A Columbus, Ohio, minister has come up with a great idea to counter Religious Right propaganda about churches and partisan politics.
On Sept. 21, the Rev. Eric Williams, senior pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ, is calling on pastors throughout the country to preach sermons on the importance of church-state separation. The action comes exactly one week ahead of "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," an Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) scheme to draw churches into illegal electioneering.
Federal tax law forbids churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates, but the ADF is recklessly asking ministers to use their pulpits on Sept. 28 to intervene in the upcoming election.
That's a really bad idea, of course, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State has already announced plans to file complaints with the Internal Revenue Service about any misguided congregations that fall for the ADF plot.
Pastor Williams is taking action in another way. In an Aug. 7 letter to fellow clergy reported on the United Church of Christ Web site, Williams blasted the ADF and urged pastors to educate their congregations about the First Amendment.
"I will not use the pulpit of my congregation to serve the interests of any candidate or political organization," Williams wrote. "I will stand firm in faith for religious freedom.
"I invite you to join me and many other partners in faith to stand firm against this latest attempt by ADF to cross the line and jeopardize the unique role and moral authority that leaders and communities of faith have exercised throughout the history of our nation," Williams continued. "I invite you to preach on Sept. 21 about the freedoms that the laws and the Constitution of our nation provide to all leaders and communities of faith."
In addition, Williams is holding a press conference Sept. 8 in Columbus to announce a joint clergy letter to the IRS seeking penalties for the ADF.
"The promotion of tax fraud, particularly to houses of worship, is not a charitable endeavor," Williams said. "We believe that the ADF should lose its tax-exempt status."
Williams says churches may not endorse candidates, but clergy have broad latitude to address religious, moral and political issues. He blasted the ADF's claim that pastors are somehow "muzzled."
"This is simply not true," Williams countered. "It is fitting and appropriate for clergy to discuss the political dimensions of moral, ethical and justice issues, even in the middle of an election campaign. But that is not the same thing as specifically telling parishioners who they should vote for and who they should vote against."
Williams' sermons-for-separation project is a winner, and we hope pulpits across America take part on Sept. 21. (We'll have additional information on this issue in upcoming days. Stay tuned!)