It wasn't surprising to hear that a Southern Baptist church in a politically conservative area of Florida distributed the Christian Coalition's so-called "voter guides" three days before Election Day. It was a little surprising to hear from a parishioner who thought her congregation should never do it again.
Americans United received an email recently from a woman who described herself as both a Republican and a Southern Baptist. Just as importantly, the woman whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy added, "I believe in total separation of church and state if we are to give any house of worship a tax-exempt status."
As she explained it, a deacon at her church was distributing the Coalition's campaign materials to the congregation before services on Sunday, Nov. 3.
"When he attempted to hand it to me," recalled our contact, "I said, 'I don't want that crap,' not too Christian of me but I told him I don't like election materials of any persuasion in my church."
Though her choice of words may have been slightly impolitic, her sentiment is praiseworthy. The guide she was offered had no place in a tax-exempt house of worship, and she was brave enough to say so unequivocally.
The flier she refused to take was carefully crafted to help candidates of one political party win elections. Churches and other non-profits are required by law to remain neutral in partisan political campaigns, and the Christian Coalition's guides are anything but neutral.
Ultimately, the woman's complaint was effective in helping change her church's policy. Three days after her blunt protest at the door of her church, her pastor called and said the congregation would no longer pass out literature from the Christian Coalition or any other political group. He said he would also tell the deacon about the policy.
If this occurs elsewhere, the Christian Coalition will be facing an unprecedented crisis. The group's modus operandi for influencing election outcomes has been simple for decades: Use churches to distribute biased, partisan "voter guides" that tell church-going voters which candidates are saints and which are sinners.
In recent election cycles, an increasing number of pastors have wisely decided to reject the Coalition's overtures. Realizing the legal and ethical consequences of a tax-exempt church engaging in partisan politicking, religious leaders are refusing to be cogs in a TV preacher's political machine.
Now, church-goers are saying that they, too, have had enough of partisan politicking within the sanctuary. Good for them.
These types of examples are a nightmare for the Coalition. The more they occur, the more the group loses its ability to use churches to intervene in campaigns. With every church that rejects the Christian Coalition, the group's relevance slips just a little further.