Are Church leaders wrong to preach for specific candidates?

Steve Brown's picture

A fracas erupted during the McCain-Obama competition. The battle was not political, but religious.

In September, around 30 pastors across the country, including one in Georgia, mailed copies of their sermons to the IRS denouncing Barack Obama and supporting John McCain. The pastors’ actions were a direct challenge to a federal law enacted in 1954 stating that nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations cannot participate in political campaigns for or against candidates for public office.

The law only applies to sermons and activity within the church and not activities outside the church.

One of the participating pastors, the Rev. Wiley S. Drake of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., proclaimed to the L.A. Times, “I’m going to talk about the un-biblical stands that Barack Obama takes. Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for him.” He went on to say, “We may not be politically correct, but we are going to be biblically correct. We are going to vote for those who follow the Bible.”

Of course, there are pastors who argue for Obama in the same way, like the numerous sermons released from Obama’s Trinity United Church of Christ that claim biblical authority as well.

From a political perspective, the challenge from the clergymen could raise First Amendment questions, questions of tax-exempt status for religious groups, church-state relations, and the meaning of the free exercise of religion in America.

However, as a Christian, I am left wondering why the Church (referring to Christendom, the collective body of Christians, denoted with a capital “C”) would want to place politicians on the altar alongside Jesus Christ.

The desperate rush to create a saint-like appreciation of politicians who may share some values with the Church appears to be the next phase of the movement to superficially adorn the United States with a thin Christian veneer.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Gospel of Mark, 12:17). Jesus never backed a political leader or government. Jesus never demanded the Ten Commandments be placed on walls of government buildings. Jesus never spoke out against the institution of slavery or other cultural ills. He made it clear, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

I am extremely concerned about the Church prostituting itself out to politicians involved in a system at odds with core Christian beliefs.

It was government control of religion that prompted many bodies of believers to move to America in search of religious freedom without political restraint.

Somehow the mandate of the Church today has shifted to a focus on cultural morality via government intervention. This is when the Christian veneer comes into play with Church leaders made content by politicians willing to plaster the society with Christian reference symbols and telling them what they want to hear.

For example, Congressional figures might be eager to defend the posting of the Ten Commandments (even though they may not be able name them) to obtain the political support of important personalities within the Church and win their unreserved loyalty. Harmful votes on other issues, however, are deemed almost inconsequential to the Church leaders due to the politician’s superficial support of a singular religious issue.

But should not the true mandate of the Church be about salvation where the government plays no role?

Many non-Christians who vilify the Church today do so because Christians fail to live and proclaim the Gospel and choose to obsess over controlling cultural morality through government. The Church’s sometime outward hostility toward the people God wants to reach is causing Christianity to become irrelevant in our culture.

Political ambitions within the Church place the responsibility on man (candidates and governments) rather than relying upon God. Even well-intentioned leaders will never live up to the expectations.

We can simply introduce people to Jesus Christ or try to force our morality on them through government, but we will have little success in doing the latter. It is interesting to note that Jesus often fought with the Pharisees, the elite who enforced the moral and religious laws of that period.

Once I became a believer in the 1980s, my moral view shifted on its own as I focused more on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The example of Jesus is one of how to live righteously in a secular culture, but not by force.

I thought Dr. Howard E. Dial of Berachah Bible Church did a nice job of revealing his personal parameters for selecting a candidate for elected office. He gave his view without having to stick his finger in the face of the IRS to prove his point.

Realistically, do you really think anyone at the Rev. Drake’s church was going to vote for anyone other than McCain? Likewise, did you even waste a second wondering if the congregation at the Rev. Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ was voting for Obama? So, would it be a stretch to think the political posturing from both is nothing more than Church leadership veering from the gospel?

A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll shows 66 percent of Americans believe pastors ought not to make political endorsements while acting as Church leaders. Likewise, LifeWay Research, associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, provided poll results of 85 percent of Americans disagreeing with pastors making endorsements from the pulpit.

There is nothing wrong with demanding that government be accountable and fair, but it is certainly not – and never has been — the purpose of the Church.

Please tell me what you think.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]

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Submitted by johenry on Fri, 11/07/2008 - 6:50pm.

Steve, you know I love ya, but the preachers have the right to say anything they want.

Hello to the family!

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 11/08/2008 - 6:57am.

No they don't have the right to say "anything" they want!
If they want to start paying income taxes on their collections and property tax on their assets, yes, then they may!
The Creator would have nothing to do with a preacher saying that a Christian only should be President of the USA! What would He tell the rest of the world about that?
Some preachers do that, anyway.
Keep religious preaching out of politics--keep it personal, pray in a closet. Don't yell and scream in the street or within a bunch of extremists.

The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Wed, 11/05/2008 - 8:27am.

The original purpose of the Establishment clause was to keep the states from establishing an offical religion, as almost each of the colonies did upon their founding. I question how a church and its sermon subverts the Establishment clause. They should preach about issues more than candidates, if they want to remain consistent, but it should not be mandatory. At the same time, our tax policies allow for too much subjectiveness and discrimination. Most of the Environmental and Secular agenda has a large faith/spiritual component, yet there is no restriction on their speech. We need to get the government out of discriminating through tax policy. Because really, especially with regard to this IRS and church issue, it is all about restricting of speech and increasing control.

Submitted by coachdon on Wed, 11/05/2008 - 7:51am.

Amen, well written and right to the point. As a matter of fact if you look at the election map it was the Bible belt that voted for McCain. I think the narrow view of the religious right cost him in the election

Spear Road Guy's picture
Submitted by Spear Road Guy on Wed, 11/05/2008 - 12:28pm.

Come on coachdon. I'm in agreement with Steve Brown on both sides having there hands in the cookie jar.

The Right Reverend Dr. Wright was as political as they get!!

What is the real purpose of the church anyway?

Vote Republican

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