Fifteen minutes into Sundays service at St. Pauls Baptist, before the sermon, the blessing of the babies, and the passing of the plate, Pastor Greg Moss issued an invitation to his predominantly black congregation: Those who had not yet voted could caravan with him to an uptown polling place after the final hymn.
Then, after counseling the 2,000 or so worshipers to make up their own minds who to vote for, Moss revealed his own candidate of choice by unbuttoning his jacket to reveal the front of his T-shirt: OMG. Obamas My Guy. The reaction: Cheers and a standing ovation.
Less than two miles away, at First Baptist, Pastor Mark Harris also offered an invitation to his mostly white evangelical audience: The church would be happy to offer transportation to those who needed a ride to the polls Sunday afternoon.
And to help them decide who to vote for, the 1,000 or so worshipers leaving the morning service could pick up various voter guides in the foyer. All of them pointed to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the values candidate with biblically correct positions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the federal debt.
The moral of this tale of two Baptist churches in Charlotte?
Turnout by churchgoers is crucial to both Obama and Romney in the days leading up to Nov. 6.
Black pastors and their flocks may have had some qualms months ago about Obamas embrace of same-sex marriage. But theyre now major players in the presidents push for early voting. Pollsters predict Obama will again get 95 percent or more of the African American vote.
White evangelical pastors and their congregations, meanwhile, appear willing to look beyond their earlier worries about Romneys Mormonism and his past record of moderation on abortion and homosexuality. A Pew poll taken before the first presidential debate had Romney getting 74 percent of the white evangelical vote a number that analysts expect to exceed 80 percent by Election Day.
Churches join the machine
By law, churches tax-exempt organizations are not permitted to endorse individual candidates from the pulpit.
But, especially in presidential election years, houses of worship have effectively become part of both parties GOTV Get out the Vote machines.
On Sunday the last Sunday to vote early in North Carolina this year the Gotta Vote bus tour engineered by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee made its Charlotte stop at predominantly black New Shiloh Baptist Church.
And Moss push to get his members to the polls the church even provided snacks for those standing in line to vote Sunday was part of a longstanding campaign called Souls to the Polls.
First Baptist, whose guest speakers in the past have included former GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, will have Citizenship Sunday next weekend.
Harris said his pre-Election Day remarks will challenge his members to do their Christian duty by voting for candidates who will help bring biblical principles to government.
And though he wont endorse Romney by name, the ways Harris plans to frame the main issues the sanctity of life, the sanctity of traditional marriage, religious freedom and getting our debt under control will present the Republican challenger in a better light than the Democratic president.
I recognize that the values I hold as an evangelical Christian do line up more closely with the philosophical direction Romney would take the country, said Harris, president of the Baptist State Convention and a leader this year in the successful campaign to pass a constitutional amendment reaffirming North Carolinas ban on same-sex marriage.
The Southern Baptist church in uptown offers voter guides from the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the North Carolina Family Policy Council and the North Carolina Values Coalition.
The Values Coalitions guide not only purports to give the stands of Obama, Romney and their parties, but also the Bibles. Verses from Genesis, the Gospels and other biblical books are cited on issues such as Military Social Engineering (gays in the military) and Appointment of Conservative Judges.
Over at St. Pauls Baptist, theres also a politics table in the lobby. It has a stack of guides from the North Carolina Family Policy Council, too. But more plentiful are cards and brochures from Democratic candidates and a list of recommendations all of them Democrats by the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Moss defended his and other black churchs coziness with the Democratic Party and its candidates, but added that Republican and Libertarian candidates are also welcome to drop off their brochures.
The African-American church has always been a bastion of political life, he said. Basically, we had nothing else (for many years). So people depended on the church for guidance and to keep them informed. We still have that tradition.
Asked whether his T-shirt show of support for Obama at the pulpit crossed the line separating church and state, Moss said: This is my shirt. Im an individual. And I have a right just like Billy Graham to choose whom I support.
Graham recently met in his Montreat home with Romney, posing for pictures with him and telling the candidate he would do all he could to help him. Subsequent newspaper ads from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association featured remarks from Graham calling for the election of candidates who served biblical principles on issues such as same-sex marriage a comment some took as a virtual endorsement of Romney.
Praying for the country
After Sunday service, a few dozen members of St. Pauls Baptist showed up at the Hal Marshall Annex an early voting site to cast their ballots.
In some cases, the church members, like their pastor, wore their enthusiasm for Obama on their shirts and their hats.
Hes only had four years; it took more than four years (for Republicans) to destroy the economy, said Antoinette Brown, 44, a graphic designer from Charlotte whose hat read 4 More Years.
She acknowledged that, as a member of a Baptist church, she was taken aback a little bit by Obamas stand on gay marriage.
But I think he wants to embrace everybody and bring equality, she said. Were not supposed to judge.
Back at First Baptist, one of the Sunday Bible classes dubbed God Chasers ended with members calling out concerns to pray about: marriages in trouble, relatives who are ill, friends who have died and, one person added, the election.
Most Sundays, its Glenn Mace, a retired Christian broadcaster from Gastonia, who asks that the election be included in the prayer requests. On Sunday, somebody beat him to it.
I ask to pray for the country, explained Mace, 78, a self-described conservative who worries that Obama is trampling on religious liberty. I see a definite drift and a change in our freedom.
As for Romneys Mormonism a religion the Southern Baptist Convention labels a cult Mace said it shouldnt be an issue in a presidential race.
Were not looking for a president of the Baptist State Convention, he said. Were looking for a president to guide our country.