Like many African Americans, I previously voted along Democratic Party lines. But I did something I have never done before in the recent election. In 2004 I voted for a Republican president, George W. Bush. I did this because I came to believe that the president is right on the domestic issues facing our country, especially in the area of healing the family and community through faith-based initiatives. I believe in the president’s commitment to moral and spiritual values that will produce a richer, healthier America. I did not come to this stand and belief easily.
The question is: “Is the president for real or just posturing for the camera when he speaks of preserving traditional marriage and saving our nation by healing families?” I believe he is real. As an African-American pastor, I have struggled deeply with this question. Even considering the question was risky in an often hostile and antagonistic environment, since many African Americans seem to believe that as a race, we are Democratic at birth.
I believe the president has the courage to go beyond what is popular and convenient and that he will pursue what is best for the country. A president who prays sincerely for guidance and gives God the credit and glory for his position of leadership is the man I want to support in office. And I am advising the American Clergy Leadership Conference and its 14,000 pastors and clergy to examine the president’s domestic agenda.
We believe the president is committed to the principle of empowering people of faith to solve the problems of the family and community. Religious organizations have always done this work. As president of the Exodus Transitional Community in East Harlem, New York, I observed Julio Medina visit church after church for three years, asking for funds to help prisoners successfully transition to productive and successful lives in the community. He had little or no help beyond the physical space that I gave him to operate the program after mentoring him as a professor at New York Theological Seminary (he was incarcerated at that time at Sing Sing penitentiary for his former life of crime and drugs).
With just church space and this young man’s deep faith, I saw hundreds of lives transformed each year. Recidivism dropped and fathers were welcomed back in their homes because their violent behavior had been left at the counseling table. Men and women walked away from drugs and alcohol, and the neighborhood became safe.
The Exodus program has been praised by the president on numerous occasions and was even lifted up in his State of the Union address. The first lady has directly acknowledged our efforts and good work. Here is the type of faith-based initiative the government should support — because it is in everyone’s best interest.
The urgent problems facing families of economically-challenged communities and persons returning from prison cannot be solved by secular programs. The faith community has always been involved in social ministries that improve and enhance the lives of the less fortunate, and it only makes sense for the government to partner with those who are best suited for getting the job done. The work to rebuild the family, restore the community and renew the nation must be done based on the transforming power of faith.
The American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) has arisen from the inner cities of America and has no conservative or liberal agenda; it truly stands as a rapidly growing movement of clergy committed to the endeavor of making this nation the best that it can be. The majority of its members are men and women of God who recognize that America is at a pivotal point in history, and who believe that the president is committed to principle over politics.
Monday, the ACLC will join other sponsors in assembling 3,300 clergy and other religious, political and civic leaders at a Breakfast Summit in Washington to address the viability of faith-based initiatives that will allow us to focus on building a common legacy of faith, family, freedom and peace centered on God. The pastors who will gather for this breakfast (many of whom I have organized and educated) are ready to see the president as I see him, a man to God who is truly ready to make the sacrifices and commitments to create a legacy of faith and family that will guide our nation for the next 200 years. As the president is now free from the election concerns and can never be reelected, he can now build a legacy for America and the world. These spiritual leaders are ready to undergird our president if they see him going beyond politics to stand on principle. It is our prayerful hope that the president will do just that.
There has been much concern about a divided America, yet we are coming together in a concerted effort to transcend our differences and work toward one future, and to beseech God to spiritually support our president during his second term. It is my prayer that the president will seize this moment and continue to light new torches on the darkest streets in America.
The Rev. Lonnie McLeod is the president of the Exodus Transitional Community in Harlem, New York, which he developed as a professor at New York Theological Seminary.