Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Sunday, October 7th, was a time when preachers from coast to coast took to their pulpits to try and pull the IRS into a court battle.

In 1954, then Senator Lyndon Johnson pushed a bill through the United States Senate forbidding churches to endorse candidates for public office.  On this Pulpit Freedom Sunday, some 1,586 pastors defied this law by endorsing candidates for office in this political cycle.  I would be interested to see how many of those who participated endorsed President Obama and how many endorsed Governor Romney.

I am not one for faulting anyone who preaches but to use the pulpit for political reasons is irresponsible.  Those of us who have been called, by God, to preach his word are called to rise above these worldly pursuits.  We are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not the Gospel of the Republican Party or the Democrat Party.

As I understand it, they object to the Johnson Amendment that limits their free speech on political matters, and I suppose if you wish you preach politics then renounce your tax exempt status and then have at it.  No one is forcing you to claim tax exempt status, but if you are going to claim it, then it comes with some restrictions, and this is the only one.

Preaching and teaching is a sacred responsibility, and preachers should use that time to teach people how to live their lives as Christ calls us to live.  The Gospel is supposed to transcend this world and transform the lives of people.  For far too long the Gospel has been used, by people in both political parties, for political reasons and that needs to stop.

I find it interesting that, in the entirety of the Gospel, Jesus never directly spoke to the civil government of his day.  He never scolded them, in fact, he told us to support the government, and as Orthodoxy we are called to pray for the government.  The message is the Gospel is not about this world but about the next.  The message of the Gospel is to prepare us, as individuals, and they keep us on the path towards Theosis.  The intent of the Gospel was not to make our earthly life better, but to prepare us for heaven.

The Gospel touches on all aspects of life and for some that may seem partisan.  When I teach about Jesus’ requirement for us to care for the poor, or I speak about the Church’s position on life that is not political that is the teaching of the Church.  I have said before, you cannot legislate morality you have to teach it and model it.  If we spend less time in the halls of Congress and the courtroom and more time teaching the people God has called us to lead, then the people that we lead and teach will become better citizens.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to be active in the public square and to make our voice heard, and there are many ways for us to do that.  We are to transform society by the way we act and the way we live.  We preach the Gospel by the way we treat other people and by showing the love of Christ in every situation regardless of the political affiliation.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a gimmick, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not need gimmicks.  What the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs is for it to authentically preached, it needs to be authentically taught in clear, straight terms to the people of God.

Jesus was not a political figure. Jesus came to rescue us from our sins and to show us how to live our lives.  He did not use gimmicks, unless you call healing the sick and raising people from the dead gimmicks, to get his point across.  Jesus rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

I have roughly 52 chances to teach the people that God has given me to care for about the love of Jesus and the way the He wants us to live our lives, to spend one of those chances on a political stunt seems like a waste of an opportunity to me.  Our roles as pastors are more important than making a political statement.  Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rest will take care of itself.

The role of the Church in society is to being hope and to be the moral compass for the people.  We need to show people the way and to bring them hope.  I do not see how calling for the election of one candidate over the other does this.  Neither candidate will save your soul. The government of the United States will not save your soul, only the Lord God can do that.  Preach that, give hope, and show people the way towards salvation.  Leave the politics to the politicians.

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Comments

  1. during the time of the revolutionary war..many political meetings where held from the pulpit in boston churches.
    The slave underground railroad was also run because of churches who got involved with what was considered evil.a minister,the reverand john weatherspoon,from conn.signed the decleration of independence.
    I don’t feel the church should tell you who to vote for,but they must be politically, involved when things are wrong.

  2. Linda, I agree that Christians must be involved with important issues in society that adversely affect the health and welfare of society. Slavery was an evil institution in these United States and it was necessary and right to publicly defy its existence. To speak against institutions that commit atrocities is our Christian calling and duty. However, for ministers of the gospel to support a candidate from the pulpit is a conflict of interests. It seems those who wrote canon law forbidding our priests to run for political office knew what they were doing.

  3. Ronda Wintheiser says:

    This has nothing to do with promoting a particular candidate or party.

    Neither does it have anything to do with a priest running for political office.

    The word “politics” comes from a Greek word that refers to the “affairs of the city”.

    The affairs of the city are the affairs of the Church, are they not? We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.

    I don’t know where the idea comes from that Christians/clergy have to stay out of politics. Maybe it comes from Western dualism, or from the mistaken notion that the Constitution mandates a separation of Church and state — which it does NOT. That phrase does not exist in the Constitution.

    The language of the Constitution protects the freedom of the exercise of religion. What could be a better example of the free exercise of religion than the clergy speaking about the Gospel as it pertains to life in the world (the “polis”)?

    Currently, since the Johnson amendment, which is obviously blatantly unconstitutional, if a priest speaks about abortion or homosexuality, for example, he can be accused of preaching about politics. Well, in the true meaning of the word, yes, he is speaking about politics. And under the Constitution, he has every right to do so.

    Leaving politics to politicians is exactly what ails this country. Christians have exited “the affairs of the city”. We have become, in effect, “holier than thou”.

    We are called to be the light of the world; a city set on a hill. Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the persecution of Jews. That is an example of what Pulpit Freedom Sunday is about.

  4. According to the IRS code, churches are automatically exempt from taxation whether or not they file as a 501C3 Corporation.

    Recognition of Tax-Exempt Status
    Automatic Exemption for Churches
    Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section
    501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and
    are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of
    tax-exempt status from the IRS.
    Although there is no requirement to do so, many
    churches seek recognition of tax-exempt status from the
    IRS because such recognition assures church leaders,
    members, and contributors that the church is recognized
    as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits.
    For example, contributors to a church that has been
    recognized as tax exempt would know that their contributions
    generally are tax-deductible.

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