My, how quickly another month has gone by – I didn’t realize just how long it had been since my last post! I’ve been tossing around a few subject ideas and trying to decide which was the most important, when something on the news today caught my eye and I decided to have an opinion while it was still timely.
The story that caught my eye was regarding the observance of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, which has been going on for several years now and has apparently been growing in popularity. This observance is a reaction to a law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson back in the 60s which states that for churches or non-profit religious organizations to keep their tax-free status they must eschew endorsing political candidates or making political statements during church services. This law hasn’t been much of an issue over the years and apparently the IRS has never been called upon to enforce it; it would probably have been forgotten about without the churches deciding to protest it on one Sunday out of the year. Now I confess that I don’t know everything about this particular law and its history, or lack of, nor do I know what prompted a number of churches to start observing “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, but naturally, that is not going to keep me from having an opinion.
It may surprise some of you to learn that I disagree with the whole notion of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”.
Now before you reach the premature conclusion that I have somehow lost my mind or decided to become a lackey of the State, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not believe that the government – at any level – has any business telling any church what it can or cannot preach during its services. I personally believe that when government starts getting away with dictating to any church what to teach we are all getting on a very slippery slope leading to the dilution or corruption of doctrines and the moral and spiritual degradation of the flock. The content of a church sermon should be left to the discretion of the clergy and the patience of the congregation, not some bureaucrat at the IRS or any other government agency.
So then, Dave, tell us what’s so bad about “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. Okay, I will.
I believe that the whole purpose to a church sermon is to educate and encourage the congregation in the faith which they profess, not in the dissimulation of political platforms or exhortations to vote for a certain candidate. I believe that when the clergy of any faith starts preaching politics instead of their gospel they are doing a disservice to their flock, and especially in today’s increasingly anti-Christian society that is a disservice which most believers can ill afford.
When the apostle Paul wrote his famous letters to his young friend Timothy, he exhorted Timothy to spend his time teaching the believers and unbelievers around him about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not who to support in the Roman government. In fact, nearly the entire New Testament teaches that all believers should be tolerant and forgiving, that we should love our enemies, and that we should avoid all divisions and controversies. The Gospel is one of love and unity, not discord and divisiveness, and if anything is a source of discord and divisiveness, it is politics.
Look at the history of the last two thousand years. Even before the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, the pulpit had become a source of discord and bile in the name of division – not always, but for a large part. Throughout the succeeding centuries, whenever the Church has become a player in the political arena things have gone badly for the stature and moral fiber of the Body of Christ. But especially in the present era we have seen the pulpit become a platform for politics. For at least thirty years the older, “mainstream” denominations preached “liberation theology”, which was little more than a religious mask applied to socialism and liberal ideology; for nearly as long, the evangelical movement in Christianity has joined forces with conservatism, for good or bad, and I believe that alliance to be the main encouragement for the whole “prosperity” heresy. Even avoiding the religio-political excesses of other faiths, it becomes clear that when the pulpit becomes a platform for political advocacy it adversely affects the mission of the Church, which is to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ and then to instruct and encourage them in that faith.
I guess that part of the problem is that, even today, a vast multitude of people believe that their religion can bring about an era of peace and prosperity for everyone; that by using their faith they can bring the Kingdom of Heaven about here on earth. I’m sorry, but any attempt to do so is doomed to fail. Humanity is too corruptible and divisive. Only God can bring about a truly peaceful world at the Second Coming of Christ; anything less than that is a dangerous fake.
Do I then believe that Christians should not take part in the political process? Not at all. As citizens of this nation and as believers in Christ we have the moral obligation to vote our conscience for the candidates we feel best reflect our values and who would best serve the interests of our nation or community. I also believe that the social structure of a church can be a great forum for discussion of the candidates and issues among its members – on the side. We as believers must not forget that the first and foremost mission of any Christian church should be the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, and that the pulpit should be used for that purpose.