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Every time I mention Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I generally get two basic objections to the concept of Pulpit Freedom.  Yet these objections in some way are either misguided or just flat out wrong. I’ll discuss the first today:

  1. Pastors should not preach politics from the pulpit

This is a common objection to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, since an election sermon obviously involves the realm of politics.

The main problem with this objection is that the definition of “political” keeps changing.  Thirty years ago, a pastor could preach a sermon from Scripture that marriage was between one man and one woman and no one would have been concerned or would have even thought to complain to the IRS that the Church was violating the Johnson Amendment in the tax code by speaking politically.  Yet today, if a pastor were to stand in the pulpit and preach a sermon that says marriage is between one man and one woman, that sermon would be instantly deemed “political.”

Some of this is, of course, a function of the culture war over fundamental issues such as the definition of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious freedom.  As these issues are fought in the public square, they frequently become politicized by a culture that increasingly turns to the government to demand answers to these most fundamental questions.  Yet a pervasively darker consequence of these fundamental cultural conflicts is that the Church is frequently told that when culture deems an issue “political,” it somehow becomes off-limits for the Church to address without someone screaming that the Church has violated the Johnson Amendment and is endangering its tax-exempt status.

Ultimately, when people say that pastors should not preach about politics, they are making a theological argument.  No one can deny that Scripture has direct application to all of life, including the realm of politics.  What they really mean is that Scripture should not be specifically applied to the election or to the positions held by candidates or their parties.  That is, at base, a theological argument that Pulpit Freedom Sunday is not designed to address.  Rather, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is designed to answer the question of who gets to make that decision for churches.  Should it be the government or each individual church?

You see, when we allow the government to make that decision for churches, we are ceding control of what is God’s to “Caesar.”  That is a role the government is specifically prohibited from playing.  Even if people disagree over whether a pastor should preach an election sermon, everyone should at least agree that the decision should be left to the individual church and pastor to make.  We set a dangerous precedent when we allow the government to choose sides and pick a winner in an ongoing theological debate.  That’s not the free exercise of religion.

Read part two, Common Objections to Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Tax Exempt Status, next week.

We want every pastor to sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014.  Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org to learn more and sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, October 5, 2014.

Have you heard this objection before? What other objections have you heard (or have) to Pulpit Freedom Sunday? Let us know in the comments below. 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

557078_10151023030167653_1960289070_nSome time ago, I pondered the question, “Do 84% of Pastors believe the Pulpit Initiative is a bad idea?”  The reflection was due to a  survey conducted in 2011 of 1,000 protestant pastors by Lifeway Research that asked pastors whether they agreed with the statement, ”I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit.”  The survey reported that 84% of the surveyed pastors disagreed that a pastor should endorse political candidates from the pulpit.  Some bloggers picked up the results and trumpeted them, arguing that they proved that the Pulpit Initiative was wrong and that Alliance Defending Freedom should just give up and agree that it was on the wrong side of public opinion.

I responded to the research (and the critics of the Pulpit Initiative) by stating that Lifeway had asked the wrong question.  The Pulpit Initiative was never intended to answer the question whether a pastor should or should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit.  Rather, it was intended to answer the question of who should make that decision for churches.  Should the government make that decision for churches or should churches make that decision for themselves depending on their own church doctrine and beliefs?

I am happy to report that Lifeway Research conducted another poll of 1,000 pastors and asked the right question.  They asked the pastors whether they agreed with the statement that “The government should regulate sermons by revoking a church’s tax exemption if its pastor approves of or criticizes candidates based on the church’s moral beliefs or theology.”  86% of pastors disagreed with the statement.  That is almost 9 out of 10 pastors who disagreed with the idea that government should be allowed to regulate the content of a pastor’s sermon.  That’s good news.

In the end, the constitutional liberties of pastors and churches are not subject to polls and popular debate.  But the poll results are interesting and demonstrate that pastors “get it.”  They understand that it is not the job of the government to review the content of a pastor’s sermon to determine whether it violates some restriction and is worthy of punishment.  The very idea that some government official can determine whether to mete out punishment to a church based solely on what a pastor says from the pulpit is repugnant and offensive to these pastors.

And, in the end, that is the only question Pulpit Freedom Sunday is intended to answer.  The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is intended to stop the government from acting as the “orthodoxy police.”  As the Supreme Court stated way back in 1943, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in … religion.”

Pastor, if you have not signed up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 5, 2014, please sign up today.  Become part of the solution and stand with hundreds of other pastors across the country who are reclaiming their ability to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.

Please share your comments below and to join the conversation join our Facebook page.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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Is your church afraid of the IRS?  I’m not talking about a healthy fear of following the law to avoid the unpleasant consequences of a deserved tax audit.  Instead, I’m talking about a certain level of paranoia that leads to second-guessing  or avoiding actions in your church.  Some churches resort to censoring their own activities out of paranoia over what the IRS might do.  First Amendment lawyers call this a “chill on speech,” because it involves self-censorship to avoid the reach of an overbroad or vague law.

One church in North Carolina recently experienced this chilling effect, although they handled the situation well.  Tabor City Baptist Church puts out a newsletter, and in the most recent edition, printed an invitation for its members to come to a luncheon featuring a candidate for state representative.  Immediately, church members questioned whether the church had violated IRS regulations.  The issue even made it on the local media who came to interview the pastor.  Pastor Bruce Schimdt didn’t back down. He responded to the media, stating: “We are not giving an endorsement as a church, which we’re prohibited to do as a tax exempt organization. But we feel like it’s very very important to give acknowledgement and encourage people to pray and do their civic duty and step up and be involved in the political process… We are honored to pray for and acknowledge our leaders, Democrat or Republican.”

Here’s the point:  under the tax code, this church did nothing wrong.  They made an opportunity available to one candidate that they would also give to any other candidate.  The church’s actions do not violate the tax code and they shouldn’t fear the IRS breathing down their necks with an audit.  Yet, despite the fact that the church did not violate the law, questions were raised by members, the media came calling, and the issue went public.  I am sure the general stress level among the church staff and the membership also rose considerably.  And the overall message was that churches should just stay away from this area because it is simply too dangerous.

Situations like this are precisely why Alliance Defending Freedom created Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  No pastor or church should fear the IRS when they use their faith to engage candidates in an election.  The vagueness of the IRS regulations on churches leads to a very real chill on a church’s speech and activities.  It’s time to remove that chill and allow churches to engage the political realm with their faith without fearing retaliation or punishment by the government.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday aims to do just that – to have the Johnson Amendment in the tax code declared unconstitutional so that pastors and churches don’t have to fear the IRS.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an opportunity for pastors to preach sermons about the election or about the candidates running for office in light of Biblical truth.  If you are a pastor, will you consider signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  if you are not a pastor, please tell your pastor about Pulpit Freedom Sunday and encourage him to sign up to participate.  Pastors have a right to speak freely on the issue of elections and candidates and should never fear government punishment for shining the light of their faith in this area of life.

 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

AP Photo/Seth Perlman

This week, Illinois became the 16th state to redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to “marry.”  These types of actions should never go without a response by the Church.  Throughout American history, pastors have stood in their pulpits and proclaimed truth to politics and the culture.  Pastors have not hesitated to call out unrighteousness and to clearly expound God’s truth.  But this type of prophetic proclamation requires pastors to know what is going on in their communities, states, and country.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, the Catholic Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, was not asleep at the wheel when Illinois’ Governor signed a law redefining marriage.  In response to the new law Bishop Paprocki preached a homily entitled “Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage.”  Even if you are not Catholic or disagree with Catholic theology, the homily is worth reading in its entirety.  You can read it on the Diocese website.

In the homily, Bishop Paprocki clearly and forcefully proclaimed biblical truth on the issue confronting Illinois.  He said:

Same-sex marriage is contrary to the plan of God, as described in the Bible. . . Since the legal redefinition of marriage is contrary to God’s plan, those who contract civil same-sex marriage are culpable of serious sin. Politicians responsible for enacting civil same-sex marriage legislation are morally complicit as co-operators in facilitating this grave sin. We must pray for forgiveness of these sins and deliverance from this evil which has penetrated our state and our Church.

Pastors are encountering a day when the clear proclamation of biblical truth is a necessity.  As American culture becomes increasingly secular, it is incumbent upon pastors to speak to that culture with uncompromising clarity.  Such preaching is not “political.”  Simply because a biblical issue has been swept into the realm of politics does not mean that it ceases to become a biblical issue.  No, biblical issues remain biblical.  And speaking biblical truth from the pulpit remains the particular province and calling of pastors.

Pastor, are you aware and engaged enough to know what is happening in your community, your state, or your nation?  Once informed, are you speaking truth to your people, thus equipping them with a biblical worldview that doesn’t shift when a Governor signs an immoral law?  If your answer to either of these questions is “no”, let me give you two practical resources to get you started.

First, an excellent resource to stay informed and aware of the issues of life, marriage, and religious freedom is the Alliance Alert, a daily digest of news stories from around the country, and the world, on these issues.  You can subscribe to the Alliance Alert to have it delivered to your email daily.

Second, Alliance Defending Freedom is at the forefront of the battle to protect marriage.  Our website on this issue provides resources you as a pastor can use to become informed and to edcuate your congregation.  Watch the video on our website to get the big picture about the redefinition of marriage and its impact on our society and then show it to your people so they too can grasp what is at stake in this battle.

Bishop Paprocki stands as an example to other pastors to be aware, engaged, informed, and to speak out when the time demands it.  Pastor, are you willing?

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

World Magazine just published an article about how a number of pastors are “taking aim at the rule banning political speech in churches.”  The article highlights Alliance Defending Freedom’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a growing movement of pastors who believe that they have the right to speak freely from their pulpits on the issue of candidates and elections and not be punished by the government if they choose to do so.  The article quoted Bishop Aubrey Shines, Senior Pastor of Glory to Glory Ministries in Tampa, Florida:

“We should ignore political parties, and, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., measure [candidates] by the content of their character…  Let’s see if they measure up to some standard of morality that we would be comfortable with as believers in Christianity.”

Bishop Shines is exactly right.  For the first almost two hundred years of American history, pastors spoke boldly from the pulpit about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking public office. That changed with the passage of the Johnson Amendment in 1954.  But, as the World article notes, pastors are beginning to push back against this unconstitutional law that threatens their ability to speak freely on the biblical perspective of the candidates seeking office.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is coming up next year on October 5, 2014.  If you are a pastor would you consider being one of the first to sign up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014?  You can get more information and sign up at www.pulpitfreedom.org.  Join the growing movement of pastors across the country courageously standing for the freedom of the pulpit.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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