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:
- 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.