Pastors Discuss Church, Role in Politics; Group Focuses on Black Community, Participation

Article excerpt

Byline: Cynthia L. Garza, Times-Union staff writer

Pastors from some of Jacksonville's largest Baptist, Methodist and non-denominational churches came together at a forum last night for a wide-ranging discussion on the African-American church and its community.

Hundreds of people filled the pews of the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church to talk about issues ranging from the war in Iraq to faith-based initiatives, from the mayor's race to the use of high-stakes testing in the city's public schools.

"The voice of God is very clear on the void of knowledge . . . of not being consciously informed," Pastor Rudolph W. McKissick Jr. of the 8,000-member Bethel Baptist Institutional Church said.

Pastors said they should have a role in politics.

Large overhead screens projected the images of the pastors and the audience as they pressed through the topics.

Audience members sat with notepads and pencils, ready to jot down notes on issues that may affect them.

During the forum, pastors overwhelmingly supported Sheriff Nat Glover in the runoff election for mayor.

If elected, Glover would be Jacksonville's first black mayor.

On the issue of low voter turnout in the black community, Rudolph W. McKissick Jr. said pastors should organize busing to take people in their communities to the polls during the runoff election.

"We are trying to get into our conscience the importance of going out to vote" and to realize the impact the community can have in the mayor's race, said the Rev. Corey L. Brown, pastor for college students and young adults.

Pastors talked about how they are dealing with discussing the war in Iraq.

Some pointed to the differences between Christian and Islamic beliefs, and whether they should support President Bush in his push of the war.

"Wars are going to happen," said Pastor Candace Lewis of the New Life Community United Methodist Church. …