As the presidential candidates move into the final week before
Election Day, representatives of two groups that pollsters like to
classify into religious voting blocs will descend on St. Louis.
Annual meetings of the Missouri Baptist Convention (largely white
evangelicals) and the Church of God in Christ (largely black
Protestants) will take place in downtown St. Louis in the next two
While, officially, politics will exist only in the background at
both meetings, as worship services and church business matters take
precedence, it's not a surprise to church leaders that the looming
date of Nov. 6 will be the elephant and donkey in the room at both
Many political experts expected worries about the economy to
drive the debate this election year. And they have.
Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, a
nonprofit and nonpartisan research group, said the election has been
"overwhelmingly" about the economy and health care, and yet
"religion is playing a supporting actor role this year, and not lead
But religion also has reared its head this political season more
than many had expected. Supporting actors are important to a film,
and several religious issues have tried to steal the show this year:
In the spring and summer, Catholic bishops staged prayer rallies,
marches, worship services and lectures in a campaign for "religious
liberty," hoping to galvanize opposition to a rule announced in
January by President Barack Obama's administration that said
religiously affiliated institutions, such as universities and
hospitals, must soon include free birth control coverage in their
employee health insurance.
Early indications from evangelicals that many would resist Mitt
Romney as a candidate because of his Mormon faith faded during the
general election campaign. Nevertheless, a national conversation
about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began, leading
to what many have called a "Mormon Moment."
A report this month from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
found that Americans claiming no religious affiliation had become
the largest voting bloc in the Democratic Party.
Comments about rape from Christian conservative Republican
candidates for the U.S. Senate - Missouri's Todd Akin and Indiana's
Richard Mourdock - have roiled their own candidacies and focused a
spotlight on the relationship between the Republican Party and
The two religious conventions being held in St. Louis in many
ways represent the bookends of political partisanship and religious
affiliation. The Missouri Baptist Convention leans right, and the
Church of God in Christ leans left.
Indeed, according to Pew, white evangelical voters at 73 percent,
according to the most recent numbers, are Romney's largest base of
support. At 21 percent, they are the least likely to vote for Obama.
Black Protestant voters are even more unified - 87 percent told
Pew they would vote for Obama, while only 5 percent said they
intended to vote for Romney.
But at both of the upcoming religious conventions in St. Louis,
political discussion will likely remain in the background.
"We do not have any items on the agenda related specifically to
the election," said Rob Phillips, a spokesman for the Missouri
Baptist Convention. But, he said, there's "no doubt, the election
will come up in informal discussions and private conversations."
The Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting will bring more
than 1,000 people or "messengers" representing the state's 525,000
Southern Baptists, to the Millennium Hotel today through Wednesday.
The organization is a fellowship of nearly 2,000 congregations
that cooperate with the 16 million-member Southern Baptist
Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United