Some Quick, Random Thoughts on Pulpit Freedom Sunday
Today, pastors from across the country are participating in a direct protest against the IRS. They feel as though their First Amendment rights are being limited, and even their pastoral obligations limited, by a requirement in the federal tax code that prohibits non-profit organizations from endorsing political candidates.
If you have followed this blog for any amount of time you will understand that I am a political nut. I love politics. I can’t get enough. However, this more than just a weird fascination, I believe that we ought to take a keen interest in our government so as to preserve liberty, especially the freedom of religion. However, I do not support this particular protest.
First, churches who are under this status in the tax code – 501(c)3 – had to apply for this status. If they applied for this status any time after 1960, if my memory serves me correctly, then they would have known about this particular limitation. In other words, this is nothing new. They made an agreement. To now all of a sudden decide to go against their part of the agreement does not seem like the right thing to do.
However, let’s look at the other facts. Pastors in these churches are still allowed to endorse any candidate they chose as a private citizen. They still can work on campaigns and actively support the person of their choice – just not officially on behalf of the church. However, they can preach on any topic they wish in their pulpits – be it abortion, homosexual marriage or even us tax code. The only thing they cannot do is endorse a candidate. This does not seem like persecution. In my opinion, the First Amendment is still intact.
Besides, do I really want this in my pulpit on Sunday? I want my pastor deep in the Word unfettered to preach the glories of Christ. Too many pastors are hungry for power and prominence. Unfortunately, the political world offers both. As an Assistant Pastor I once ran for Congress. While I learned a lot in the course of that campaign, I also learned the expectations that come along with preachers who enter into the political fray. At least in the political circles I traveled, I was expected to be a one-trick pony. Every message has to be about abortion, or the horrors of the welfare system, or traditional marriage or the lost Christian heritage America once had. In 2008 that list was amended to include sermons against black liberation theology. People start losing interest outside of those topics. After my campaign I had one person visit my church only to leave disappointed because my message had nothing to do with anything on that list.
Since then I cannot tell you how many TEA party gatherings I have attended. Once people find out I am a Christian School teacher, I get the same questions. They assume I want the poor to get a job, liberals to get saved, and for God to take over America again. Oh, and stand up against President Obama’s Black Liberation Church (even though he is secretly a Muslim).
Basically you are called upon for backup and affirmation for the conservative assault on the liberal agenda. People want to feel better about their political convictions and look for a man of God to give them their reassurance. This is why I don’t want my pastor dipping his toe into political waters too much. Instead, I want him doing the work of ministry, studying the Word, and truly preaching with freedom each week. My fear is pastors invested too much in the political world feel an obligation outside of the Word to touch on topics just to make certain segments happy or to sound conservative enough.
That doesn’t mean the preacher should feel timid to approach political topics, however. Sound the alarm loudly against abortion! It’s in the Word, Preach it! Stand firm on a Biblical definition of marriage even though our society is coming to terms with it. But, you also need to preach the Word about compassion for the poor. Social justice shouldn’t be an evil concept just because some on the liberal side emphasize it.
I greatly appreciate the ministry of my pastor. Even this morning he warned us about getting distracted, alarmed and being led astray by those proclaiming the end is near and by those indulging in every conspiracy theory they hear. God has used him as a constant reminder to me to place my confidence in the Cross of Christ alone. As best he can he shackles me to the Word, not wanting me to float away from Christ on the wings of a political candidate or movement. I thank him for that.
But as I close, I am not suggesting Christians need to abandon their civic duty. Vote! And cast an informed vote! Know what is happening in your country, state and local governments. Speak up on issues that you feel strongly about. Support candidates and attend rallies. I will. I will continue to post my political thoughts on this blog (looking forward to Thursday’s VP debate!) This is important stuff. We need good candidates who will help create economic growth. We need people in office to fulfill their Romans 13 obligation to protect what is right and punish what is wrong. Government is a creation of God and God’s people should not in any way neglect it or render it irrelevant. However, we must not allow that commitment to overshadow everything else.
Our confidence is in Christ. Christ is our life. Let your pastor preach that message today.