Monday, September 29, 2008

Pulpit Freedom or Pulpit Folly?

This past Sunday, pastors from several dozen congregations around the country joined in deliberately defying the IRS in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

The Alliance Defense Fund, which organized the stunt, declared that “Pastors have a right to speak about Biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.”

What they demand is an end to the rule that religious organizations refrain from partisan political endorsements. To keep their tax-exempt status, churches currently have to steer clear of outright electioneering.

But this Sunday, Reverend Gus Booth of the Warroad Community Church told his congregation that God’s word demanded a vote for John McCain. Supporting Barak Obama would be heathen and un-Biblical.

Funny, I don’t remember that verse from the Good Book. And I’m not sure the Bible was intended to be a voting guide. But Reverend Gus is entitled to his opinion.

“I have a First Amendment Right to say whatever I want to say,” as the pastor declaimed.

No one questions that ministers, priests or rabbis can privately support whatever candidate they choose. But if their churches start acting like political action committees, shouldn’t they be taxed as such?

Otherwise, what’s to stop the formation of a Presbyterian Party or a Catholic Caucus? What exactly is the difference between a worship service and a Young Republican Rally?

Americans, already polarized between red and blue, can be further divided by faith and doctrine. Religion will lose whatever ability it had to lift citizens toward a vision of the common good. It will become even more a divisive, sectarian force in the culture wars tearing at our nation.

That’s not a move I want to subsidize with my tax dollars. And pastors who deliberately try to move the country in that direction should lose the privilege of their tax exemption.

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