Two of Georgia’s largest Black church groups are officially joining forces for the first time to mobilize Black voters in the battleground state ahead of November’s presidential election.
The two congregations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, plan to pool their resources and their more than 140,000 parishioners in the state for the “get-out-the-vote” program, which they announced Monday at will give the Georgia Capitol.
Their efforts, which will focus only on Georgia for now, are aimed at revitalizing the black church as a powerful driver of voter turnout at a time when national polls suggest that political energy among black Americans is waning – and the Enthusiasm for President Biden is waning He owes his rise to the White House in 2020 to their support.
The two churches have long largely pushed to expand and protect civil and voting rights across the country, but have generally not coordinated their messages or shared resources.
But now its leaders, Bishops Reginald T. Jackson and Thomas L. Brown Sr., say they see the risks of this year’s election, as well as recently passed legislation restricting voting rights and redistricting congressional districts in Georgia, as compelling reasons to move forward work towards a common goal.
“This is serious and critical,” said Bishop Brown of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which leads the roughly 300 churches in Georgia. “We need to take the lead and make sure our people are ready to take action, and particularly in rural Georgia, we need to make sure we are on the ground.”
Elsewhere he said that “in the civil rights movement, at least in the late ’60s and especially,” there was more “solidarity among churches across denominational lines.” He added: “I think we’ve slowed down a bit after some of that progress has been made.”
The push by churches, whose congregants lean heavily Democratic, comes as Mr. Biden struggles to regain support among black voters. In the 2020 election, Donald J. Trump won just 11 percent of the black vote in Georgia, according to exit polls. But in October, a New York Times poll found Trump was attracting 19 percent of those voters in the state.
“Given the importance of this election and the fact that we are hearing across the country that Black people are not motivated to vote and some Black people have decided that they will not vote, we felt it was important to take official action together.” said Bishop Jackson, who leads the more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia.
The budget for the voting program is modest — between $200,000 and $500,000 — but church leaders say the goal is to give the two churches a single leading voice.
Other Black faith communities are also working to turn out voters this year.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired Coalition for Economic Justice announced Thursday a voter engagement campaign in 30 states that will begin next month.
In December, the National Action Network and the Conference of National Black Churches announced a joint election campaign that will also seek to address urgent needs such as vaccinations in many communities.
Black churches have played a critical role in mobilizing Black voters for decades, often leading to Democratic victories. In Georgia, they turned out voters en masse in 2020, helping Mr. Biden flip the state blue, and they did so again in the 2021 and 2022 Senate campaigns, where Democrats also won.
In part, the collaboration between the two churches serves as a response to a well-established political network of predominantly white, conservative evangelical churches in Georgia and beyond. Its community members are an important Republican constituency that has helped shape the party’s policy goals for decades. According to a Pew Research Center study, evangelical denominations in Georgia make up more than 50 percent of all Christian churches, while the share of historically black churches is 16 percent.
“Unfortunately, over the last 30, 40 years, the black church has not been as persistent and consistent in motivating and educating our community on the issues that affect them,” Bishop Jackson said. “And what happened, what really frustrates me, is that white evangelicals have used this as an opportunity to get a lot of people into what we believe is an un-Christian mindset.”
During the 2020 election, Bishop Jackson led a program called “Operation Voter Turnout,” which focused on voter education, registration drives, mail-in voting assistance, and a coordinated Sunday voter campaign.
Now the lessons from this effort are being spread throughout the communities of both churches. Their program includes regular political listening sessions and election-related workshops; creating “personal voter plans” so community members can vote and convince their families to do the same; and weekly voter registration efforts.
“Voter registration takes place every Sunday in our churches,” said Cheryl Davenport Dozier, who helps coordinate civic engagement efforts for the AME Church in Georgia. “And we continue to provide assistance to rural communities that are still in crisis since Covid.”
She added, “Sometimes up to 100 people show up, and we have voter registration forms there so we can reach people.” Although some of those in attendance are homeless, “they still have the right to vote,” she said.
Bishop Brown said the listening sessions are particularly important in helping church leaders understand why some Black voters in the state are apathetic.
“It’s one thing to read about the apathy and discontent about the Biden administration or whoever,” he said. “I think we need listening sessions where we can talk to people on the ground about what is going on, what the discontents are, what the disappointments are, and address as much as we can with facts and decisiveness.”
In fact, leaders of both churches believe there is still time to energize one of Georgia’s most influential constituencies.
“No matter what anyone says, black people believe in the institutions that are in place to protect our rights,” said Rev. Willie J. Barber II, who has also been involved in civic engagement for the AME Church in Georgia and has done so same name as Mr. Barber from the Poor People’s Campaign. “One of the concerns is that they feel like this could easily go away. And how can we prevent that? How do I keep democracy alive so we can continue to live?”