This past Sunday was “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a day in which participating members of the clergy openly defied the IRS by talking about political candidates during church services.
The Alliance Defending Freedom promotes Pulpit Freedom Sundays (and there have been several) to provoke a ruling against the church from the IRS and create a case that the organization plans to use to have the “Johnson Amendment” ruled unconstitutional.
Fearing religious opposition to his 1954 re-election campaign, then-senator Lyndon Baines Johnson crafted a new IRS rule that prohibits non-profit institutions from electioneering. That rule is popularly referred to as the Johnson Amendment, and this rule is still on the books.
This far, the IRS has not chosen to go after any congregations participating in the open defiance.
Project 21 member Archbishop Council Nedd II — the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church — doesn’t see why anyone in the clergy would want to put their members and their church at such risk in this manner, and he also feels that ramping up partisan politics at the pulpit works against the environment he personally seeks to create during the services he officiates.
Citing the actions of Jesus to make his case, Archbishop Nedd says:
In the synoptic gospels of the Bible, Jesus said — when discussing taxes with some Pharisees and Herodians — that they must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars; and unto God, the things that are God’s. For two millennia, Christians have claimed to understand precisely what Christ was talking about.
I don’t understand why my fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ want to use their precious pulpit time to talk about Caesar rather than God.
Furthermore, Archbishop Nedd suggests that discussion of public policy can be a part of a perfectly acceptable religious service that would not put the church in harm’s way from IRS scrutiny:
Why put a congregation at risk? In all the previous “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” events, the IRS never took the bait. Saving souls is my mission — not playing plaintiff.
After all, the rule pertains to electioneering and not talking about even the most divisive social/political issues such as abortion, education and the definition of marriage. It’s still legal to talk about the issues — just not the candidates.
Jesus taught that Christian leadership should be different from worldly concepts of leadership. But many Christian leaders have yielded their God-given authority to pollsters, politicians and public relations experts.
In this world of declining moral standards and an absence of religious obligations, where fewer people are lifting their hearts and minds up to God, clergy should be preoccupied with dealing with the immediate needs of the community instead of who’s in the mayor’s office, the state capital or Washington, D.C.
photo credit: iStockphoto.com