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Warroad pastor endorses McCain from pulpit

Members of the congregation at Warroad (Minn.) Community Church listened intently Sunday morning as Rev. Gus Booth told them they not only should vote for John McCain in November, but they also should campaign for him.

Booth is one of several clergy across the country to endorse a candidate from behind the pulpit on what was de-clared "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" by the Alliance Defense Fund.

"We need to vote for the most righteous of candidates," Booth said Sunday. "And it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out. The most righteous is John McCain."

He told members of the congregation they need to evaluate the candidates through the teachings of the Bible, fo-cusing his sermon mainly on abortion and homosexuality, with mention of education. Homosexuality is wrong and immoral, Booth said, and Obama's decision not to denounce neither it nor abortion is evil, wicked and an abomina-tion, he added, and his views on homosexuality are "brain-dead."

"Obama condones what the Bible condemns," he said.

Booth doesn't call himself a one-issue voter, he said. "But abortion is just that important."

That drew shouts of "Amen" from the members of the congregation, sitting among several empty seats. And De-mocrats are ignorant in their Christianity, Booth added.

"The person who's going to get my vote is the one who's the most biblical," he said.

He added, though, that even if Obama wins the election, he still will pray for and respect him.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State have tried to stop Booth and the others preaching politics from the pulpit, lobbying to the Internal Revenue Service to yank his church's tax exemption. "The Johnson Amendment," passed in 1954 restricts tax-exempt nonprofits from engaging in politics.

Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Herald politicking from the pulpit hurts the church and the state.

"The federal government extends tax exemption to churches, charities and educational groups because they do charitable work," Conn said in an e-mail responding to questions about Booth's efforts. "If organizations engage in partisan political activity, they fall into a different tax category. Churches are free to endorse political candidates if they wish to, but they can't do so and keep their tax exemption."

About Booth's argument that churches' free speech rights should trump tax laws, Conn says, "If churches become partisan and political, it will divide our communities. Many countries around the world suffer from intense inter-faith hostility because religious groups battle with each other to control the government. We don't need that in the United States, and we don't need to start down that path. We have an estimated 2,000 different denominations and faith groups. You can imagine the strife if each of them tried to impose their beliefs on the general public through government action."

"Everybody says, 'Don't talk about that!'" Booth said of politics. "But I have to.

Obama has rejected the advice of the Bible, Booth said, and has followed youth and inexperience.

"Our country needs the wisdom of a father," he said. "Not the misguided ways of inexperience."

McCain is the Biblical choice and the Christian candidate, Booth said, as Obama calls himself a Christian but does not follow Christ. Obama denies God by his policies, he added.

"It is important for your life not to have the wrath of God upon you for who you vote for in November," Booth said.

The road to Heaven is narrow, but the path to destruction is wide, he added.

The sermon seemed to be well-received by the congregation, many commenting on how true they thought it was.

"It was so awesome and inspiring," said Kathy Pearson. "I truly believe it came from God. God has called us to do this."

Pearson has been a McCain supporter, she said, and Booth's views and endorsement have only made her beliefs clearer.

"He doesn't just say it, he lives it," she said of Booth. "And I don't see how you could vote any other way as a Christian."

Booth said he has gotten a few comments from congregants regarding speaking about politics in church, but on his candidate choice.

The Rev. Gary Graff, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Red Lake Falls, Minn., e-mailed the Herald opposing Booth's plan.

"Pastor Booth argues that he is defending the freedom of religion and speech. But religion and speech have al-ways had checks and balances," Graff wrote. "In some parts of the world, clergy do tell their parishioners how to vote. Iran and Iraq come to mind. But would you really want to live in Iraq? Would you really want to worship in a congregation where the clergy are constantly doing your thinking for you?

Bill Moyers Journal, a national news group, was at the service, also.

"We are looking at the national angle through this church," said Betsy Rate, Public Affairs Television producer, who traveled from New York City.

"I totally agree with everything he said," said congregant Sarah Lee. "I believe that McCain should be viewed as a Christian leader and the appropriate candidate."

Lee also is a McCain supporter, but her beliefs are reaffirmed after hearing Booth speak Sunday.

"It wasn't Earth-shattering," Booth said of his political sermon. "But it didn't suck."