Pulpit Priority: An Atlanta Pastor Says Churches Should Be Prophetic, Not Political

Plenty of clergy disagree with church-based electioneering.

Americans United recently asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an El Paso ministry that is spearheading a recall campaign against that city’s mayor and two members of the city council.

Pastor Tom Brown has used his Tom Brown Ministries to coordinate the recall campaign. Brown is angry because Mayor John Cook and council members Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd voted to extend benefits to domestic partners. He is using the ministry’s website to promote the recall.

Brown attacked Americans United, telling the right-wing OneNewsNow that AU is anti-religious, far left and a group that seeks to harass Christians. This is false, of course, but we’ve heard it all before. Really, these guys need a new script.

Brown also asserts that he’s working only on his own behalf to recall the mayor and the two council members. But that’s simply not true, as this page on his ministry website proves. Brown also asserts that the IRS doesn’t prohibit churches from getting involved in recall campaigns. Again, that’s not true. Federal law forbids any 501(c)(3) group from intervening in an election by endorsing or opposing a candidate. Launching a campaign to remove candidates from office is clearly intervention.

The good news is that plenty of clergy disagree with the kind of church-based electioneering that Brown is doing. The Rev. Dr. Richard H. Cobble, president of Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, recently spoke out strongly against misusing church resources for political ends.

What Cobble told the Spiritual Herald is so good it’s worth quoting at length:

“I seriously believe that clergy should not be endorsing candidates. Right now in this country we have a battle of hatred and divisiveness that is going on because there is religious ideology often involved in a lot of the issues. The clergy ought to remain neutral whereas they become the prophetic voice for dealing with the issues. When this nation was formed the people who left England left because of religious repression and involvement of clergy or religious factions in with the different authority of government. They came to this country and were able to formulate the separation of church and state.

“In terms of clergy or non-profits endorsing candidates, they should maintain the separation of church and state in order to have the prophetic voice and have a clear field of dealing with the issues. Right now we have problems with various factions endorsing candidates, and we had a stalemate in the country because of those standings. The best way we can move beyond that is to make clear the challenge, when they’re doing right or wrong, and encourage them to do right.

“Of course those opponents are using the First Amendment as another tactic to be able to tackle the consciousness of those individuals who revere the Constitution. It’s just another tactic to create hate and divisiveness in this country and we need to get away from that.”

To the Rev. Dr. Cobble I can only say, “Amen! Preach on.”

Pastor Brown, you could learn a lot from this man.