by Al Maxey

Issue #546 ------- September 7, 2012
A politician thinks of the next election;
a statesman thinks of the next generation.

James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888)

Pastors Politicking From Pulpits
May Pastors Publicly Endorse Politicians?

In just two months, the people of this nation will exercise one of their basic freedoms: casting their votes for those persons who will serve as their leaders and representatives over the next several years. This is much more than just a popularity contest, although some treat it as such. It is fundamentally a polling of the people on the proposed direction of our nation. On November 6, "we the people" will decide far more than who will sit in the oval office (as well as other governmental offices). We will be collectively making a determination as to who we are as a nation, what our values are, our principles and beliefs, and how we want to be perceived by the other nations of this world in which we live. Not everyone reflects that deeply when casting their ballot, but they should. The choices made by the people on November 6 will set in motion a political and philosophical and social course that will impact not only our own lives, but the lives of future generations. Will we forfeit certain freedoms by our choices? Will we push God further away? Will we redefine some of our sacred institutions such as marriage and the family? These are not insignificant matters, and they are clearly before us at this time in our history. "We the people" are being called to make some critical choices. May our great God give us the collective wisdom to make the right ones, for too often people choose their leaders based on their own selfish desires. For example, the prophet Micah condemned the poor judgment of his people, saying, "If a man comes and invents lies: 'I will preach to you about wine and beer,' he would be just the preacher for this people" (Micah 2:11). Paul spoke of those who, "to suit their own desires, will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim. 4:3). Too often we choose leaders who "follow out front" -- leaders who simply give a powerful validating voice to our own vices. In such cases, it is not just the leaders who are at fault, it is primarily the people. Frankly, I fear we may be at that point in our own nation. I can only pray that I'm wrong.

As our nation prepares to elect new leaders, or retain those already in office, the question arises as to what role, if any, religious leaders should play in this process. Throughout history, both in our nation as well as others, the perspective of a people's pastors has generally been sought, although not always heeded. Even in biblical times one will find the prophets of God speaking out with regard to the ills of various nations and the wickedness of their leaders. God has never called His spiritual leaders to remain silent in the face of a nation's sins. Even in our own country, up until fairly recently, it was common practice for pastors to take a public stand from their pulpits regarding social issues and ills, and even to denounce various leaders who were, in their view, leading the people away from godly principles. Indeed, during the American Revolution the pastors were known as "The Black Regiment" (so named because of the black robes the clergy wore), and were regarded as an integral part of the effort to throw off the shackles of British rule and bring freedom to the New World. Sermons were preached from the pulpits against the tyranny of King George, and people were challenged by pastors to become involved in the coming revolution. On the night Paul Revere made his famous ride, for example, a pastor by the name of Jonas Clark was having supper with John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The latter two men asked Pastor Clark if the men of Lexington would fight if war came. Jonas Clark assured them that he had been training them for that very eventuality from his pulpit. History is filled with such examples of pastoral involvement in both the spiritual and secular affairs of a nation. Although some may argue the wisdom of such involvement, there is no denying the fact of it.

This all changed rather dramatically in our own country in 1954. Let me give a little background. In 1948, a year before I was born, Lyndon B. Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Texas in a highly contested election. He won by only 87 votes, which his opponent, Coke Stevenson, believed were acquired by voter fraud. The matter ended up in the courts, but in the end "Landslide Lyndon" was affirmed as the winner of the election, although many to this day believe credible evidence was presented that hundreds of votes had been faked. Six years later, in 1954, as Sen. Johnson ran for re-election, several non-profit groups (none of them churches, by the way) banded together to oppose him. To combat this effort, Johnson introduced what has come to be known as "The Johnson Amendment" to the Internal Revenue Code which prohibited non-profit organizations from publicly endorsing or opposing political candidates. The IRS Code was amended without debate in 1954, thus becoming legally binding upon all non-profit organizations (which, of course, included churches, although it was not Johnson's intent to restrict clergy, but only those groups opposing his own election efforts). The penalty for non-compliance with this amendment was forfeiture of tax-exempt status, which could certainly prove quite costly for many of these groups. Over the years there have been a number of efforts to overturn this amendment to the IRS Code, but none have proved very successful thanks to organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and The American Civil Liberties Union. [NOTE: For those who may be interested in my own views regarding "separation of church and state," see: Reflections #211 -- Church and State: May Disciples of Jesus Christ Participate in the Political Process?]

For those unfamiliar with the "The Johnson Amendment" of the IRS Code, let me provide the relevant quote from section 501(c)(3), which states that all tax-exempt organizations (including churches and religious organizations) "are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." Many strongly believe this "Johnson Gag Order" to be a violation of a pastor's (and a congregation's) First Amendment right to free speech, and thus unconstitutional. Nevertheless, current federal law gives the IRS the authority to both investigate and punish any church or pastor it deems to be in violation of this section of its Code. Although such prosecution has been rare, there have been a few notable cases. Perhaps the most famous is the case of the Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, New York, and its pastor Dan Little, who chose to publicly oppose the candidacy of Bill Clinton in 1992, thereby incurring the wrath of the IRS, which revoked its tax-exempt status.

Although this restrictive legislation may at "first flush" appear to be quite limiting, that is really not the case. There is tremendous latitude in the Code for pastors to publicly proclaim their views from their pulpits. For example, "A clergyman or pastor may, as an individual citizen, personally endorse or oppose a candidate. The fact that he is employed by a church does not negate his constitutional rights to free speech and political expression." The restriction is: "A church may not endorse or oppose a candidate for public office. Nor can a pastor from the pulpit, or acting on behalf of the church, endorse or oppose a candidate." In other words, as a private citizen of this nation I have the same right of free expression as any other private citizen. As the "official representative" of a church, however, I may not promote or oppose any candidate for office "from the pulpit." What I can do from the pulpit without being in violation of the IRS Code, however, is "speak out about social and moral issues, the actions of government officials in office, and the positions of candidates on issues and what the Bible has to say about those positions. As long as a church does not endorse or oppose a specific candidate for public office, it has broad freedom to praise or criticize officials and candidates."

For example, if a candidate endorses "Gay Marriage," I have the right to speak against the position of this candidate, and to declare God's view of the matter, as long as I do not instruct the church to vote against him. The clear implication of my teaching may be that a vote for this candidate is a vote against God's will on that issue, but an implication drawn by members from biblical teaching by the pastor from the pulpit is not in direct violation of the Code. If I declare God's will regarding the matter, and then declare the position of the candidate regarding the matter, and leave it at that, I have neither endorsed nor specifically opposed a candidate, I have merely commented on his position in light of Scripture. This is allowed. "Pastors and churches are free to discuss the positions of candidates on issues -- including criticizing or praising them for their positions. This is called 'issue advocacy.' Endorsing or opposing a candidate includes any statement which uses explicit words to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, such as 'elect,' 'support,' 'defeat,' or 'oppose.' This is called 'express advocacy.' A pastor in his individual capacity, however, may endorse or oppose a candidate. The pastor may state his affiliation with his church, as long as it is indicated that this is for identification purposes only and that his endorsement is from him personally, not his church."

Having provided the information above, let me conclude this brief piece by sharing my own personal convictions on the matter. As most of you probably know, having known me for some time (either personally or through my writings and speaking engagements), I have some very strong convictions about a good many issues, both biblical and political (spiritual and secular). I am also not one to cower silently when asked to voice those convictions, or to defend them. At the same time, I seek to be sensitive to the various venues in which I am privileged to voice my convictions, realizing that in some it would be appropriate for me to be very open and bold in what I say, whereas in others there may be a need for a more restrained presentation. A public figure who is not sensitive to his/her audience is one who is ultimately destined to cause greater harm than good. On my Facebook page, for example, I have no qualms about sharing my convictions. This site is devoted to interaction with family and friends, and thus I am more "free to be me." I really like a statement Patrick Mead made on his Facebook page last month (which I then shared on mine). He wrote, "Political comments are welcome on my page as long as I make them. If you don't like what I say, Facebook has a neat feature to deal with that called 'your own page'." Facebook provides a venue where people can give a "behind the scenes" glimpse, to select "friends," into who they really are and what they value in life. Those who don't like what they see are free to leave. The same is true of my Reflections: they reflect my personal thinking on a number of matters, and people are free to read them or not, as they choose.

When I am preaching or teaching in a congregation, however, all that changes (at least it does for me). For me to use these occasions as opportunities to try and impose my personal opinions on a somewhat "captive audience" is, in my view, unconscionable. They are not there to hear a message from Al Maxey, but rather a message from God through Al Maxey. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11, KJV). I like the way the Contemporary English Version phrases this passage: "If you have the gift of speaking, preach God's message." I personally do not believe the pulpit is the place to either endorse or oppose a particular candidate for political office. Yes, it may be the place to address specific social ills in the context of what Scripture teaches about those ills, but for pastors to engage in politicking from the pulpit is a perversion of its purpose, in my view. I simply won't do it. As a private citizen I will continue to exercise my First Amendment freedom to voice my views; as a "pastor with a pulpit," however, I will seek to be a conduit for God's message to the people, which is far more needed in this world than any one man's endorsement of a politician. When God's message requires it, I will speak out against the ills of society and the tyranny of its leaders, but I pray this will always be done in such a way that it is HIS message that is conveyed, not mine. I pray also that I may convey His words and warnings with such a sensitivity for those who hear them that they are bettered, not battered.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
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Immersed By One Spirit
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Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Missouri:

I have only this week found your name and writings among some of the materials that I have been reviewing on the Internet. Interestingly, my husband and I worshipped with your congregation for four years back in the late 1960's while he was in the military at Holloman Air Force Base. I am writing to ask whether you might be able to point me to the very best article you have relative to the One Cup doctrine, and in particular whether or not the "cup" as referenced in the Scriptures is a metonymy or not. I hope you are able to assist me in this regard, but even if you can't, please know that I am glad to find you on the Internet, and from now on I will be following your writings. May God continue to bless your work for Him.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

I appreciate your article "Paul's Proscription of Pharmakeia," and especially applaud your statement: "The forces of this present darkness are powerful, and they are deadly. Some Christians dismiss them as somewhat benign, almost relegating these powers to mere fables for the feeble-minded. We dare not dismiss Satan and his forces so casually." In my personal experience, this statement is very true! I have spent time in various countries in Africa, and many of the African brothers said that most all American missionaries have been very dismissive of the power of witchcraft. When they found that I had a respectful fear of such things, they opened up to me and shared many of their experiences. I interviewed folks independently, and from different countries, and have concluded that the power of witchcraft is real, and that it is enslaving. One brother, who lives in a small central African country, told me some years ago about paying a visit to a famous witch doctor in his country for purposes of better understanding what the witch doctor does and how he does it. He asked the witch doctor various questions, and one of the things the witch doctor said is that the homes of true Christians are protected by a very bright light. The witch doctor said that he is unable to penetrate that light barrier and thus unable to do harm to the residents of those homes. I have asked many folks in Africa where the power of witch doctors comes from, and without hesitation they have all said, "from Satan."

From a Reader in Arizona:

I am thankful for what you researched and wrote about witchcraft. The related matter of possession and oppression (two different Greek words) is serious, and far more common than many believers are willing to consider. It is tragic that we turn away from considering what we are unfamiliar with and afraid of. If we hear another involuntarily speak in an unnatural voice, we will remember it. What psychology now calls "dissociative identity disorder" used to be referred to as "multiple personalities." It comes from past trauma, often sexual, in childhood, and it imprisons mostly women in fear and, sometimes, physical pain. Many fundamental churches are willfully ignorant about helping those who are thus wounded.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Your Reflections article "Paul's Proscription of Pharmakeia" was in-depth and informative, as usual. My guess is that the appearance of Satan in our lives looks a lot less like a snake or a "devil with a pitchfork," and much more seductive and tempting to our flesh. We keep looking for some horrible reflection of evil, when it's really disguised in all its various forms of attraction. It's way past time to be on the alert. Thank for this very well-timed reminder.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Thank you for a much needed and fascinating article. I fear that we have long been taught that Satan goes about "as a roaring lion" in order to scare us into attending services at the local Church of Christ. Truth is, Satan's power is great and widespread, and he is intent upon destroying not only this blessed nation (as well as others), but also our minds and bodies while we are on earth. In witnessing what has happened just since the Republican National Convention began, and the demonic hatred demonstrated against them by those of opposing views, we should be aware that Satan has control of many in America! There is no longer a civil discourse over issues, but an intense and raging viciousness, one that is frightening to witness.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Interesting article! Is it appropriate to call this particular Reflections "enjoyable"?! Maybe I should just say that it's a subject we all need to "reflect" upon more! You obviously did a lot of research for this one ... as always. Thanks!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

What a sobering reminder of the evils of witchcraft. For many years, when my children were little, they didn't understand why I refused to let them watch Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, or even reruns of the Bewitched series on TV. However, I knew that Satan uses entertainment, as well as lust and other vices, to appeal to young minds. If it's funny, then "it can't be bad," and besides she's a "good witch." These are exactly the subtle approaches that can find their way into the hearts of mankind. That "angel of light" is often shining the way to destruction. What a powerful reminder your Reflections are on this often overlooked subject.

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