I just learned from an article on Fox News that nearly 1,000 preachers planned to preach presidential politics this past Sunday as part of a quiet protest of a 1954 IRS regulation.
I’m much happier to have learned of the protest after the fact than learning of it in church on Sunday.
The regulation, dubbed the Johnson Amendment, prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from making political endorsements. In exchange for receiving tax-exempt status from the federal government, it is illegal for a church to intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
About 1,000 pastors decided to defy the law in a constitutional challenge that they hope will force the issue into the courtroom where they would argue the issue of Freedom of Speech.
When I was looking for a church here in Charleston, I explored a few websites. Prior to my first in-person visit, I checked out a few podcasts. One of the first ones I listened to was well before the 2008 presidential election and before the final candidates had been selected. At the time, Hillary Clinton was a leading possibility for the Democratic nomination. But a pastor of a church near the one I ultimately decided to join took exception to this fact, and said so from the pulpit.
I will paraphrase what I recall him saying to his congregation:
“Don’t get me wrong, I love women. I love my wife. And I don’t have a problem with a woman being elected. But I don’t know what God’ll do to America if that woman is elected.”
Maybe it’s because I have enough common sense to know that neither political party acts as if it has a corner of the market on loving thy neighbor, especially if that neighbor is of a different political persuasion.
Maybe it’s because I’ve heard a lot of self-righteousness coming from people who are overly involved in politics that promotes party harder than they ever promote a walk with God.
Or maybe it’s because I agree that the role of a pastor is to help deepen one’s relationship with Christ rather than to tell you who to vote for, or in this case, who not to vote for.
But I wish I had been present during that service at the time it was recorded, because I would have politely gotten up and walked out in the middle of it, in my own form of “quiet protest.”
For whatever reason, I agree with the Johnson Amendment.
I don’t have an issue with churches receiving tax-exempt status. I think it’s important that church and state maintain a certain amount of separation because I think that allows for more religious freedom. Pastors seem to not want the government meddling in their day-to-day business to begin with.
But if you’re going to take that position, I think you have an obligation to, pardon the expression, practice what you preach.
My pastor is not only my clergyman, but a close friend. We talk politics from time to time. But we talk issues, not candidates. We talk about issues and how they relate to the Bible or Christ’s teaching. We talk about what Christ said about issues that we still deal with today. On a one-on-one basis, we even debate our personal feelings on contemporary issues.
But he doesn’t tell me who I should or shouldn’t vote for, and I don’t tell him who I think he should or shouldn’t vote for.
I truly feel blessed to be part of a congregation where everyone isn’t in the same political party. As a group, we struggle over individual issues, and vote on our own for whomever we feel best matches our beliefs. But we are smart enough to understand that neither candidate, in every way, is a perfect match with everything we individually believe.
The problem with a pastor preaching presidential politics from the pulpit is that too often, you run the risk of the buffoonery that I heard in that podcast in early 2007: a pastor who doesn’t give any Biblical reason for voting for someone, but rather, a lot of political hot air about why a specific person should be voted against.
What would God have done to America if we’d have elected Hilary Clinton? We’ve elected a lot worse in more than 200 years, and God is still there for us whenever we need Him. Even those who are in far worse financial situations than anyone who reads this little post knows that from experience.
If abortion is an issue worth talking about, then talk about it. Let the congregation take that knowledge and apply it when they go to vote the same way they will apply it with everything else they do in life.
That ought to be enough.
If a pastor can’t be satisfied with that, if a pastor feels that he needs to go beyond that to endorse a specific candidate or to advance a specific political platform rather than a Godly one, then he should lose his tax-exempt status. Because he’s already putting Caesar above the Savior. No one said that Freedom of Speech should be without cost; just ask a veteran how much he or she sacrificed so that the rest of us who’ve never had to serve can enjoy the freedoms we have.
If Freedom of Speech is that important to pastors, they should be willing to put their money where their mouth is: let them pay those taxes and see how much liberty really does cost. If God’s on their side, He will provide for that, right?
To put it another way, if your focus is on God, and you truly build a stronger relationship by putting Him first, He’ll tell you everything you need to know for that Tuesday in November.
And well beyond that.