Should Clergy Talk about Politics from the Pulpit

The Johnson Amendment of 1954 changed the IRS code so that churches that support or oppose candidates for public office would lose their non-profit status. This past Sunday, a group of pastors challenged this by using Scripture to analyze the campaign positions of Senators McCain and Obama. They did this hoping to challenge the constitutionality of the prohibition. “Americans United for Separation for Church and State” did their best to kick the ball further down field by requesting that the IRS revoke participating church’s non-profit status.

This brings up at least three sets of questions:

First, is the Biblical analysis of campaign platforms the same as supporting or opposing candidates? If I say that Obama supports abortion rights, and use Scripture to teach that abortion is sinful, am I opposing him? If I say that McCain supports the death penalty and use Scripture to teach that the death penalty is so sinful, am I apposing him? How about if I do not mention the candidates, but use Scripture to teach about political issues like immigration, environmentalism, war, chastity, marriage, and fiscal responsibility; issues that are in the news in large part because of the political campaign?

Second, what does the Constitution say about preaching about political issues? If I critically analyze the political platforms from the various candidates, am I violating some implication of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)? Or, as it seems quite possible, is the 1954 amendment to the IRS code violating this amendment not once, but twice (first, by using government policy to limit speech; and the second by threatening to tax churches at all)?

Third, and probably more fundamentally, do I (or any preacher) have any business preaching about politics in the first place? Meaning, do politics have anything whatsoever to do with the salvation of my flock and with spreading the Good News of salvation through Christ and His Church? If it doesn’t, then I am violating something more fundamental than either IRS Code or the US Constitution; I am committing blasphemy and endangering my soul and all those I influence for the wrong reasons. Then again, politics do have something to do with Christianity, then I should accept whatever consequences come from remaining true, confessing Christ no matter what the costs.

Preaching the Gospel about political issues has a long and venerable history in the United States. Pulpits helped bring about our nation’s independence, an end to slavery, the rights of women, civil rights for minorities, and so on (to include less laudable positions). It is the strength of the current hyper-clerical, anti-clerical climate that is new. As a pastor, I avoid framing moral issues in political terms because I do not want to polarize my parish, but I continue to address moral issues of every type. Hypersecularism teaches that we should leave our religion behind when we discuss politics and when we vote; but Christianity is more than a facet of the Christian’s identity, it is the center from which all his/her identities and opinions flow.

I could care less who any of my parishioners vote for: I only want to make sure they do so as Christians. If our worldview is Christian, this will come naturally; if it is not, then we will do exactly what Screwtape says we should: use our religion to support our secular opinions. And he has a cage ready for us in hell ready for us.

Click Here for a liberal Christian guide to the issues from the NCC

Click Here for a liberal Christian guide to the issues from Sojouners

Click Here for a conservative Christian guide to the issues from Christian Answers Action

Click Here for a conservative Christian comparison of Senators Obama and McCain from the FRC