Over 1,000 pastors across the U.S. agreed to participate in yesterday’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The event, part of a strategic litigation plan sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is an annual attempt to provoke the IRS into revoking the non-profit status of churches. Pastors signed a pledge agreeing to “evaluate candidate(s) running for political office during a regular worship service in light of biblical Truth and church doctrine.”
While the IRS has reportedly issued threats to pastors who use the pulpit of political speeches, the agency has never actually taken the issue to court. “[The IRS prefers] to put out these vague statements and regulations and enforce it through a system of intimidation, says Erik Stanley, ADF’s senior legal counsel. “Pastors are afraid to address anything political from the pulpit.”
Although I have a number of friends at ADF and highly value the work they do, I’ve never been comfortable with their encouraging pastors to make political endorsements And I’m not the only one. According to a recent survey by LifeWay Research, nearly 90 percent of Protestant pastors believe they should not endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit.
My own view is that preachers are called to preach, not provide punditry. As Daniel Darling, a Chicago-area pastor and author, recently wrote,
This sounds like a cliche, but it bears saying: faithful Bible preachers use the text of the Word of God as their source of preaching. Anything less is simply a speech, which may be inspirational, moral, or even Christian-themed. But if our basis is not the text, we’re not preaching.
This is not to say that preachers should stay away from the political. That is an impossibility in an age when much theological territory has been encroached upon by politicians. Preachers have an obligation to explain how the truths of scripture and tradition apply to our current human situation, whether it applies to the moral, economic, or political realms. But while the Bible may endorse certain political positions, scripture does not endorse individual candidates. Neither should preachers.
I should clarify, however, that while I may have religious objections to preachers endorsing candidates during church services, I believe they have the right to do so. Indeed, they should be able to freely exercise those rights without having to endure government intimidation. As Stanley says in a recent op-ed, “Just as with those other rights, free speech is a constitutionally protected freedom, not a privilege that the government can grant or revoke while dangling the tax-exempt status of the speaker’s church over his head.”