Church, meet State; State, Church

Nice to meet you, shake hands, and go your separate ways. That’s the appropriate relationship between you. Any further fraternizing, and somebody’s in danger of having a nasty and illicit affair.

In the midst of the economic problems and the partisan and non-partisan struggles to fix them, what caught my attention this weekend were the pastors organized by the conservative Alliance Defense Fund who endorsed Sen. John McCain from their pulpits this Sunday. The event, Pulpit Freedom Sunday, drew critique from organizations that defend the separation of church and state, as well it should. The IRS is looking into some of the cases, and may revoke the tax-exempt status of these churches, as well they should. Crossing a line like this should come with consequences.

But, as much as I like the Constitution and think it is a pretty decent living document and should be adhered to, that’s not my primary problem with this action. Yes, its a violation of the Constitution and yes, it is an imposition of church values upon the state. But whatever.

I object because this is bad pastoring.

Really bad pastoring.

I have several bumper stickers on my car, but not one of them endorses a political candidate (and I’ve had to throw out or give away several perfectly good stickers to keep to this, including my favorite, “republicans for voldemort” one!). That’s a personal choice I make out of respect for my congregants who may or may not share my political views and yet need to feel comfortable turning to me in times of struggle and knowing that I will not judge them or think differently of them because they vote Green or Democrat or Republican (although I reserve the right to discriminate against Yankees fans– kidding! kidding, folks; calm your little pinstriped-selves!). Asked in a conversation by a congregant or anyone else, I will engage in a thoughtful discussion of the candidate that I am supporting for a particular office and what I believe his or her strengths are. With friends, I will try to sway them to the “light side” and to my candidate; with congregants, I’ll simply state my opinon, and only when asked.

But my pulpit, that’s sacred ground.

Not that I stand behind it; I preach standing in the open. But it’s still a sacred moment.

The sermon comes at a point of the service where we hear and respond to the Word of God in our lives. What the living Word might say to us is a mysterious and powerful thing. It is a time to open one another to the mystery of God, to all that is Holy, to fragile and infinite Truth. To bring into that moment a person’s name, a poltical party, an advertisement like so many others we see all over the TV and hear on the radio and read in print, to take that sacred moment and make it no different than a thirty second spot between an ad for McDonalds and the beginning of “The Office,” that’s profane. That’s insulting. That’s wounding to one’s congregation and to the cultivation of the awareness of the Spirit.

It breaks the moment of worship, shifting focus away from God and the Good News, to a lesser, temporal, finite thing.

Idolatry. Blasphemy. And I don’t go around screaming blasphemy lightly.

Go ahead and preach about issues– I know I do. I preach about poverty and health care and pacifism. If you want, my dear colleagues, preach about gay marriage and abortion and whatever else. I probably disagree with your positions, but I will defend your right to preach what you see as the truth. But don’t abuse your power in an attempt to sway an electorate. Don’t violate the sacred trust given to you by making absolutist claims that alienate your congregants from one another, from you, or from their neighbors. Certainly don’t–as one pastor stated–make the fear-mongering and in my mind racist claim that no Christian could possibly vote for Barack Hussien Obama. I know quite a few who already have, and more yet who fully intend to do so in the near future.

So yea, the IRS should revoke your tax exempt status for being less than non-partisan. As it should the status of any liberal-leaning clergy person who might feel the need to endorse Senator Obama in a sermon. But your churches should also think very seriously about revoking your licenses to preach or your ordination or whatever the equivalent is, because you have misused and violated the pastorate.

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