95% confidence level.
“Any effort to capture a political snapshot of the ‘Black Church’ is complicated due to the theological and denominational diversity that characterizes Black churches in the U.S., not to mention the many other ways individual congregants may differ,” Barna said in releasing the data. “There is not a ‘Black Church;’ rather, there are Black churches. Furthermore, common categories (i.e., conservative, moderate, liberal) commonly used in polling may only offer limited insight into a wide array of ideologies (i.e., Black nationalism, Black feminism, liberal integrationism).”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist press’ senior writer.)