According to the Religious News Service, four in 10 Americans believe religious leaders should be permitted to endorse political candidates from their pulpits - and do so without losing their tax-exempt status. That is scary.
Some preachers are now promoting a political candidate from the pulpit. A few weeks ago some 30 pastors took part in what they called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” One young pastor in San Angelo was reported in the Standard-Times as planning to take part in such a “showdown.” Those participating claim they have the First Amendment in their corner.
Claiming suppression of the freedom of speech was one of the battle cries from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian law firm based in Arizona. This is the latest of many attempts to bring politics into the worship services of American churches.
Tax-exempt churches do not file returns and are under no obligation to divulge their finances to donors, the government or the public. This is the reason the televangelists left the non-profit category (where financial reports are demanded) and organized into churches. It is also why most mega-churches and all televanglist “churches” have more lawyers on their staffs than ordained ministers. And they have needed them in numerous law suits of moral cover-ups from adultery to fraud. Now they will need them as they attempt to break Internal Revenue Service laws.
Mainline churches and many religious organizations are 100 percent transparent in what they receive in offerings and how they use them. But not the televangelists. Their followers are so hoodwinked they see no problem with their leaders having jet aircrafts, Bentleys and outrageous salaries and mansions. Now they want to promote their political choices from their pulpits.
David Barton, president of Wall Builders (www.wallbuilders.com), a nonprofit organization dedicated to a reinterpretation of American history, wrote, while Texas Republican Party vice-chairman, that the United States is a “Christian nation” and believes the separation of church and state is a “myth.” Barton visited hundreds of churches telling them it was not illegal for them to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. (See “Behind the Scenes,” Trinity Broadcasting Network, Aug. 22, 2006.)
Rodney L. Parsley, Ohio-based televangelist, spoke at a press conference in support of the “Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act.” This an Ohio legislature bill that would lift the Internal Revenue Service ban on electioneering from the pulpit. These guys are serious. Most Americans are not even aware of their agendas, much less their existence.
Beside breaking the law, promoting a candidate from the pulpit would divide many church fellowships. Deacons meetings I have been in have enough possibilities for division without taking sides on political candidates. Talking about issues is not the same thing.
Churches and pastors should be fully informed of local and national issues. Politics should be shared at the town square, grocery store or courthouse steps. (Sometimes it is not a good idea at home!)
The Washington-based watchdog group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has filed six complaints with the Internal Revenue Service after dozens of clergy participated in a challenge to rules that ban politicking from the pulpit.
“These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences,” said the Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
Earlier generations of fundamentalist Christians were on the margin of American churches. They did little social work and condemned those who did. But the last 20 years, their new approach is what Richard V. Pierard (professor of history emeritus, Indiana State University and Gordon College) calls a “political gospel.” I call it a “false gospel.” Historic Christianity has proven that when church and state are united, corruption and wars increased. Keeping religion and government under different heads ensures both function better. Spirituality and civic pride enrich a church’s service. Personal spirituality can enhance government and politics.
It is not a myth that government runs better without being tied to a religious establishment. If it were up to me, I would not give any tax exemptions to any religious bodies or churches, temples, synagogues or mosques.
Britt Towery, free-lance writer, author of “Christianity in Today’s China” and West Texas native. His columns are published in the Bulletin on Fridays. He welcomes reader feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other columns are available on his Web site, www.britt-towery.blogspot.com.