‘All black people are not the same, but in the larger scale, we’re very religious and very family-oriented people…’
(Associated Press) In the eight years since he became a pastor at First Immanuel Baptist Church, Todd Johnson says he’s seen his congregation’s politics make a subtle shift.
The Philadelphia church, which recently hosted a Donald Trump campaign event reaching out to black voters, has “more people now who are more open to voting for someone other than a Democrat,” Johnson said.
The president’s sparse support among African Americans has shown few signs of increasing from the 6% of black voters he won in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. But that isn’t stopping the campaign from trying to make inroads.
The campaign’s visit to First Immanuel suggests that, as tough as that pitch will be for the GOP, faith-based appeals may provide a valuable way to start the conversation.
“All black people are not the same, but in the larger scale, we’re very religious and very family-oriented people,” said South Carolina pastor Mark Burns, a black televangelist who led Republicans in a prayer for Trump at the party’s 2016 convention. “So therefore, the black church is still the gateway to the black community.”
Johnson described himself as a longtime Republican and “a conservative constitutionalist evangelical.” He also acknowledged that his congregation has a diversity of views.
Discussion at Thursday’s event at First Immanuel focused on the Trump-era economy, which has been strong enough to reduce black unemployment to a record low in 2018.
But abortion was on the mind of Melanie Collette, one of a few dozen people in the audience.
Collette, first vice president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women, touted Trump’s opposition to abortion and wondered whether the issue had “been ceded to just the white evangelicals to talk about.”
“I don’t hear us talking about it in the black community,” added Collette, 49, who described herself as a non-evangelical Christian.
Trump’s anti-abortion stance is out of step with most black Protestants, 64% of whom said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to Pew data from last year.
But as Republicans boost their outreach to Latinos, women and black voters by visiting swing states, even a small uptick could pay dividends.
Another attendee, 53-year-old John Petty of Philadelphia, supports Trump. He said some of his relatives “hardly ever go to church,” but they have “strong moral standards.”
“If you tell them, ‘You agree a lot with the evangelical community,’ they balk at that,” Petty said.