Coates’s Megachurch Opens Door to Get Money Out Maryland
Let’s face it—in most of America, the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United is predominantly white and middle and upper middle class. But in Maryland a significant initiative is changing that picture and may be setting an example that other communities can learn from.
Reverend Delman Coates is a black Baptist preacher who combines a rigorous Christian faith with a progressive, activist political vision. As head pastor at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., Coates in 12 years has grown his church from a congregation of 1,500 into a 9,000-member megachurch.
Raised in a traditional Baptist church, Coates earned graduate degrees from Harvard and Columbia. He first drew wide attention in 2014 when he ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland as running mate to Heather Mizeur, an openly lesbian left-liberal Democratic candidate for governor. Coates felt good about taking that stand. He told The Amendment Gazette, “The country needed to see a black Baptist minister in partnership with the LGBT community.”
While Coates and Mizeur lost the primary, Coates decided to ramp up his political activity, in the tradition of the black church as bedrock of the civil rights struggle. “Members of our congregation want to see their faith put into action,” he says.
So in 2016, when Get Money Out Maryland (GMOM), the main organization working in Maryland for a constitutional amendment, asked Coates if he’d help in that struggle, Coates readily said yes. It helped that the amendment resolution GMOM was pushing also calls for guaranteeing the right to vote (and have your vote counted) for all adult citizens, at a time when voter suppression and erosion of the Voting Rights Act have become hot issues.
“African Americans see the connection between money and politics and access to the ballot,” Coates says. He adds, “What good is it that we have the right to vote if others choose our candidates?”
As a result, Coates permitted GMOM to actively gather signatures on its statewide petition at the church on two consecutive Sundays. (GMOM and others are lobbying the Maryland General Assembly to pass a resolution asking for an Article V convention on these issues.) Coates also included information about the resolution in the church program and spoke about it from the pulpit.
As a result, GMOM activists were able to gather more than 1,000 signatures on their petition at Mount Ennon. In addition, Coates says, members of the congregation may well go to Annapolis and call their legislators.
As of this writing, March 2, the state resolution is still very much in play within the Maryland legislature. In 2015, the resolution passed the state senate and an amended version passed the house. The two versions were not reconciled in conference, so the measure died with the end of the session.
Susan Ogden, the vice president of GMOM, said, “There is no right to vote stated in the Constitution. Since the Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act, this issue has become much more critical. The black community which signed the petition has validated its importance.”
“We should be reaching out more to African American communities to build citizen coalitions,” Ogden says. “It’s been great working with Mount Ennon and the Rev. Coates; he’s an exceptional person.”
Coates told The Gazette that he and his parishioners have also been working on issues such as criminal justice reform and foreclosure. “We need a multi-racial, interfaith movement that includes people of faith and people of no professed faith.”
The corrupting influence of money in politics affects people from every conceivable background. The movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to abolish corporate constitutional rights and end the doctrine of spending money as a form of constitutionally protected speech can only be successful when people of goodwill, regardless of their political differences, come together to bring integrity back to the political and legislative processes.