Saturday, September 27, 2008

Politics and the Pulpit

Let me be clear: I will not be endorsing or condemning any candidate for public office tomorrow morning as I enter the pulpit. There are other preachers, however, who will be doing just that tomorrow. Code named the "Pulpit Initiative," a small number of preachers who have been recruited and encouraged by a conservative Christian entity, the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that was founded with support from among others James Dobson, will go to their pulpits and defy a 54 year old IRS ban on pulpit electioneering. The point of this effort is simply this, the ADF wants the IRS to go after these preachers and their churches so that they can sue to overturn the ban.

Now, I must confess (as I often must) that I have endorsed a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I've done this deed on this blog (I don't think it's a secret--if you read the blog). That said, I make a strong distinction between what I do on this blog and what I do in the pulpit. Yes, I address important public issues -- many of which have political implications -- and on the Sunday before the election I will preach a sermon encouraging my congregants to vote their conscience, consciences hopefully informed by their faith. But, I will not endorse nor will I tell them that a vote one person over the other is better or more Christian. I won't forbid anyone from coming to the Table -- as if I have any authority to do so (after all, it's the Lord's Table, not mine). I understand that in my congregation there are Republicans and Democrats, Independents and maybe even a few Third Party enthusiasts. We are, however, in spite of our political differences, one body in Christ.

As for that ADF event, I think it's wrong headed and probably will end up with the ADF lawyers getting in trouble for advising clients to break the law. The pastors and the churches, well some of them may get punished. But ultimately it's really not about the IRS. It's about whether we should use politics to divide the body of Christ. Even as I boldly support Barack Obama, I do not believe that support for him is more Christian than support for John McCain. Ultimately endorsing candidates from the pulpit is a bad idea. Whatever I do here, I do as a private citizen.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Would it be "possible" ... surely not probable ... that these ministers who specify who their parishioners should vote for could be prosecuted for a "hate crime". It's a stretch, but we know they are breaking the law and they are targeting a particular group in their preachings. If they are indicating that a vote for "the other candidate" is not Christian enough or that they are not allowed to take the sacrement they are alienating people. I appreciate your thoughtful post on this matter ... faith should be about bringing people together, it should be about love and acceptance and far too often I see the opposite ...

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

On what might happen to churches/clergy, no there is no law that they can be prosecuted under. We have freedom of speech and assembly. What is at issue is the IRS's ability to limit political speech in exchange for tax exempt status. No one's going to jail, but churches could be forced to pay taxes.

I personally do not see this as an issue worth fighting for. I wouldn't endorse from the pulpit even if there wasn't a tax liability. But that's me!