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D.C. members celebrate first black president

WASHINGTON — The East Capitol Street Church of Christ meets just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol — the site of a swearing-in ceremony that most members never thought they’d live to see.
“It means so much to me to see an African-American man become president of the United States,” said Bernice Watts, who attends the predominantly black church with her husband, James.
Emma Moten, 68, has worshiped with the 160-member congregation since the days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency.
“I hoped for this day, but I never thought that I would see it,” Moten said of Barack Obama’s inauguration. “This means that God is on the throne.”
Many East Capitol Street members made their way to the National Mall as Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president. Some served as police officers and civil servants as the first black president gave his inaugural address. Other members, including Leibert Walters, just wanted to be a part of history.
“I want to tell people I was there,” said Walters, a native of Jamaica who served as a minister and then elder of the East Capitol Street church for more than 30 years. “How can you be in D.C. … and not want to be part of all of this?”
Daniel Lester, minister of the East Capitol Street church, referenced Obama’s election as he preached from 2 Timothy 1 before the inauguration.
“For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but one of power, one of love and of a sound mind,” Lester said in a Jan. 11 sermon. “God has spoken as far as I am concerned, and he has spoken in the hearts of the people who elected Barack Obama.”
Across the nation, excitement over Obama’s inauguration was palpable in America’s nearly 1,200 predominantly black Churches of Christ. Nationally, about 95 percent of black Americans voted for Obama.
Tyrone Allen, a black educator and member of the Rockville, Md., church, about 30 miles north of Washington, said he and his wife are Republicans. But they voted for Obama out of concern about “the moral decay in America.” They saw Obama as “a man that God has his hand on.”
“We were impressed not only because he was black, but because of how he conducted himself,” Allen said. “That was the thing that won our hearts.”
At the recent annual lectureship of Southwestern Christian College, a historically black college in Terrell, Texas, one speaker’s reference to the “hand of God” in Obama’s election drew enthusiastic approval.
But not everyone shared the post-election elation felt in black congregations.
In recent presidential elections, a majority of conservative Christians — including Church of Christ members — have voted Republican because of that party’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, according to national surveys.
That trend continued in the 2008 election, with roughly three-fourths of evangelical voters supporting Republican John McCain, pollsters reported.
“Generally speaking, our members are not excited about Obama having won the election,” said Charlie Harrison, who is white and minister of the Brunswick, Maine, church. “But we continue to follow God’s directive to pray for those in leadership regardless of who they are. … God knows what he is doing when he puts someone in power.”
Shaun Casey, the evangelical coordinator for the Obama campaign, said many white members “bought the line during the Bush years that he was an evangelical true believer and that to be a Christian one had to vote for a Republican like him.
“Eight years later, that is a tough proposition to defend, and to vote for Obama means re-evaluating something that had become almost Scriptural in its authority in many of our churches,” Casey said.
Casey is a member of the Fairfax, Va., church, a suburban Washington congregation that is about 15 percent black. While Casey’s black brothers and sisters are “ecstatic” over Obama’s inauguration, and a number of white members are too, he said, “the majority are walking around in stunned silence.”
Reasons for many white members’ coolness toward Obama range from political concerns to a “racial dimension that we should not deny,” said Casey, who teaches Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
“Some members flat out told me they could not vote for a black man,” he said. “That was not common, but it did happen. Usually, when I encountered what I concluded were racial attitudes among white brethren, they tended to be vague expressions of discomfort or statements like ‘I don’t really know who he is.’”
But Tim Spivey, minister of the North County church in Escondido, Calif., said he believes white members’ concerns about Obama had less to do with race and more to do “with significant policy differences that some view as being at the heart of morality itself.”
“I would imagine that many Christians would have preferred a conservative black president,” said Spivey, who questioned whether black members would have voted for a white candidate with Obama’s same views.
“I for one, am happy that we have an African-American president,” the white minister added. “ “It’s long overdue. And, while I don’t agree with most of Obama’s policies, I’m willing to give him a chance because I really want to see him succeed.”
James Snow, minister and elder at Detroit’s Redford church, a 330-member congregation that is 90 percent black, offered a different perspective.
“He represents change. He is very intelligent. He has charisma. He has the ability to motivate and inspire people, and he seems to have the interest of all Americans at heart,” Snow said of Obama. “If you take away the fact that he is black, all of the aforementioned qualities suggest that he could be a great president like John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. If not, why not?”
Steve McCall, who is white and preaches at the Desert church in Kingman, Ariz., said it pains him to hear white church members make less than complimentary remarks about Obama.
“That does not reflect the love of God,” McCall said. “I know that God is control, and all we can do is trust him no matter who goes into office. We also need to remember that no man has power or authority unless God gave it to him.”
Church members who voted for Obama told The Christian Chronicle that issues including social justice, health care and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan influenced their decisions.
Several members also noted that the election of a black man to the nation’s highest office demonstrates progress in racial equality.
“For so long we have taught (minority children) that you can be anything that you want to be,” said Charlene Adams, a special education teacher and member of the University Park church in Hyattsville, Md., a Washington suburb. “But now that we have a black president, kids now can believe that they can be anything. Now they have something concrete.”
Obama’s election “removes the shroud of hypocrisy that we  have been living under for many years,” said Carl Wamble, a retired commander in the U.S. Navy and a former elder of the East Capitol Street church.
“We have repeated statements like ‘One nation under God’ and ‘All men are created equal’ for a long time,” Wamble said. “But we have not lived out the true meaning of this creed. This is really a crowning moment in our country in really being the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Patriotic slogans aside, Walters said he simply hopes the new president will help erase long-held stereotypes and prejudices. “The day after he won the election I was the proudest man,” Walters said. “I said, ‘Maybe ladies might not hold their pocket books so tight when I pass.’”
Walters expressed the sentiments privately expressed by many African-Americans who believe that, despite their education and backgrounds, some doors are simply not open to them.
The church Walters attends on East Capitol Street is connected — albeit tangentially — to presidential history. Before the church moved to its current building in 1962, its members met near the intersection of 13th and Irving streets — in a facility that once served as a Quaker meeting house and the church home of Theodore Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president.
In 1901, Roosevelt invited renowned educator and orator Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, said Edward J. Robinson, minister for the North Tenth and Treadaway church in Abilene, Texas, and an authority on ethnicity and religion in America.
Many white Southerners, including a U.S. Senator from South Carolina, voiced outrage at the notion of a black man dining in the White House.
“For the next four years, a black family will be living in the White House,” Robinson said. “That’s powerful.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: Bobby Ross Jr. and Erik Tryggestad.

  • Feedback
    I am dismayed to hear of Christians supporting President Obama. As our leader, I pray that he will make decisions that are pleasing to God. However, he was elected by people who knew he was for allowing abortion and allowing babies born alive by abortion to die without any comfort. Americans have become so “used” to the fact that it is legal that it is no longer an outrage. It’s the American Holocost. The dems are determined to make homosexuality “normal.” They are going to cripple our society with the bailout and will try to put as much socialism as they can in place. Just watch. I hope Obama fails in his agendas. I don’t believe his values match up with what God wants. Why didn’t the blacks vote for Allen Keyes in the primary when he ran against George H. Bush? I did. He values what God’s Word says.
    February, 11 2009

    This makes me uncomfortable.
    Were people voting for Obama’s financial plans, his social positions, his moral principles, or his race?
    There are plenty of African-Americans that I would be proud to have as the leader of our nation, but none of them support abortion or defend the homosexual agenda.
    I try to look past skin colour, to the character of the candidate. I wish I could see a candidate (black or white), dedicated to uphold our constitution, who’s first priority is to lead the nation by principles found in God’s word.
    Obama’s election might be a win for our economy. It may put an end to an unpopular war. It may be a win for those who just wanted to see a “black president”. However, I just don’t see how this is a win for Christian values, especially as it relates to the lives of the unborn.
    I pray that our president and our nation would repent of the lack of commitment we show to the principles found in God’s word!
    February, 2 2009

    A fair and balance story. I hope Obama’s presidency brings about a more non-prejudiced attitude in America, and especially in the Church of our Lord. I have hopes that it will. I pray so.
    January, 23 2009

    I have no disrespect for the fact that Obama has some of the black race in him. Equality for the reaces is great. I think we need more dialogue with our black brothers and sisters. I have some questions I want to ask them as a white Christian.
    How can you respect a man who was in a church that promoted racism toward white people?
    How can you respect a man who supports abortion and allowing infants born alive to die without care?
    For me the one good thing in this is the fact that a man of the black race can be elected President. I understant that this is monumental. However, the election of Obama has taken our backward to a point where we have declared racism is okay if it is reversed its direction.
    January, 20 2009

    I disagree that the election of Barack Obama as president suggests anything has changed concerning the tone of the country towards race. JFK was the first catholic to be elected president. Has there been a catholic president since? I do not think so. Why JFK, as Barack Obama he was smart, nice looking, and a great speech maker.
    As a grapefruit could have defeated Jimmy Carter so went the election of a non-Republican in 2008. We can thank the previous administration for that one.
    Blacks were given the right to vote before women, a 50% white man has been elected before a woman.
    Barack Obama is 50% white. To call him black is truly referring to the color of his skin. Didn’t MLK say we should not do that? This country is not ready for a “black president” such as an Al Sharpton or a Jesse Jackson. Obama and his wife will determine if a “black president” is in the foreseeable future…
    Obama is intelligent, speaks well, looks nice. He speaks in sentences and paragraphs not like our current white president. Unlike the previous “black” contenders for the office he does not speak in rhymes nor does he chase ambulances….
    Time will tell. It is to everyone’s benefit for him to succeed. I hope he does and if he does maybe a black man or woman has a chance..
    January, 20 2009

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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