I was recently in a conversation with a well-intentioned Christian. We were talking about a potential moral dilemma that, if a reality, should be addressed by the Christian community at large. However, he informed me that I was forbidden by the U.S. government from talking about the issue from the pulpit. I bristled.
Why? Because I firmly believe that the pulpit is the place where I get to proclaim the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If the government can silence me and I will allow myself to be silenced, then the whole process of truth-telling is undermined.
The reality of the matter is that American preachers are allowed by government to address moral issues, not candidates, if they want to keep their tax exempt status. In the following post (dated September 28, 2008), I share my motivation for “complying” with this law and how I believe my compliance does not even remotely undermine my ability to be a truth-teller.
“Why I won’t advocate a presidential candidate today”
Today, September 28, is a day that pastors across our country are being asked to exercise their first amendment rights. At http://www.alliancedefensefund.org, it states:
“Pastors participating in the Alliance Defense Fund’s “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will preach from their pulpits Sept. 28 about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office. The pastors will exercise their First Amendment right to preach on the subject, despite federal tax regulations that prohibit intervening or participating in a political campaign.”
While I believe the men and women of the Alliance Defense Fund are good people and have helped to serve the Christian cause for many years, it is my humble opinion that they are out of step in regard to this issue. The following brief points are the reasons why I won’t participate:
It’s not because I’m afraid of losing our tax exempt status – although I’m concerned that many pastors who take on the IRS will more than likely lose their case. Almost certainly, churches and pastors will get hurt as the IRS flexes it arms and exercises the laws on its books.
But this isn’t the reason why I won’t advocate a presidential candidate from the pulpit. In my lifetime, there almost certainly will come a time when pastors will be told not to preach on certain issues (e.g. homosexuality, etc.). At that point, pastors will have to determine to serve God rather than man and take the consequences. But that’s not the issue here.
I won’t participate because I am convinced by unquestionable data that clearly reveals that no national, American revival has ever originated in the White House. At some point in the past, it seems that the U.S. government looked to the local churches to point the way to truth and righteousness. Now, it seems that many Christians are looking out their church windows to the Capital for the same reason.
I won’t because the pulpit should be the place where unadulterated truth is spoken. While folks are encouraged to make certain that what they hear from the preacher is true, they should constantly be brought to the conclusion that what he has said is correct. Advocating for one candidate over another crosses the line. That changes the conversation. The foundation upon which the message rests moves from the Bible to the candidate. He (or she) is set up as the one who embodies the qualities of a “God-approved” leader … which brings up all sorts of questions in the listener’s minds – and rightfully so. (It is amazing that candidates who are usually no better than nominal Christians [at best] are esteemed so highly when they are candidates for high office. It is also frustrating to hear folks who claim to be Christians talk of “Jesus” less and less and speak generically of “God” more and more the higher the office they aspire to.) Should we really be advocating such folks and behavior from our pulpits?
So what is there to do? Should we have a “que sera sera” attitude or do we have a responsibility and civic duty?
First, pastors, stick to God’s word as your authority. Engage the culture through the paradigm of Scripture. Don’t point people to politicians. Point people to Jesus. Encourage them on their path to holiness and show them how this plays out in their lives and daily decisions.
Second, encourage your folks to be “salt!” As I understand the purpose of salt to be holding back decay, I believe that in our society, that means among many things that Christians are to exercise their civic duty and vote. We are to strive to put the right people in office and the right laws on the books.
But ultimately, we are resting in the fact that our Sovereign Lord, who works all things after the council of His own will (Eph. 1:11) is working out His plan. When November 5 rolls around, we will continue to do whatever it takes to win our communities for Christ no matter who was selected the previous day. Let’s never look to Washington D.C. to do what God has delegated to us.