“The one thing a lot of black pastors can’t understand is why white pastors don’t speak out on issues,” commented one of the nearly 500 clergymen attending the First Annual National Black Pastors Conference.

His inference was that black pastors do speak to issues—and they did little else but that during their five-day meeting last month in Detroit. The pastors adopted resolutions ranging from opposition to construction of nuclear plants to support for the American Indian.

The assembly especially plotted strategy for the 1980 presidential election; one resolution challenged black pastors to establish sophisticated voter registration and voter education programs through their churches.

A presidential candidate needs the black vote to win, one speaker said. “Our question to him should not be just ‘What have you done for us [blacks] in the past?’ but ‘What have you done for us since supper, and what will you do for us before breakfast?’ ”

For several reasons, black pastors historically have asserted political and community—not just spiritual—parish leadership. Joseph Lowery, Southern Christian Leadership Conference president, explained, “It’s because of our holistic concept of faith, which speaks to the whole man. We see no distinction between the social and personal Gospel.”

In addition, black pastors have had more education than fellow blacks and, not being obligated to a white employer, more freedom to speak for their people. They have provided more verbal guidance for their parishioners than, say, the average white Protestant pastor. One pastor at the Detroit conference said, “I believe it’s part of my duty to endorse a politician [in his church]. The fact is, politics affects everyone in the church.”

Still, the level of political ...

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