October 18th, 2011
08:54 AM ET

The liberal church of Herman Cain

By Eric Marrapodi and John Blake, CNN

Editor’s note: CNN’s John Blake was formerly a member of Antioch Baptist Church North. He left 13 years ago.

Atlanta (CNN) -  Herman Cain has vaulted to the top of the polls as a Republican presidential candidate, but there’s one audience that may prove tougher for him to win over: his hometown church.

Cain, a conservative who recently said African-Americans were “brainwashed” into voting Democratic, is an associate minister at an Atlanta megachurch that has been a stronghold of liberal activism and is led by a pastor who cites Malcolm X as one of his influences.

Cain is a longtime member of Antioch Baptist Church North, which sits near the former college and home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The church, founded by freed slaves 134 years ago, boasts 14,000 members and an operating budget of more than $5 million. For years Antioch has hosted a “who’s who” of civil rights activists as guest speakers, including Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young.

Antioch’s powerful senior pastor, the Rev. C.M. Alexander, doesn’t share Cain’s political philosophy, Atlanta clergy say. But Cain and Alexander are so close that Cain sang “The Impossible Dream” for the pastor’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Atlanta businessman-turned-presidential hopeful is well liked by many members of his church, though some disagree with his politics, Antioch pastors say.

Cain’s piety may be just as fascinating as his politics, interviews suggest.

“He’s a real person who is more complicated than the sound bite you may have heard from him,” says the Rev. Fredrick Robinson, a friend of Cain’s who was an associate minister at Antioch before leaving to form his own church.

At Antioch, Cain has had to share the pews with fiery critics of the Republican Party like Joe Beasley, a man born to sharecroppers who once said he’s been called the “N-word” more times than he can count.

Read about Cain's stint as an Atlanta radio talk show host

Beasley is a deacon at Antioch and serves as Southern regional director for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He also knows Cain and has no problem with his presence at Antioch.

“We’re good friends. He’s a great speaker and a great singer. He has a great love for the church,” Beasley says.

Beasley says he doesn’t talk politics with Cain, though.

“I respect him – and I want to keep my respect for him,” Beasley says.

Beasley, who worked with Cain on his unsuccessful 2004 run for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, says Antioch’s acceptance of the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO is not unusual. It’s an attitude, he says, that starts at the top with Alexander.

“The reverend’s position is when we open the door, whosoever comes, let them come,” Beasley says.

Alexander did not return calls seeking comment. Cain also was not available to comment for this article.

‘He’s family’

The black church has long been a paradox. It is one of the most politically liberal but theologically conservative institutions in the black community. Cain’s house of worship embodies some of these contradictions.

Antioch is a member of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., a denomination in which some churches do not ordain women. The denomination’s leadership publicly broke with King over his civil rights activism.

But like many black Baptist churches, Antioch has developed a strong social justice component to its ministry over the years. It offers ministries for people suffering from drug addition and those infected with HIV/AIDS, and it has been a Sunday stopover for black politicians running for office.

Cain and his family blossomed in this world, according to some people who’ve known them at Antioch.

Robinson, the former Antioch minister, says Cain’s parents were pillars of the church. Cain graduated from Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, and went away to make his fortune. He returned to Antioch amid “great fanfare,” Robinson says.

Cain eventually became a fixture in the church’s deacon’s corner, a row of seats near the pulpit. On any Sunday, Cain could be seen sitting with the other deacons in his favorite light-blue dress shirt shouting, “Preach Rev!” or “Say it,” as the minister preached, Robinson says.

In 2002, Cain became a licensed minister at Antioch, he told Christianity Today.

Antioch members accept Cain because “he’s family,” Robinson says.

“If Herman Cain was one of those real uppity ‘I’m too good for regular blacks folks’ kind of person, he wouldn’t have mingled with us like he did,” Robinson says.

Robinson left Antioch to form his own church in rural Georgia and invited Cain to speak three times. All Robinson could afford to pay Cain was $200. It didn’t matter to Cain, whose speaking fee is usually far more, Robinson says.

Cain accepted the offer and brought a group of worshippers along with him to support Robinson’s small church, the pastor says.

Cain’s views on race aren’t simplistic, Robinson says. Cain says he doesn’t think racism is a huge obstacle for blacks, but Robinson says Cain has privately told him it’s a problem and once even complained about “the good ol’ boy” network in Georgia Republican politics.

“He knows there’s racism in the tea party, but he’ll never say that because they are his supporters. That bothers a lot of people, but he plays to that base not because he’s a sellout but because he’s a politician,” Robinson says.

In one video on his campaign website, “The Official Herman Cain Train Music Video,” Cain poses with young African-American and white supporters at a tea party rally and bellows, "To those who say the tea party is a racist organization, eat your words!"

The Rev. Gerald Durley, senior pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta and a longtime activist, recalls when Cain performed the key song from “Man of La Mancha” for Antioch’s pastor.

Cain sang “The Impossible Dream” in his deep baritone and “got a standing ovation,” Durley says. (Cain, who recently released an album of gospel tunes, also belted out the song at a recent campaign stop.)

Cain’s conservative message that blacks should forget about racism and focus on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps doesn’t mesh with his pastor’s philosophy, says Durley, himself a longtime leader among Atlanta clergy.

When the evangelist Billy Graham visited Atlanta in 1994 for a crusade, Alexander demanded that Graham include blacks on the various committees that organized his speaking event at the Georgia Dome, Durley says.

“He’s not going to talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” Durley says of Antioch’s pastor. “It’s about providing bootstraps.”

Alexander has said pastors should be agents of social change, not “religious pop stars.” He says Malcolm X and Rosa Parks are some of his civil rights influences.

“It’s not enough to talk about what black folks ought to do,” Alexander once said. “We have to also look at what government is not doing to ensure fairness and equal opportunity. God is on the side of the least of these. Jesus said, ‘The first shall become the last and the last shall become the first.’”

But Durley says Alexander can separate Cain’s political and religious beliefs.

“(Alexander) has respect for him,” Durley says. “Cain has been there for years. I would imagine that Alexander would say, ‘I can separate his spiritual soul and salvation from his political dogma.’”

‘Very clear … faith walk’

Ken Blackwell - former Cincinnati mayor, former Ohio secretary of state and fellow African-American Republican - first worked with Cain on an economic growth and tax reform commission in the mid-1990s.

“(Cain) is a person who tries to live his faith in the way he conducts himself in public and private life,” Blackwell says. “He doesn’t just talk the talk. He actually lives what he says and believes in.

“We have prayed with and for one another,” Blackwell says.

Both Cain and Blackwell are cancer survivors, and the two men leaned on each other during their health struggles. Blackwell beat prostate cancer in 2000 and Cain was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2006. Cain has said his faith, coupled with the right medical treatment, was a major reason he was able to fight and beat the disease.

“I was able to see he has a very clear and discernible faith walk he was very comfortable with and very dependent on as he met his challenges,” Blackwell says.

Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and former Christian Coalition leader, says the time Cain spent behind the podium at Antioch has helped him connect with voters on the campaign trail.

“Herman Cain can hold his own with Mike Huckabee in terms of his ability to connect with and really develop a rapport with voters of faith,” Reed says. Cain heads back to Iowa next week to speak at a Faith and Freedom event with Reed.

“He shares their faith, he shares their values and he’s extremely good at being able to communicate his views,” Reed says. “I think someone who is comfortable with the lexicon of evangelicals is clearly going to over-perform in the early primaries.”

But while voters have welcomed Cain and helped rocket him to the top of polls, there are some fellow African-American clergy who are not as accepting.

The Rev. Artis Johnson, an Atlanta pastor, wrote an open letter to Cain in a local online newspaper, the Cascade Patch, after Cain said last month that blacks were brainwashed into voting Democratic.

“We are not circus animals or attendees of hypnotism shows that cannot make the reasonable and right decisions about who our greatest political enemies are, ” Johnson wrote.

In his letter, Johnson asked Cain why blacks would vote Republican when the party desires to disenfranchise blacks at the voting booth, denies the power of racism and believes the free market is going to address the needs of the poor and elderly.

“In my heart,” Johnson wrote, “I was hoping that you would represent a politician that did more than appeal to the worst in the electorate.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Herman Cain • Politics

soundoff (1,058 Responses)
  1. John Richardson

    "but he plays to that base not because he’s a sellout but because he’s a politician,” Um, well, ....

    October 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  2. diego

    herman cain caught lying about the fed, see for yourself, and flip floping


    October 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  3. Lame

    Stories like this from the liberal media are so LAME. I don't care where he goes to church and whose banquet he sang for. Black, white, green or pink – I don't care what color his skin is. I care that he may actually be qualified to run our country, having some sound business experience unlike our current president.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Dave

      Funny that you say that now, when it was all you could do during the election to crucify Obama for something that his pastor said. Hypocrite.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • jERRY


      October 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • KareemCheez


      If it was revealed that Herman Cain's longtime pastor had screamed "God damn America" at the pulpit immediately following 9/11, and if Cain continued to worship in his church, then Cain's career as a GOP politician would be over. End of story.
      People like you lack the capacity to understand this basic concept. This is why we are filled with both pity and disgust for your type.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  4. KareemCheez

    Another day, another hit piece on Herman Cain.

    I'm starting to think he may by Kryptonite for CNN.

    Gee, do ya think we'd be seeing these daily attacks if Cain were a democrat??

    October 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • cronewinter

      Cain is not a decent person therefore he could not be a democrat. His brand of Christianity fits well with the glen beck crowd..no decency there.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  5. crystal ball

    calm down guys, it is gonna be another 4 years for Obama.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  6. labandme

    Voting for a minister is as bad as voting for a musim. All they want to do is convert. Don't do it.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  7. Bubba

    You guys are all nuts. I've never heard such a bunch of ignorant babble since the last CNN story.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  8. StopTheMadness

    Here's the thing people are missing the most. Herman Cain's exact words. "I never learned to be politically correct." Need I say more?

    October 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  9. Rich

    because he's suckin up to the the Koch bros and tea buys

    October 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  10. Bob

    Liberal church?
    CNN and other liberal media have endless stories about the danger of evangelical churches mixing politics and religion.
    Liberal churches get a mulligan, though, from this supposed danger to the Republic.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  11. Just Me

    Notice how the media jumps from one flavor of the week/month based on their contrived poll which according to them sugget the front runner. Don't buy into the hype people. Just observe. Nothing here to see. Cain will not be the Republican nominee. Just the flavor of the week, and it helps sells newspapers and advertisment. So don't be a pawn for the media.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  12. TommiGI

    Sorry, can't vote for an "associate minister at an Atlanta megachurch" for POTUS. Who's next?

    October 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  13. Stacy

    I likely would not vote for Mr. Cain and it has nothing to do with his faith or color, but everything to do with political philosophy. HOWEVER, I do think the man should be admired and looked up to as a not only a successful businessman, but also for his and his friends' ability to put politics aside and see the true character in one another, regardless of party affiliation. THAT is something millions in BOTH parties should strive to emulate. KUDOS to him for setting that example!

    October 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  14. chris

    big deal. the liberals are allowed to be huge hypocrites.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • cecilia

      I don't care what they say about his liberal leanings – this is one liberal that will not vote for him

      October 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Joshua Ludd

    Hmm... I guess Cain would say they are all just brainwashed.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  16. Veritas

    Amazing how many ignorant clowns the GOP can produce...

    October 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • cecilia

      you are so right – it is hard to imagine why they come up with these bozos – maybe if they quit looking for the good ole boy or girl who can not construct a sentence, they might actually look for someone with intelligence – the closest they have is Romney and they don't want him for some unknown reason – I thank God everyday I am a Democrat

      October 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Going In Circles

      **** Amazing how many ignorant clowns the GOP can produce...

      Sarah Palin
      Michelle Bachman
      Rick Perry
      Ron Paul
      Huckleberry hound
      Herman Cain
      Donald Trump
      Rudy Gulliano
      Newt gagfish
      Jersey Shore Chris
      Rick Insanitarium
      Bozo the clown
      Three stooges
      Marx Brothers

      Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.............Whos next ?
      Koch Brothers working overtime.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  17. Dean

    Was CNN investigating the Obama / Rev. Wright connection in this much detail in the 2008 election? I think not. CNN will examine any GOP/Conservative candidate in minute detail, in order to get potentially damaging information made public. CNN will give Libs/Dems a pass every time.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • bsitz

      They were.....w t f just making stuff up now?

      October 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • LiberalFarmer

      And Faux News doesn't do just the opposite? I guess I am missing your point.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • cecilia

      think again there Bud – you say that CNN examines every detail?? have you watched Fox News lately?? well of course you have ergo you are misinformed

      October 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Joshua Ludd

      Are you kidding me? Funny how "gave a pass" always seems to really mean "paid even more attention to and reported on even more melodramatically". Maybe you should go back and actually LOOK at some of that coverage rather than just make excuses.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • StopTheMadness

      Wow are you a moron or what? Do you not remember the media blast about his preacher and himself? How the hell can you even justify trying to talk politics when you can't remember 3 years ago? Sometimes people like you just need to be put out of our misery.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      They actually covered it a whole lot more than this. Thanks for commenting in a way that let's us know we can ignore you in the future, though.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Rich in NJ

      Dean: are you kidding? The Obama/Wright connection was displayed and dissected. Not only is this article not an "investigation" – it makes Cain look reasonably decent. Unless you're a Repuglican who thinks that even going to church with a liberal is wrong.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Going In Circles

      *************** Dean

      Was CNN investigating the Obama / Rev. Wright connection in this much detail in the 2008 election? I think not. CNN will examine any GOP/Conservative candidate in minute detail, in order to get potentially damaging information made public. CNN will give Libs/Dems a pass every time.


      CNN not only posted stories about Rev Wright, it also posted video clips.
      Seems that anytime something "YOU" dont like is posted
      you scream biased.
      STFU !!!!!!

      October 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Ran

      ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! The entire media was relentless investigating Obama's pastor. You just can't accept the fact that people voted for Obama even when the info about his pastor came out. Herman Cain's pastor should not matter either.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • JH

      First, If you search 'Reverend Wright' in the top right search bar and look in 2007 and 2008 there are about 5 articles about how damaging the fiasco was.
      Second, I didn't really see any push in this article. I'm an independent, and I thought there wasn't a noticeable bias. The author doesn't call his church crazy and he doesn't say that Cain has gone against them. He says that though Cain's politics have always been an area where he differed from others in his church, he is highly respected in the church. He even points out that Cain spoke at Antioch's church for almost no cost.
      Third, and this only applies if you do – I don't know you so I won't assume, but if you watch Fox News or read it online go ahead and post an article here as a reply which has to do with Democrats and politics, I'd be happy to point out what makes an article biased.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • callmecrazy

      You are sooo right. No one ever questioned anything about Obama. No one ever accused him of being a terrorist or being a Muslim or that he went to church with an anti-american pastor. Nooo, nobody accused him of anything.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  18. jm

    He is playing both ends toward the middle, while raking in tons of dough from the koch brothers. He is their ploy and they have many ploys, such as bringing in some of the dumbest women on the planet to do their dirty work. They are totally corrupt and disgusting. These puppets they pay to do their dirty work will say or do anything to get their hands on the dough and at the same time feel as if they are the most important person in the world. Sarah Palin.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bob

      Paranoid lefties think the Koch brothers are everywhere, it is hilarious.
      They actually have a real succesful business to run. Unlike the evil George Soros...

      October 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  19. labandme

    Can't Americans find a NORMAL person to lead? Just one?

    October 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Sorry, that bird flew the coup long ago when we all allowed the fringe take over and speak for the moderates. Enjoy our whacky policies!

      October 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      As long as their are closed primaries, we will never get good leaders that truly speak for the people. We'll just be stuck with whoever panders to the blindly partisan base the most.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Anomic Office Drone


      Wow. That was a hideous error. Sorry everyone. I just gave up coffee.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Leprakawn

      Please define "normal."

      October 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Leprakawn

      @ AOD:
      As for your comment above, you missed the typo on that one! "Thanks for commenting in a way that let's us know we can ignore you in the future, though."

      That should be "...that lets us know..."

      October 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  20. ED FL

    Sorry Mr CAIN but you are now in the big leagues of Politcal endeavors. YOU AIN"TGOT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • skipca

      Big league of political endeavors? have you forgotten who is president? He's is not and has never been in the big league of anything except ineptness. Cain, in case you haven't noticed, is being pushed as the CNN candidate to oppose Obama because Cnn thinks he is the least dangerous. Your president went to the Reverend Wright's church for 20 years and got nothing in the way of bigotry? Pulease.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Really??? The public and the polls seem to disagree with you....

      October 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.