Contrary to popular belief, conservative Christian pastors have never been monolithic in their willingness to engage in anything close to partisan political activity in their churches. The stereotypical perception of the “religious right” in America is a myth. I know. I was there in the cultural trenches in the mid-1990s, trying to inform Christian voters of the records of the candidates for office.
As a state executive director and organizer for one of the largest pro-life, pro-family organizations in the country, I was frustrated constantly by the reticence of pastors to allow even a simple, informative voter guide to be placed into their church bulletins. A handful was bold enough to speak out. Some were willing to allow the voter guides. Most were just plain timid and afraid.
Afraid of what? Why, the IRS, of course — or, as my great aunt used to refer to it, “the Infernal Revenue Service.”
Far too many on the Christian right have been bamboozled into believing that it is somehow against the law to engage in any sort of political activity whatsoever within the four walls of a church. In fact, many pastors are so paranoid about it they shun vital information that could help their congregations know right from wrong once they get into the voting booth.
Now comes word that a tiny cadre of three dozen or so activist pastors, working in conjunction with the Arizona-based religious rights legal firm known as the Alliance Defense Fund, are not only exercising their constitutional rights but also stand ready to challenge a 1954 amendment to the tax code that says nonprofit, tax-exempt entities may not “participate in or intervene in…any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”
These church leaders have come to realize that there is nothing in the law that forbids them, as pastors, from telling their congregations whom they personally endorse — and why. And they are challenging the notion that they should be proscribed from putting forth a church endorsement based on a candidate’s positions on issues that may be contrary to the moral teaching of that church.
One of these pastors is the Rev. Ron Johnson, Jr., of Crown Point, Ind., who says that ministers of the Gospel have a responsibility to guide their flocks in worldly matters, including politics.
“The issue,” says Rev. Johnson, “is not, ‘Are we legislating morality?’ The issue is, ‘Whose morality are we legislating?’”
Although he has stopped short of endorsing Republican John McCain, Rev. Johnson has rightly told his congregation that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s positions on abortion and homosexual relationships are “in direct opposition to God’s truth as He has revealed it in the Scriptures” and has shown slides in his church contrasting the two candidates’ views on key issues important to pro-family voters.
Of course, the Religious Left, especially as it has traditionally promoted liberal Democrats in black churches across the country, has been engaging in highly partisan political activity for as long as many of us can remember. In one particularly blatant case, I recall an inner city church van covered with political posters of Democrat candidates encouraging black voters to “vote Democrat.”
This van was sent out into the community to register Democrats, transport them to the polls and bring them to a makeshift Democrat campaign headquarters being run out of the church basement. When the state Republican Party chairman took photos of the van and sent them to the local news media, they were officially ignored.
It is encouraging to see a small but determined group of Godly men and women reach out to their congregations with the truth about Barack Obama’s radical political views and culturally toxic voting record. It is time for evangelical Christians to stop being taken in by lofty rhetoric. It is time for men of God to stand up and be heard on the great issues of our time.