Monday, September 08, 2008

A Fight not worth Fighting

IRS rules are clear: churches and pastors must not endorse political candidates lest they risk the tax-exempt status of those churches. Beyond this legal restriction, however, there must surely be more very good reasons why it is better for everyone if churches, as entities, and their pastors stay out of the electoral process. And being removed from this process includes, in my humble opinion, candidates for public office speaking from these churches’ pulpits, ostensibly to give their “testimony”. Not to suggest that candidates do not have their faith stories to share but if they had never been invited to any churches prior to their declaration for office, why the invite after such a declaration?

The Alliance Defense Fund is set to challenge these IRS rules and is reportedly recruiting “several dozen” church pastors to endorse political candidates from their respective pulpits on September 28, according to the Washington Post. In the name of “free speech” these pastors are going to be asked to preach, from their pulpits, about faith in certain human beings who happen to be political candidates for public office. And while these pastors put perhaps their own professional credentials and their respective churches’ tax-exempt status on the line, they risk serving no purpose other than that which has been established by the Alliance Defense Fund. In other words, fighting a fight that does not need to be fought. At the very least, this is not an issue churches should be so concerned about.

None of this is to suggest that church pastors cannot be involved as individuals in the political process nor should church members – as individuals - remove themselves from the political process. It is the duty of responsible citizens, clergy or laity, to inform themselves as best they can and then cast their vote accordingly. It is ok to become involved in some political action committee or partisan party if one so chooses. We as individuals are not only protected during this process but are actually urged to get involved and become informed. The more we know, the less likely we are to get hood-winked by a clever campaign slogan.

This fight that the ADF is choosing to stage, however, is going to cost a lot more than many are seriously considering. And churches which allow their pastors to get involved (surely these pastors are not making such a monumental decision to get the church involved without conferring with some church council or committee) are asking for trouble they have not seriously – if biblically – considered. It is not a matter of merely standing up to the IRS, which may always be a bad idea, but is also a matter of getting the church off track and misstating or misrepresenting the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church, none of which includes politics.

The biggest problem I see in this is misrepresenting the candidates themselves. We reasonably know that there are enough weak-minded and weak-spirited folks in our churches who can easily be misguided into believing that candidate X or candidate Y is ordained of God to lead us or represent us or even save us (save us from what will depend entirely upon the group being addressed, of course) while drawing our focus away from the Only One who can save and suggesting that we put our faith in this or that candidate instead, insinuating that the “other” candidate, the Russians, the Iranians, the terrorists, etc. is the true and genuine threat to our well-being, and that our candidate is the only one who can protect us from these threats.

It is a very fine line these pastors may choose to walk, first, by hijacking the pulpit from which only the Word of the Lord should be proclaimed; secondly, by misleading people into believing that there are men or women who can “save” us; thirdly, by trapping some who have come to worship the Lord God and not be subjected to a political speech; fourth, by perhaps using these political candidates as a means of self- or church-promoting, somehow insinuating some air of legitimacy and importance to the pastor.

Regardless of motive, there is little of any lasting value that will come from such challenges. It is not unlike the challenge for prayer in public school in which some believe their “right” to pray has somehow been infringed when actually the only thing restricted is one’s “presumed” right to subject others to one’s own prayer. No court has declared that one cannot pray, and no court or the IRS has stated or ruled that individual clergy or church members cannot be involved in the political process.

The Holy Church of the Lord is called to be a sanctuary from the world. The Church should not attempt to assimilate itself into the world through the political process lest the Image and moral authority of Christ’s Holy Church become distorted or compromised. The Church cannot be the Body of Christ and a political action committee at the same time. I would actually suggest that the church make a choice and become one or the other, and then let the chips fall where they may.

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