preaching politics. "pulpit freedom sunday"
On Sunday (28 Sep 08), a small group of thirty-two pastors set up a bait for the federal government. They used their Sunday sermon to specifically endorse Barack Obama or John McCain for the Presidency, in violation of 1954 IRS tax code that prohibits non profit, tax exempt from intervening on behalf of any political candidate. Their goal is to bring attention to the issue of first amendment speech being curtailed by the Internal Revenue Service. Critics say that they are seeking to erode church-state seperation for a chance at political power.
This is a confusing issue and I'm unsure on where I land. Convincing arguments are made by both sides. I don't follow Rev. Barry Lynn's (American's United for the Separation of Church and State) cynical prophecy that the "religious right is trying to forge America's houses of worship into a partisan political machine." That's loaded language that carries more political content itself than concerned dialogue. And I think it's answered successfully by Erik Stanley (Alliance Defense Fund), when he reminds that churches on a wide spectrum of "right" or "left" were encouraged to participate.
Church historian Martin Marty writes a column in opposition, but I don't find his argument—intentionally breaking the law isn't Christian—at all convincing. There goes churches illegally helping free slaves in the South and every other counter-culture moral move made by churches in resistance to the law on the books. I'm honestly disappointed by how weak his argument appears to me.
Maybe the best argument against is the same for general separation of church and state: a slide towards political power for churches has historically, fromt the Constantinian captivity on, been bad for the faith of the churches. And in a pluralistic society, comprise in governing is required (and I don't think detrimental to the an inherrently non-power, relational, counter-cultural gospel).
Some Georgetown academics talk throught the possible legal ramifications of the move.
But at the end of the day, I think I find the Alliance Defense Fund's arguments against the 1954 Johnson amendment have some merit. I won't see eye-to-eye with them on abortion and homosexuality being the key moral issues for Christians. But do we want the IRS dictating pastor's speech? The current division allows them to speak on "issues" but not candidates. I think this is an artificial separation, and rosier than it sounds. It also allows them to say anything they want once they exit the building... as private citizens. But theologically I'm not a fan of such a private/professional split. Not the mention the sacred/secular implications.
At I write... I think I'm arriving at a conclusion. I support their effort and would support a change in the law, with one provision: if we could find language to partially ensure that pastors would be speaking on their own accord, and not paid or compensated to do so by political campaigns.