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Conservative pastor advocates sitting out presidential election

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Inscribed in gold letters on a blue rug beneath the feet of the Rev. Patrick Wooden is the phrase "Preach The Word." Wooden, pastor of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, told his congregation during a recent sermon: "You don't do people a favor, ministers, by assigning your own meaning, your own interpretation, to the Scriptures. You have to say what God says."

Wooden is asking his 3,000 congregants to abstain from voting for president because neither candidate, in his eyes, upholds the Christian values he espouses.

Wooden was a major supporter of Amendment 1, which strictly defines marriage between one man and one woman and bans legal recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships. On May 9 he was pictured on the front page of The News & Observer cheering after the amendment passed.

Later that same day, President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage. His statement inspired those who had fought against the amendment and infuriated Wooden and like-minded voters in a battleground state with 15 electoral votes.

In 2008, Obama took The Old North State by just 14,000 votes out of 4.3 million cast. "It was the African-American community that helped him win here," Wooden said in a recent radio ad paid for by the National Organization For Marriage. "But President Obama has turned his back on the values of our community with his strong endorsement of the homosexual community."

While Wooden opposes Obama, he doesn't support Mitt Romney, either. "I seriously question the intelligence of anyone who believes the doctrine of Mormonism," Wooden wrote in a letter of response to Minister Curtis E. Gatewood of Faith, Hope and Justice Ministries, which holds services in Durham. Gatewood had written Wooden about his "selective scriptural amnesia" in attacking Obama and ridiculing gays and lesbians; Wooden's personal interpretation of Scripture contradicts the message in his sermon.

Republicans hope North Carolina's uncertain economy will swing the state in their favor. But if congregants follow Wooden's lead and refuse to vote for a presidential candidate, it's not who votes but who doesn't that could swing the election.

Wooden's Bible - PHOTO BY D.L. ANDERSON

At the Upper Room's Bible study - PHOTO BY D.L. ANDERSON

At the Upper Room's Bible study - PHOTO BY D.L. ANDERSON

Wooden in his office - PHOTO BY D.L. ANDERSON

This article appeared in print with the headline "No choice."

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