BY MAYNARD EATON AND CARRIE L. WILLIAMS
TRICE EDNEY NEWS WIRE
ATLANTA – Despite the fervent tones and solemn faces of the nation’s highest ranking Black Baptist leaders as they preached the importance of voting on Election Day Nov. 6, the National Baptist Convention USA (NBC) is being criticized for falling short of presenting a unified action plan by the close of its annual conference last month.
“It’s all rhetoric, it’s all talk,” said the Rev. Dr. Joseph L. Williams, 35, co-pastor of the Atlanta-based Salem Bible Church East and West, with a congregation of approximately 5,000.
“If there was some kind of activity going on at this convention where people could learn, where information was shared, and they were able to be truly nonpartisan, I would be the first person to stand up and clap,” he said in an interview. Joseph preached at the NBC.
The NBC leadership initially gave the impression of a collective action plan. That impression was given when the presidents of all five major Black Baptist church organizations appeared on stage together at an opening press conference. The organizations represented were the Lott Cary Foreign Mission Convention, the National Progressive Convention, the National Baptist International Convention of America, the National Missionary Baptist Convention, and the National Primitive Baptist Churches.
The collective organizations, representing at least 12 million parishioners, acknowledged the need for voter turnout in the likelihood of voter suppression and intimidation at the polls. Yet, no specific strategy was announced to battle the voter suppression.
“This is not so much about my leadership, as much as it is about the corporate leadership here in this room that is fully aware of the voter suppression that is taking place in the United States,” said the Rev. Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA. Scruggs was responding to media commendations for his role in corralling all of the national Black Baptist leaders.
No real details
When pressed by the media about what specific actions Black faith leaders were taking – singly or collectively – the answers were vague and vacuous. “I ride a motorcycle and lead a caravan of people to the polls,” said the Rev. Gregory Moss, president of the Lott Cary Foreign Mission Convention and a Charlotte, N.C., pastor.
Scruggs made only passing mention of a potential collective gathering to discuss further action plans among the presidents. But he provided no details, only indicating that the NBC would partner with the NAACP’s voter mobilization efforts.
There were no visible listings of additional voter education/registration activities having taken place at the NBC, not on the online convention schedule at the NBC website, nor on the convention events schedule posted onsite at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, the AME pastor of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple, who is traveling the country registering voters in his “Empowerment Movement,” said he attended the Baptists’ press conference to support.
“I was there at the press conference with all five of the Baptist leaders. Now, what they have done after that, I have no clue. I don’t know what they have distributed out to their local body, but I was there at the press conference and I think that they’re in line to push the vote out in November. But I don’t know what their strategy is,” Bryant said in an interview this week.
Letter of intent
Following the mid-September conference, a letter was posted on a webpage of the National Baptist Convention USA’s website, generally encouraging pastors to get their congregations out to vote. But, the “Dear Pastor” letter was not from a top leader of NBC or any of the other leading Baptist organizations. Rather it was from the vice president at large of the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education, the Rev. Jesse Voyd Bottoms.
Trice Edney News Wire Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney contributed to this story.