The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday this week, with more than 30 churches nationwide delivering politically themed sermons in defiance of a federal law that prohibits churches and other nonprofits from endorsing candidates.
The IRS has already received complaints about the sermons. A spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Los Angeles Times, “These pastors have decided to thumb their noses at the Internal Revenue Service and at the whole concept that the church is a place where partisanship should be left at the door.”
Were the pastors right to voice their views on the presidential election, or should partisan politics be kept out of the church?
I believe that Christians should obey every valid authority in an exemplary manner. The Bible teaches that we should all be in subjection to our governments, because God is the one who has established them to keep order and to protect us, to reward good and to punish evil.
The Bible also teaches that human governments are His servants and that they are accountable to Him. God blesses governments that honor Him in how they rule, and God allows, and even causes, painful consequences when governments contradict or deny Him.
That being understood, I believe that in a free country like ours, the government should keep its censorial hands out of the pastor’s study and out of the pulpit.
Politics always involves morals, every political candidate takes some form of moral stance, and it is the pastor’s responsibility before God to communicate biblical morality to his church and to his culture.
I don’t endorse particular candidates from the pulpit, but I don’t fault those who do based on biblical principles. And I don’t think churches in America should be forced to pay what is essentially a “free speech” tax should the government remove the tax-exempt status of a church that happens to publicly favor a particular political candidate.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
I have to admit that I struggle with the issue of whether pastors have the right to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Currently, religious leaders are prohibited from doing this. And if they do, their church or religious entity runs the risk of losing its tax-exempt status.
As a former church pastor and someone who occasionally preaches, I think that a religious leader should have the right to speak about any topic of his or her choosing from the pulpit.
In my view, this is the case because the pulpit is usually considered a sacred forum and the local congregation gives the pastor the authority to speak. However, I do believe in the separation of church and state.
Interestingly, in this country, pastors were free to endorse political candidates from the pulpit until 1954. That’s when the “Johnson Amendment” was enacted, which prohibited clergy from expressing their opinions about electoral candidates from the pulpit.
Perhaps the interpretation of that amendment needs to be reconsidered. Some, for example, argue that then-Texas Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the bill to silence his critics, and that it was never his intention to stop churches from supporting political candidates.
It’s probably best to abide by the current federal law. However, that doesn’t mean clergy can’t give recommendations to their members, especially if they seek it. I would think this could easily be done in a private setting without compromising their tax-exempt status.
CHAPLAIN AL GARCILAZO
Glendale Adventist Medical Center
Partisan politics should be left at the church door. If pastors want to speak their partisan minds, they are free to do so — but they are also at risk of losing their tax-exempt status. I believe fervently in the separation of church and state, but I also believe we preachers — to paraphrase the book of Acts — need to obey God rather than men. There is a way to do that — I personally have done that — in a way that is within the law.
For example, it is OK to be against a war, and even to preach against a war. But it is not OK to recommend one candidate over another.
In my opinion, this country is great because we have the concept of the separation of church and state, and Democrats sit down and worship with Republicans. Those preachers who would purposely flout the IRS rules want a church of Republicans only or Democrats only — not exactly what Jesus had in mind!
When St. Paul said there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, he might well have added “Democrat or Republican.” The partisan preachers miss the point.
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
La Cañada Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
Of course partisan politics should be left at the door of our houses of worship.
I have noticed a recent trend among some rabbis and other clergy members to embark on a mission to convert congregants to their political views.
It almost seems as if their passion for spirituality has been replaced by a love of politics — and this disturbing tendency appears to be growing as election day nears.
I don’t understand how clergy members can justify introducing divisive and sometimes mean-spirited political debates into oases of spirituality and hope.
In my view, people come to our synagogues or churches precisely because they want to hear a positive, uplifting message in a world gone mad with opinionated rhetoric.
Once politics enter the pulpit, an already estranged population will feel more alienated, and our half-filled chapels will be left empty.
My advice to fellow clergy members is to stick to what they do best: offering guidance in matters of faith. There is nothing wrong with sharing one’s political views in a private setting, but to declare those same views in public, under the banner of — and presumably with the blessing of — an official religious organization, is wrong and should not be tolerated.
In these turbulent times, the last thing people need is another shrill voice added to the cacophony of political chatter.
What they do need is a spiritually constructive, positive outlook on our uncertain future.
Let’s stay away from self-serving, gratuitous politicking and be available for people when they need us most.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
This current Big Brother climate of muzzling churches from opposing immoral candidates was not always the law of the land.
In the past, preachers spoke strongly for or against politicians according to scriptural definitions of good and evil. It was not some fair and charitable reason that we came to our current prohibition; it was those same politicians who got their way in silencing the opposition to their corruption.
Churches operate almost completely by volunteerism and personal donations, so putting us under the thumb of the IRS is destructive. We guard our tax-exempt status lest we no longer may afford food distributions to the poor, or spiritual nourishment for our reflective citizens.
Yet here we are, forbidden to speak about candidates, under penalty of lawsuits and persecution from every god-hating group like the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (whose goal is essentially the elimination of all spiritual contribution in matters of America’s governance). Its website states: “We do oppose efforts by the Religious Right to impose its theological views on the public by governmental action.”
They don’t oppose pagans from doing this, or atheists, or other immoral agents; but if conservative Christians attempt to promote biblical values in the supposed free marketplace of ideas, then the likes of the aforementioned and the ACLU, et al, start persecuting the church. And there are foolish church folk who support them!
We’re getting to be like China. There you’ll find two types of churches: state and underground. One has governmental monitoring; the other hides but enjoys free expression.
This recent bit of civil disobedience may be just the catalyst to help reinstate America’s religious freedom.
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
The issue here is not one of being partisan. There is a big difference between a church advocating one particular political agenda and the church endorsing a candidate.
The church, as the representative of the “Prince of Peace,” has a clear mission: to promote all avenues that point to peace.
Therefore, the church has not only the right but also the obligation to endorse candidates who further the cause of peace.
It also has an obligation to come out overtly against candidates whose vocabularies are filled with terms of war.
It is ridiculous to think the church cannot have a conscience, and even more absurd to believe that the church cannot act on its conscience.
The church has its own set of rules pointing to peace as the highest order of being, whether political or otherwise. This transcends party lines and political aspirations.
I think it’s time for a national debate and discussion about the role of religion in politics. If need be, the codes should be changed to accommodate organizations that want to live out their collective conscience. The church, as the Body of Christ, cannot live in the shadows or be stifled because of tax regulations.
FR. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN
In His Shoes
Armenian Church Youth Ministries