National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported that “some conservative preachers” are speaking out “in unusually partisan ways.” As NPR’s Barbara Bradley Haggerty reports, critics say they are crossing a legal line and endorsing candidates. [Haggerty] “Jerry Johnston, Senior Pastor at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas remembers when the clarion call came. The Kansas State Senate had just passed a bill to allow citizens to vote on a state amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. He went to watch a House vote on May 4. [Johnson’s voice] “I was standing along the railing at the Kansas House of Representatives and watched Representatives cast their vote, get up, and as if they were in a spring, race out of the State House. And I turned to Senator, Nick Jordan, and asked what are they doing? He said, ‘Jerry, they are voting against it and they are running because they don’t want to be accountable for their vote.'” [Haggerty] “Johnston, whose Southern Baptist church has 3,000 members began to work with scores of other Pastors across the state to hand out voter guides and to try to register 100,000 new voters before November. That galvanized the other camp. Caroline McKnight, of the Mainstream Coalitions says she knew if a Pastor uses his pulpit to endorse or condemn a political candidate, the IRS can revoke the churches tax exempt status. So she [McKnight] says, “We had about a 100 volunteers and we randomly assigned them each to two places to attend, a church other than their own in the month of July. We gave them a little check sheet and we sent them the information that would tell them what was and what was not appropriate. And then we asked them to send back any examples that they thought were questionable.” But, she says, none of the clergy crossed the line. [McKnight] “They know where they line is, they know exactly what they can and cannot say and they stop just short of the magic words which are ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against.'” Another Baptist church with 13,000 members in the state of Arkansas was attacked for crossing the line between church and state because of one particular sermon that noted the differences between the two candidates. Though names were not mentioned, photos of the two candidates were. The two pictures alternated as the Pastor, Ronnie Floyd, talked about abortion, terrorism, and other issues. “The sermon caught the attention of Barry Lynn of the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AUSCS). ‘[Barry] It was way over the line, it was clearly a candidate endorsement and, frankly, you would have to have been a recent immigrant from the planet Mars not to watch that so-called sermon and not realize you were supposed to be voting for George Bush.'” After Floyd’s church was reported to the IRS, along with other conservative leaning churches, Floyd said,
“I know what Mr. Lynn is trying to do. He’s trying to intimidate me, he’s trying to intimidate every Pastor in this country, he’s trying to intimidate ever Evangelical church to stay home. Because if he can get us not involved with the issues and stay at home, then his liberal agenda will be fulfilled.”
[Haggerty] “And if past is prolog, former IRS Commissioner, Don Alexander says Evangelical churches have little reason to worry. [Alexander] ‘Afro-American churches for years have made endorsements from the pulpit and the IRS hasn’t done anything about it. This year it seems the Evangelical churches are doing the same thing that the black churches did, and the IRS is probably doing nothing about it.’ [Haggerty] The IRS has only once, some say twice, revoked a churches tax-exempt status for politicking.” (for entire audio, go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3821609)
Who is being scrutinized and how it’s being reported shows the bias against conservative religious groups. A look at the au.org web site reveals the bias of the AUSCS. There is no reference to Kerry who, just this last Sunday (October 10, 2004), addressed a Missionary Baptist church, along with Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. But there is plenty written against conservative voices like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and various issues favored by conservatives. And the networks dutifully report Kerry’s support from the Black churches; but they fail to give any cautionary note of concern that the line between church and state had been crossed. There lies the bias.
The message is clear: people are watching and taking notes. If churches are caught making endorsements for political candidates, the IRS may be notified and the churches tax-exempt status could be revoked. Christian leaders must focus on the right message. The Church of Christ is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22,23). The message that should be heard from all pulpits is one of morality in a godless world. Sinners should be called to live holy lives because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Churches must focus on the Gospel of Christ and not the politics of the day. However, though preaching politics from the pulpit must be carefully avoided, the message of morality must be given proper attention. My lesson this week will be “What” To Vote For: Not “Who” to Vote For. Christians have a right to express Christian values; and if they vote, they have a duty to reflect those values at the ballot box. The Bible says that those who are in authority are God’s ministers for justice (Romans 13:1-5). Everyone is benefitted when the most righteous person is elected to positions of power. A preacher can talk about moral issues like Abortion, Gambling, H0m0sexuality, Justice in the Courts, and many other issues. But well-equipped Christians have to make up their mind about who is the right candidate.