WASHINGTON - A trip to Washington D.C. last month by several Minnesota faith leaders could foreshadow where the state's minority communities will lean on two controversial ballot issues come November.
The Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church and Bishop Richard Howell Jr. of Shiloh Temple International Ministries were among those attending a joint meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches. During the Faith Leaders Summit, two hot-button issues in Minnesota met very different fates: Voter identification laws and possible disenfranchisement were on the agenda; same-sex marriage wasn't.
Minnesotans will vote on state constitutional amendments dealing with both this fall, deciding whether people must present photo ID to vote and whether to ban same-sex marriage. What happened in D.C. may be a sign that in many of Minnesota's black, Hispanic and immigrant-led churches, the two ballot amendments are unequally yoked.
When more than 100 Minnesota religious leaders met Thursday to begin their campaign to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, McAfee and Howell weren't there. For two men who shepherd more than 5,000 parishioners combined, their absence must have been conspicuous, especially in a state where slim margins are common in statewide races.
Minnesota for Marriage, the group pushing to pass the marriage amendment, has also rallied pastors, citing unwavering support from minorities.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has publicly condemned both amendments. He will host an invitation-only event at his Minneapolis campaign headquarters Tuesday to talk strategy with influential constituents, and once again the voter ID amendment is on the agenda. But the Democratic congressman could host future events to rally opposition to the marriage amendment, said his campaign manager, Will Hailer.
"Religious leaders don't want to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution," Hailer said.
But they don't want to lose their flocks, either. Howell and McAfee pointed to the struggles of the Rev. Oliver White in St. Paul, whose decision to support gay marriage could cost him his financially struggling church. The head of the lone United Church of Christ church in Minnesota with a predominantly black congregation, White has lost nearly two-thirds of his members since he chose to support gay marriage during a national conference in 2005.
"That's a good indicator of where we're at," McAfee said. "What shapes my politics is my religion."
The Rev. Kelly Chatman, senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, was among the minority pastors who attended Thursday's Minnesotans United for Families campaign rally in Minneapolis. Chatman said his efforts to defeat the amendment are a result of his faith, not a stand that clashes with his belief -- and the right to marriage is a civil one, like the struggles that people gave all citizens the right to vote.
For Howell and others, the ballot amendments aren't of equal importance, Howell said.
"It's a clear difference," he said. But "it's dividing a lot of churches."