This past Sunday, I worshipped at St. Augustine’s church here in Washington, D.C. It is the oldest congregation of black Catholics in the city. The pastor did not preach about the election: He didn’t have to. The anticipation in the room, the smiles, the nervousness, were all immediately obvious. I wondered how this congregation, which is very conservative, would have responded if they had been told that abortion was the only issue that mattered in this election? Yesterday, when I heard the audio of Bishop Finn of Kansas City saying that voting for Obama risked one’s eternal salvation, I wished he had come to St. Augustine’s to say that.
I wonder if Bishop Finn knows who Fannie Lou Hamer was and why today, election day, some of us will have this patron saint of electoral justice in the forefront of our minds. I wonder what Bishop Martino of Scranton would say to Bob Moses if he ran into him at the Au Bon Pain on Harvard Square. Black folk see this election in a different light, and they are not wrong to do so.
Yesterday, I called a black friend who is a priest and asked how he felt about this historic election. "I have my Obama cufflinks already to wear!" he exclaimed. "But, don’t print that until I have a diocese." He broke out in a full-throttled guffaw. He, like most of the black clergy I know, is very conservative doctrinally but today’s election strikes a different, non-ideological chord. There was joy in his voice when we compared likely electoral college totals.
Today, America proves that race is not an insuperable barrier to political power and we deal a strong body blow to racism. That is an achievement per se. And the bishops who have insisted that abortion is the only issue, and that only their approach to the issue is morally permissible, they should think of Hamer and Moses and Dr. King and John Lewis today. It is not too difficult to say that while they may disagree with Sen. Obama about his pro-choice stance, and disagree forcefully, they join the rest of the nation in being properly thrilled that race is no longer an impediment to winning a presidential election in America. It is a great day to be alive. Everybody should be singing: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Michael Sean Winters