Tennessee Democratic senatorial candidate Harold Ford gave perhaps the most spiritually insightful remarks of any political candidate on the night of the mid-term elections.
In contrast, surrounded by wealthy, all-white Republicans, victor Bob Corker neither addressed religious issues nor made meaningful comments.
But Corker and Republicans did leave the nation with a lasting impression: race baiting still works in Tennessee, the buckle of the Bible belt. Thanks to the racist, playboy ad, which tipped the election in the Republican’s favor, Corker will long carry the label as “Bob ‘Call Me’ Corker.”
That ad showed a bare-shouldered white woman—an actress playing a blond Playboy bunny—who winks and whispers for African-American Harold Ford Jr. to, “Call me.”
Corker’s failure to get that ad off the air and his not so thinly veiled racist references disclosed a spiritual deficit.
Ford, on the other hand, conceded his defeat with a citation from Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He urged his supporters not to be angry or lose faith in a political process that is “sometimes demeaning and debasing.”
“I’m going to pray and ask my good Lord and savior to give me the strength and the wisdom and the ability to grow, and not only be a better person, but be a better servant from it,” he said.
Calling Ephesians 6:12 his “favorite piece of Scripture,” Ford cited part of that passage, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.”
The full text reads: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness, in heavenly places (RSV).”
Ford did not explicitly identify what he meant by “principalities and powers.” Did he mean negative TV ads? Political misdirection and distortion? The entire election process?
He surely saw but could not say that racism is one of the dark principalities and powers in American culture, especially with the white, evangelical southern culture.
CNN’s exit polls of 2,497 voters showed that evangelical, white church-attendees voted overwhelmingly against Ford.
Only 33 percent of self-identified “white evangelical/born again” respondents voted for Ford, compared to 65 percent who said they voted for Corker.
Only 38 percent of those who attend church more than weekly voted for Ford, compared to 61 percent who supported Corker.
White Protestants voted for Corker by a larger margin than white Catholics. Sixty-one percent of white Protestants voted for Corker, while 38 percent voted for Ford. That compared to 54 percent of white Catholics who backed Corker and 45 percent who supported Ford.
What does polling data suggest spiritually?
Most white Tennessee Christians looked at the heritage of a man, not his heart, when they voted against Harold Ford, making race to be a key factor.
Republicans encouraged that look when they played their southern strategy of slinging racial mud.
The end result was that the voting booth became the second most segregated place in the South, behind the Sunday morning church.
We are indeed wrestling with the principalities and power that feel welcomed in white church. God help us.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.