Preachers and Politics, What do you think?

Last week, I asked if preachers ought to pick a fight with the IRS. Today, I want to revisit the issue and ask for morepreachers irs pulpit freedom feedback. I have linked here an article from Baptist Press, which explains why an overwhelming majority of pastors support the IRS code forbidding pastors from endorsing candidates for political office. As the chart to the right shows, a whopping 87% of pastors surveyed think pastors should not endorse political candidates.

However, a small (but growing) number of pastors are challenging that thinking.  Sunday, October 7, 2012, has been declared “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”  Below is a video from Jim Garlow of Skyline Church, speaking about why he is leading the charge to free pulpits from the IRS muzzle-code.

For my part, I am torn between freedom and wisdom. On the one hand, I am with the 87% who think pastors should not endorse candidates from the pulpit. Pastors have such a limited window that for the sake of maximum impact they ought to stick to the gospel and focus their energies on clearly proclaiming the penal substitutionary atonement of our Lord Jesus.

Yet, the point Garlow makes in this video is undeniable. The IRS code functions like the nose of a camel. If the nose is allowed in the tent, it won’t be long before the camel overruns the tent.  The most pressing moral issues of our day are inherently political issues (abortion, gay marriage).  The IRS code does more than place endorsements off-limit; it also could be interpreted to forbid speaking against party platforms of candidates–even if party platforms call for abortion on demand and the dissolution of traditional marriage.

Where is the line between a free pulpit and a muzzled pulpit? Congress shall make no law restricting the free exercise of religion, according to the Constitution. Even more important, pastors are called to obey God rather than men and to preach the Word in season and out of season. It’s too simple to think that preaching means only calling sinners to be saved.  John the Baptist preached against Herod’s infidelity (Luke 3); Paul called civil magistrates to account when they failed to follow Roman law (Acts 16:39ff); and Peter with the rest of the Apostles were beaten and ordered not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, but they “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42).

There is a very long history in the Christian faith of running afoul of governing authorities. Though I have no desire to endorse a candidate from the pulpit, I am not sure I want the government to have the power to tell me that I cannot do that. I should be free to persuade Christians to cling to everything that is good (like marriage) and to abhor everything that is evil (like abortion on demand), right?

Should Preachers Mess with the IRS?


A group of Protestant preachers appears to be picking a fight with the IRS this election cycle.  According to this Fox News article, more than 1,000 preachers have pledged to participate in an October 2012 campaign sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund).

The aim of the Alliance’s initiative is to force the IRS to take action against one or more of the pastors who Preachers Fight IRS Code Challengeintentionally violate the IRS code for religious organizations.  Since 1954, the code has had the effect of muzzling preachers and preaching in relation to anything political. For instance, the code states (on page 8) that preachers,

“…must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention .  Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.  A statement can identify a candidate not only by stating the candidate’s name but also by other means such as showing a picture of the candidate, referring to political party affiliations, or other distinctive features of a candidate’s platform or biography.”

So preachers can’t critique a candidate’s platform or biography? These seemingly overreaching regulations would prevent a pastor from discouraging parishioners away from the Democrat party on account of the national party’s platform calling for abortion and the dissolution of traditional marriage. While one might wonder why a pastor would want to be so political as to call for opposing one of our two major parties, one may also wonder why a pastor cannot—on the basis of the position statements on issues like abortion and traditional marriage—encourage his congregants to vote in accordance with their highest values.

The Alliance Defending Freedom hopes that pastors will follow through with their pledges and specifically oppose a candidate in this election cycle so that the IRS will revoke tax exempt status or take some other legal action. Then, the Alliance will, in turn, sue the IRS and force a court hearing on the subject. The Alliance is confident that the code (never approved as law) is not constitutional and has shut down the free speech of pastors and pulpits across America.

I am curious what your thoughts are on this matter. Should pastors pick a fight with the IRS?  I could see Christians arguing both ways on the issue.  Think about examples in the Bible.

On the one hand, Jesus was marched out and accused unjustly before His government accusers, yet remained completely silent, while, on the other hand, John the Baptist, seemingly unprovoked, took a governing official to task for his personal infidelity (King Herod’s taking his brother’s wife). Herod had John beheaded for his preaching. Why did Paul call for the Roman officials to come and escort him from jail personally (Acts 16), rather than taking his release and getting out of Philippi? At times, Christians go meekly as good sheep; at other times, they seem to provoke the governing authorities. Which time is this with the IRS?