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Politics from the pulpit: search for the most righteous

Has God chosen sides in the upcoming election? If not, some of his pastors certainly have. On Sept. 28, a number of pastors, as part of "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" told their congregations not only who to vote for, but that they should also campaign for him: "We need to vote for the most righteous of the candidates and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out." Pastors in 20 states gave such sermons on that day.

The Pulpit Freedom Sunday was sponsored and organized by a group called the Alliance Defense Fund. This organization opposes a 54 year-old tax law that prohibits tax-exempt non-profit group from engaging in politics. They say the law (IRS 501(c) (3)) is unconstitutional because it deprives the church of the constitutional right of free speech. They seek a lawsuit and threaten to take the question all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The movement is opposed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a group of 55 religious leaders from Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and other states who argue that the Pulpit Freedom Sunday will jeopardize the separation of church and state, and while the state should stay out of church affairs, so should the church stay out politics. That's what Thomas Jefferson said -- there should be a wall of separation between church and state. The separation group has filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service claiming code violations. One pastor from Minnesota 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 like to live in Iraq? Would you really want to worship in a congregation where the clergy are constantly doing your thinking for you?"

Regardless of what the Supreme Court may decide and regardless of which candidate the clergy may endorse, the idea of a presidential endorsement from the pulpit is likely to do more harm than good. I have already heard that our invasion of Iraq was God's plan. I really doubt that God endorsed the violent deaths of over 4,000 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children. American clergymen have also said that 9/11 was God's punishment to America for our many evil policies and practices, and that the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina was also God's punishment. If that's the direction the pulpit will take us with politics, I don't want to go there.

When the clergy jump into politics they invite the question: are you a uniter or a divider? What could be more divisive in a congregation or a community than a division based on political endorsements? Before long, the Democrats would drift to one church and the Republicans to another. If I don't share your religious-political beliefs am I an infidel? To each his own, but I prefer to belong to a balanced group where believers from the right worship in harmony with believers from the left, all respecting the beliefs of one another, and without marching orders from the pulpit. Election day and judgment day are not the same thing.