- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH — Proponents of a constitutional ban on homosexual “marriage” in Virginia are seeking support from black voters by visiting their churches and adding staffers with connections to their pastors.

Conservatives have sought the wisdom of black pastors before on a variety of issues and know that blacks traditionally vote Democratic but often hold conservative social positions. Supporters of the ban also are asking Hispanic pastors for similar help.

“African-American churches and social conservatives have more in common in our belief system than anyone could imagine,” Chris Freund, of the Family Foundation, told a group of mostly black and Hispanic ministers last month at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. “We need you to be the voice of marriage in Virginia.”

The foundation, a major force behind the proposed constitutional amendment, has targeted about 3,000 churches, about 20 percent of them headed by black or Hispanic pastors, Mr. Freund said.

They’ve met at a dozen breakfasts and luncheons including minority pastors, and at least four more events are planned through the fall, Mr. Freund said.

Pastors have received booklets and DVDs, church-bulletin inserts and “pastor packets” detailing what the amendment means and how to explain it to congregations.

Organizers are depending on shared religious beliefs — that homosexual “marriage” doesn’t fit the biblical roles for men and women — to break the ice before the Nov. 7 election.

“There are things that my wife can do for [his daughter] that I can’t. We’re different,” Mr. Freund said as the pastors nodded emphatically. “Children fare better with a mom and a dad.”

Blacks account for about 18 percent of Virginia’s registered voters. They’re reliable Democratic voters, but many hold views to the right of the party line, said Daniel Simmons, one of two black community activists recently a part of Va4Marriage, a pro-amendment campaign of the Family Foundation.

For instance, an increasing number of black activists and social commentators have opposed abortion, citing fears that abortion disproportionately affects the black population.

Tracy Brown, a Tidewater area coordinator with Va4Marriage, translates faith-based initiatives for 1,000 black pastors across the country through his nonprofit Urban Awareness USA. On the whole, he said, blacks aren’t knowledgeable about the homosexual “marriage” issue. For one reason, blacks often are too preoccupied with finding jobs and feeding families to pay much attention to debates on social issues.

The Rev. Allen McFarland, whose Calvary Evangelical Baptist Church in Portsmouth draws 800 worshippers weekly, spoke bluntly of a bigger obstacle: mistrust of white activists who show up only near election time.

“You are not going to get into the African-American community,” Mr. McFarland told Mr. Freund, who is white.

That leaves the work to such ministers as Bishop Leon Benjamin of Richmond’s New Life Harvest Church.

Mr. Benjamin, who supports traditional marriage through his cable-access, marriage-advice show, embraces his role in getting blacks to talk about an issue they typically avoid. “It’s not brought up, even though you see it all over the news,” he said. “That’s where we come in.”

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