A few days ago, the Alliance Defense Fund announced a plan to persuade clergy to defy federal tax law and preach about candidates from the pulpit the weekend of Sept. 27-28.
The ADF claims that religious leaders are being gagged because they can't tell their congregants which candidates to vote for or against. As we've pointed out before, there are a number of problems with this claim. For starters, many people sitting in the pews aren't interested in receiving this type of advice from pastors. They can decide for themselves whom to vote for, thank you very much.
More importantly, most people don't go to a house of worship to receive a list of endorsed candidates. This might surprise the ADF, but most people go to a house of worship to get closer to God.
It's not surprising, therefore, that religious leaders are increasingly speaking out against the ADF's crass stunt. J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, put it well when he told the Associated Press that partisan activity can "compromise the essential calling to spread the Gospel."
"The church can't raise a prophetic fist at a candidate or at a party when it's locked up in a tight bear hug with that candidate or party," Walker said.
Another prominent Baptist, Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, told "Ethics Daily," the blog of the Baptist Center for Ethics, "Preachers who want to turn their churches into political action committees need to play by the same rules as all the other political action committees in our country. They need to give up their tax-exempt status. They should not expect American taxpayers to subsidize their political activities. Nobody gets a tax deduction when they make contributions to other political organizations."
Larry McSwain, professor of ethics and leadership at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, agreed.
"The IRS rules are fair and nothing is more unfair than to scream for separation with one voice while asking for the benefits of government support with another," McSwain said. "Church members should give their money freely and without tax exemption if they want their pastor to be a partisan political voice."
Evangelical leader Os Guinness was also unimpressed by the ADF plan. Guinness told American Prospect blogger Sarah Posner that the ADF's campaign is "a sign of Christian weakness, not of strength." He referred to the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who wrote about the power of evangelical churches in America in pre-Civil War America.
"Pastors did not need to politically engage, because they taught the Bible, and their lay people carried it out in public life...," Guinness said. "It's precisely because we have such a weakness of faith integrated with life that you have to call pastors to actually electioneer....Good pastors can preach the entire Bible all the time without any constitutional problem."
We've pointed out before that polls show Americans overwhelmingly supporting the IRS regulations that curb pulpit-based partisan politicking. So who does the ADF speak for? Mostly, the power-mad TV preachers who founded the group and their Religious Right cohorts. It speaks for a band of pastors so deluded they actually believe Americans are burning to hear every pearl of partisan political wisdom that drops from their lips.
Thanks, but no thanks. Americans have no need for a band of scofflaw pastors breaking federal law, and most religious leaders are more than happy to abide by the IRS regulations. If the ADF insists on proceeding with this stunt, I suspect there will be little sympathy for the pastors foolish enough to go along with it.