Should Pastors Be Barred From Endorsing Candidates?
September 24, 2012 1 Comment
Something called the Alliance Defending Freedom is organizing a protest by 1,000 pastors on October 7th. These pastors will be giving sermons on political issues and will include endorsements of candidates. This is in direct defiance of a 1954 law which bans tax exempt non-profits from making political endorsements. Apparently the ADF is going to record these sermons and send them directly to the IRS for prosecution. The law has never been enforced, though the IRS loves to make a show out of threatening its enforcement every election year. The ADF is trying force the hand of the IRS, thinking that the law will be struck down as unconstitutional.
We here at Steven Birn Speaks are sympathetic to end that the ADF is trying to achieve. However we cannot endorse their methods. The Lord’s Day is not an appropriate time to hold a massive protest against anything, much less government. Preaching on the Lord’s Day is about worshipping God and the edification of the Saints. To hold a coordinated protest takes away from worship. We stand against Pro-life Sunday in January for this reason as well as Reformation Day at the end of October. The Lord’s Day is simply not the place for a nationwide protest, especially so when the sermon has nothing to do with the teachings taking place in local congregations.
This position does not however mean that preachers shouldn’t preach on politics or endorse particular candidates. My position is only limited to an intentional one off sermon that’s sole intention is to create a ruckus and to annual event sermons which might as well be called holy days the way some in the church treat them. If a pastor believes it is necessary and proper to preach on a subject that is political, he has the right under scripture and the Constitution to do so. There are plenty of reasons why a pastor might want to do this, including leading the faithful to elect God fearing men to office. There are plenty of reasons why political issues might be discussed from the pulpit even without an endorsement. The Christian faith does not suspend itself at the ballot box or at the mere hint of modern politics.
This 1954 law that the IRS threatens to enforce but never does is unconstitutional on its face. It is a limitation on free speech but more so it interferes with the free exercise of religion. It is highly unlikely to pass the Court’s strict scrutiny test, which is why the IRS hasn’t enforced it in the last 58 years. The IRS doesn’t want to lose this law, they love threatening churches every other year. To be fair, the IRS takes delight in sending threatening letters to just about everyone. But they don’t want to lose this portion of the law which is why it has never been enforced. Odds are the government will ignore the 1,000 sermons sent to them despite the fact that they break the law. The IRS isn’t going to enforce any of this law. But that won’t stop them from sending threatening letters and trying to intimidate people who don’t realize that the IRS is bluffing.
Government has no business trying to shut down the free exercise of religion in any way. The Christian life extends to all aspects of our lives, including who we vote for and what positions we take on the issues of the day. The notion that pastors cannot discuss these matters or point out which politicians are advocating good or evil is contrary to the Constitution and contrary to freedom. It is unconstitutional for the government to force churches to pay for that which they find immoral, it is equally as unconstitutional for government to force churches to self censor themselves. While we don’t endorse ADF’s organized protest, we do hope that they are successful at provoking the IRS because it is highly unlikely that the Court will rule this law Constitutional.