- Prison inmates take up ‘Knockout’ game, target female officers
- U.S. Army hails success with drone-shooting laser
- John Kerry: Israel-Palestinian peace deal paved for April
- India diplomat who touts women’s rights busted for $3 wage to nanny
- MSNBC host Ed Schultz paid $252K by unions in 2012-2013
- Korean War memorial ordered to take down Christian cross
- Billy Graham near death, ‘close to going home to be with the Lord’
- SeaTac, Wash.: City’s new $15 minimum wage heads to court
- Obama mulls support for Islamists in Syria, with conditions
- Obama ‘birther’ theories float as Hawaii health director killed in crash
THOMAS: Pulpit bullies
There is no telling how many churches actually participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an event designed to challenge the government’s restriction on political pronouncements from the pulpit.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal alliance of Christian attorneys, headed by President Alan E. Sears, whose activist roots go back to the 1980s, cooked up the idea. A press release from the organization promised that on Sept. 28 pastors in 20 states “will reclaim their constitutional right [and] from the pulpit, they will advise their congregation what scripture says about today’s issues, apply[ing] those issues to the candidates standing for election just like their forefathers did 150 years ago.”
The release might have added, “and just as many in some African-American churches do today, but without the pressure by the IRS, which many white conservative churches and institutions feel.” Clearly a double standard exists as to how the law is applied (see the political pronouncements of Revs. Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as three of many examples).
The law restricting political language from the pulpit is of rather recent vintage. Until 1954, election sermons could be heard on the first Sunday in November, or virtually any other time, without invoking the wrath of government. That changed when then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson offered an amendment to restrict nonprofit organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The amendment passed and has been part of the IRS code since.
If one takes the position that the political life of the country is a fit subject for sermonizing - whether the subject is poverty, abortion or low behavior in high office - the First Amendment should certainly prevail over efforts to categorize and, thus, restrict free speech. The early Colonial sermons were filled with righteous indignation and some indignation that was anything but righteous, but people were free to make up their own minds as to whether their pastor was speaking for God, or if he had more temporal concerns.
Before this type of “Berlin Wall” between church and state is torn down, however (and Johnson had his own political motives for erecting it), those who favor freeing pastors from political purgatory face some higher obstacles.
The first obstacle is what Scripture teaches about a Christian’s relationship to the state. In one of the best-known passages, Paul the Apostle writes, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1) Is defying the law, no matter what political motivations were behind it, submitting to such authority, or opposing it?
Obstacle No. 2 has to do with the reason people attend worship services. It is not, or should not be, in order to pledge allegiance to a party, candidate or earthly agenda. One can spend inordinate time on that subject simply by watching cable TV, or listening to talk radio, or reading the newspapers. No matter how hard they try to protect the gospel from corruption, ministers who focus on politics and politicians as a means of redemption must minimize their ultimate calling and message. The road to redemption does not run through Washington, D.C. Politicians can’t redeem themselves from the temptations of Washington. What makes anyone think they can redeem the rest of us?
This pulpit rebellion also presumes that congregants lack a worldview or knowledge about candidates and politics that only a pastor can address. In my church, we have many highly educated people, Republicans and Democrats, who would not take kindly to the pastor discoursing on politics any more than they would accept legal or medical advice from their auto mechanic.
The law has done churches a favor, however inadvertent, by protecting most of them from the downside of electioneering, but a strong constitutional challenge would most likely overturn it. The flip side would be whether the politicians would then allow churches to maintain their tax-exempt status.
Whether the law is repealed, or not, churches and ministers would do better to keep their attention focused on the things above, rather than the things below, because politics can be the ultimate temptation and pollute a far superior and life-changing message.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.
About the Author
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
- U.S. Navy-China showdown: Chinese try to halt U.S. cruiser in international waters
- Obama birther theories float, as Hawaii health director killed in crash
- Obama's Afghanistan experts stumped on U.S. death toll, war costs during hearing
- House budget bargain faces Senate filibuster; Republicans line up to oppose
- Billy Graham near death, close to going home to be with the Lord
- PRUDEN: The last living witnesses; they wore the yellow star and remember the Nazi terror
- NAPOLITANO: A conspiracy so vast
- American bourbon now better than Scottish whisky: U.K.-born expert
- North Korea's official report on Jang Song Thaek
- Dr. Ben Carson disavows efforts at presidential draft
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
A stat-head’s outlook, direct from his worn in couch cushion.
John Glaser turns his pen toward foreign policy and international relations around the world
A conservative commentator and satirist takes on the worlds of politics and entertainment in pursuit of truth, justice and all things America.
Politics, economics, and business from a real world perspective.
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow