Worse than a preacher telling his congregants how to vote is telling them not to vote at all.
That should be considered a sin.
I don't know that there are any widespread efforts by ministers discouraging voting in this year's election, but there have been reports -- including a recent story from The Associated Press -- suggesting that "some" African-American clergy don't see an acceptable option in President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The inference in the story, although seemingly based on the comment of only one person with the title of "reverend," is that black church-goers were being encouraged not to vote for either candidate.
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"Some black pastors telling congregations not to vote," read the front-page headline in this newspaper Monday morning.
For months now there has been speculation that black Christians, considered conservative on many social and cultural issues, would denounce the president because of his support of gay marriage -- and some have.
But criticizing a candidate for a particular view, such as endorsing same-sex marriage, does not necessarily translate into "don't vote" for him or her. That would be ridiculous.
Just as it would be ludicrous to reject Romney simply because of his Mormon religion, the reason some preachers give for being unable to support the Republican nominee. Many Baptists, as well as other Christians, have been taught that Mormonism is a cult. Some believe that about Catholicism and a list of other religions.
It's always been that one man's religion is another man's superstition and one woman's God is another's idol.
While one's faith should not play a role in the election of a president, religion has long been injected into politics in this country, just as have race, gender and many other factors that have nothing to do with qualifications to serve.
Politicians have always courted preachers, and during election time many include churches -- especially black ones -- on their Sunday morning schedules.
During the 1976 presidential campaign President Gerald Ford, an Episcopalian, went to Dallas' First Baptist Church to get the blessing of Pastor W. A. Criswell. The preacher praised the Republican nominee by saying he would not have given an interview to Playboy magazine like his opponent Jimmy Carter.
A lifelong Baptist, Carter attended a lot of churches during the campaign, including University Baptist in Fort Worth one Sunday.
Black ministers are often accused of telling their congregations how to vote, because they've allowed politicians not only in their churches but into their pulpits. The truth is preachers have never needed to tell black folks how to vote, but simply to vote.
Voter apathy among minority groups has been a disturbing problem for generations, even in times when people were dying for their right to have free access to the ballot box.
That's why it's upsetting that even one cleric would suggest that African Americans sit out an election.
The Associated Press article quoted a local black Southern Baptist pastor as saying he planned to "go fishing" on Election Day, clearly sending a signal to his congregants that it was all right not to vote this year.
The article failed to note that the minister is a Republican, or at least one who twice voted for George W. Bush for president.
When I noticed that the AP story was being picked up by several conservative websites and bloggers, it occurred to me that this just might play into the Republican strategy of discouraging black people from going to the polls.
You see, not voting at all would be like a vote against Obama without having to cast a vote for Romney.
I've said repeatedly that the right to vote is too precious to be toyed with, manipulated or denied.
Any preacher who participates in a scheme to keep people from the polls ought to be on his knees praying for forgiveness.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.