Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; A03
CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.
The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”
If you read The First Morning with any regularity at all, you know I endorse and support Barak Obama for president. I do that as an individual who believes with deep conviction that the U.S. will find itself in desperate straits if we do not change our attitudes toward a number of important issues. Those issues include our lack of planning for energy independence, our enslavement by Washington lobbyists and corporations, and our increasing and collective resignation to Fear as the primary reason for so many of our military, political, and cultural decisions.
(FYI: I am still a registered Republican. I voted for George W. Bush for president twice! I personally consider those votes among my greatest mistakes.)
But my opinions are my opinions. I will write about them as an individual, and anyone can ask me (as an individual) at anytime about those political opinions and I will tell them. But don’t ask me about them in church. Don’t expect me to endorse anyone from the pulpit. You’ll hear lots of personal opinions from me in that role, and I will identify them as such. But I have no right- NONE- to formally confuse my voting preferences with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is a (huge) strata in Christendom that hears their church’s leadership as if Jesus himself were speaking to them. Each year I receive a package of material from some “Christian Voter’s Education” outfit that attempts to show why voting for the most conservative Republicans on a given ticket will help make America a Christian nation, again (as if it once was, in their fantasies). And for years, even when I was voting in agreement with many of their positions, I would trash the whole pile of to-be-distributed materials.
I would do exactly the same thing if someone wanted me to distribute any “Obama=Jesus” handouts.
The inherent problem is that many many churches understand their Pastor as “speaking for God.” They truly believe that opposing gay marriage, or laissez-faire healthcare, or more oil drilling, or less oil drilling- if the pastor endorses it- is tantamount to taking another step toward heaven. Many of the pastors who use the blind obedience of their congregants, are the same ones who drive luxury cars, have private jets, and dress in Armani suits because of the gravy-train which tax-exemption makes possible for them.
And now they want it both ways. I’m sorry that the movement to have it both ways is originating in Arizona, too; that makes me suspicious. But even if the move is being made independently of any political influence, I believe it is a dangerous precedent. Churches are a place where hearts and minds can be changed, and I am very concerned about what a coordinated, intentional movement from within the churches could lead to logically over time.
We must not have anyone forcing their version of Jesus down the throats of anyone! When Jesus said “Follow me” he did not add, “to the downtown Republican or Democratic party offices.” He walked toward lepers, prostitutes, demoniacs, and people who were hungry, lonely, and left out of life’s mainstreams. And then he touched them, loved them, and gave them a model of hope.
I will never be a part of making Jesus any less than that. I will never pretend that he endorsed anything I might think or believe. I will always allow people to see him, to the best of my ability to help them do so, and let them decide the better way for themselves.