The Engage Family Blog

Official Blog of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia

Patriotic Pastors

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We are usually quite reluctant to criticize the Charleston Gazette.  While there are many things espoused by the editorial page with which we strongly disagree, we appreciate their repeated willingness to publish the commentaries we submit to them on a regular basis.  However, on Tuesday of this week, the Editorial Board of the Gazette published an editorial that clearly misunderstands a remarkable event in our national history.

The Gazette’s editorial, “Violations,” denounced the Alliance Defense Fund’s “Pulpit Initiative” as a, “distasteful mixture of religion and politics.”  The article went on to proclaim that the entire experience this past Sunday was for pastors to have “more than 30 fundamentalist preachers across America deliberately broke U.S. law by publicly denouncing Democrat Barack Obama and endorsing Republican John McCain for president in the Nov. 4 election.”  

Wow.  Nicely put, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the Pulpit Intiative.  Alan Sears, President of ADF, sets the record straight in yesterday’s edition of TownHall.com.  

Sears calls the Pulpit Initiative what is actually is, “a strategic legal effort of the Alliance Defense Fund designed to push back the overbearing, intrusion of IRS agents into the internal affairs of America’s churches.”  

But specifically responding to the Gazette’s criticism that the project is nothing more than a pro-McCain event, Sears says the following:

Some have even leveled the accusation that the ADF initiative is part of some massive campaign to usher John McCain into the presidency. This is laughable, considering Pulpit Freedom Sunday consisted of a handful of pastors of mostly small churches, not all of whom endorsed John McCain for president, despite what you may have been told. ADF invited pastors of a broad array of denominations, considered both conservative and liberal, to be part of the initiative because ADF believes that pastors of any political viewpoint have the right to speak freely from their pulpits without government intrusion.

Indeed, if the government can dictate that political speech is disallowed within the pulpit, what other speech might the government say a pastor cannot speak?  That’s the purpose of this initiative.  As Sears explains:

The purpose of the Pulpit Initiative is to restore the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit, offering a biblical perspective on any number of cultural and societal issues, without fear of punishment by the government.

Whether or not a pastor should engage in such speech is a matter rightly left to the purview of the pastor and church leadership.  But, the Pulpit Initiative says that they should be able to if they want to.

Knowing the history of how we arrived here is as important in understanding the need for this initiative.  For that, we look to Tara Ross’s column, “Bullying the Pulpit,” where she claims, “An ‘illegal sermon’ should be an oxymoron in a country that practices freedom of religion. . .”  Ross continues to highlight the uniquely different responses of Thomas Jefferson and Lyndon Johnson when met with political opposition.  For Jefferson, he introduced the oft-misunderstood phrase, “separation of church and state” in response to a church’s fear that the state might . . . well, do what it’s doing today: regulate the pulpit.  But, for Johson, something entirely different happened: without debate or record, he moved legislation that silenced religious nonprofits from speaking Truth to politics.  What happened?  Ross concludes:

Ironically, LBJ’s intent was not to harm religious groups. Neither CCG nor Facts Forum [the groups that opposed LBJ’s senatorial bid] was specifically religious in nature. Indeed, LBJ’s legislation did not specifically mention churches; it merely forbade all501(c)(3) organizations from participating in certain political activities. Churches got caught in the crosshairs of a political shot that was never aimed at them. Nevertheless, LBJ’s provision, together with Jefferson’s wall of separation, have combined to stifle religious freedom in this country.

 

It is not remarkable that two politicians—Jefferson and LBJ—reacted defensively when confronted with tough election fights. What is remarkable is that Americans have allowed political happenstance, not constitutional guidance, to control their ideas of what is permissible in the public square.

The rebellious pastors have a long, tough road in front of them. Americans’ skewed notions of church/state matters have been developing for decades, and they’ll probably take many more decades to reverse. But hopefully this Sunday’s act of civil disobedience will draw attention to the fact that Americans have strayed far from their constitutional roots when it comes to matters of religion in civic life.

 

We applaud the efforts of these pastors to speak Truth to culture.  Though we recognize government shall never be our Savior – such is reserved for the Son of Man – as Christians we are called to stand and speak for Truth through active participation in and submission to (Romans 13:1) the democratic republic in which we live.  

If that is “distasteful” to some, let us be assured that it is merely the bitterness that salt brings just before light penetrates darkness.

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