Today, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with 100 leading Black pastors, some who said they may be endorsing him and others who said they just want to hear him out. While I am unequivocally opposed to the policies and xenophobia that Trump is running his campaign on, as well as the racial overtones of the birther movement (and other disparaging moves), there is a wider red flag that Democrats need not fall prey to. It is the power of the Black church, and the ability of Trump to chip away at that strength that the Democratic candidates have failed to seize. Society has gone through transitions in every generation and Black America is no different. Though many are not as Church-based as in generations before me, and to some degree in my generation, make no mistake about it: the largest gathering place in Black America remains Sunday morning in the Black Church.
It's a shame that Democrats have allowed someone like Trump to reach out and court the support of the Black Church and have not done so themselves thus far.
The collective body of Black Churches still represents the strongest block of Black voters whether it's a denominational Church, an evangelical one or a mega Church. This is not to say that there aren't other blocks, but younger, middle and older generations still have churchgoers who are largely voters, and who can and have been influenced by Pastors and religious leaders. I personally chose never to Pastor a Church; my Ministry has been through activism through National Action Network (NAN), and before that Operation Bread Basket and other groups. But we built a lot from strong Church ties from generations that proceeded me. For Trump to regard and highlight leading Black Pastors at a time when there is no collective demonstration by Democratic candidates is a real threat because if in fact he is the nominee and chips away 10, 12 or 15 percent of the Black vote because he massaged Black religious leaders in large part ignored by Democrats, it could be vital in a close general election next year.
The Pastors and leaders meeting with Trump should challenge him on xenophobia as it is in direct contradiction to the outreach mission that Black Churches have always represented. They should challenge him on immigrants and refugees since Christ himself was a refugee. They should challenge him on his inflexible opposition to the Affordable Care Act since many members of the Church only have health insurance because of it. They should challenge him on income inequality since they Pastor people who are at the lower end of the economic ladder and are directly impacted by policies that would keep it that way. They should challenge him on affirmative action -- in fact, a hearing on its future is next week in front of the Supreme Court. They shouldn't be swayed by Trump's stance on some moral issues they may agree with (that I disagree with, i.e. his views on same sex marriage, etc.), and not deal with the fundamental basic things that directly affect the lives of their congregants and their families.
Don't let Trump play with us with hot button issues and not address the reality of what he represents. At the same time, Democratic candidates need to take this as a warning and meet with clergy of the Black community themselves and answer these questions and give complete policy details. NAN's board is comprised of some of the leading activists and major Black Pastors in the country; two-thirds of which are now organizing a national meeting between Black Pastors and the three Democratic candidates so they may question and have a dialogue with them. It's a meeting that should not be held in the dark, but should instead be open so that these concerns and their regard for the constituency is front and center as Trump has smartly done today.
Yes, Democrats should continue to meet with all Blacks, but they should not forget to meet with those that hold a majority of gatherings of any assemblage in the Black community. I completely reject Trump's politics, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. What he's done is smart, but the truth will surface when we get down to who stands for what and who will represent what. We will show that the devil is not only in the details, but also in policies.
Hopefully, the Democrats will recognize the power and strength of the Black Church before it's too late.