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October 11, 2012
Column #1,624
Pastors Become Political in Pulpit
By Mike McManus

            “No follower of Jesus Christ is going to want to vote for a person who violates Biblical principles.  Tearing up babies in the womb, destroying the definition of marriage – who’d want to vote for somebody who would do that?  And for that reason, I’m voting for Mitt Romney,” asserted Pastor Jim Garlow on Sunday at Skyline Wesleyan Church near San Diego.
 
            Not your typical sermon, right? 
 
However, Garlow chairs “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” which is challenging the IRS ban on tax-exempt churches endorsing candidates. Some 1,586 pastors preached a similar sermon last Sunday, outlining their Biblical reasoning for voting for either Obama or Romney.  This is the fifth year that a growing number of pastors preached a political sermon.
 
            What’s more, they taped their sermons and sent them to the IRS!
 
On the Steven Colbert Show, Colbert asked Garlow “You have been trying to poke the hornet’s nest of the IRS. But they’ve never responded.  Why?”
 
            “I assume they know they will lose in court. There should be no government intrusion in the life of the church…Whether a pastor is conservative or liberal, there should be no pulpit police monitoring their speech.  There should be free speech, and it should be absolute.”
 
            Colbert joked, “I don’t think there is enough religion in our politics or enough politics in our religion. If a politician you support loses, then you have a loser God.”
 
            However, what’s at stake is extremely serious. Some 2,200 attorneys affiliated with the Alliance Defending Freedom have offered free defense of any church the IRS challenges.
 
In the first 166 years of American history, churches frequently and fervently spoke for and against candidates for office.  There were sermons against Thomas Jefferson for being a deist, opposing William Howard Taft as a Unitarian and against Al Smith as a Catholic. Churches were also at the forefront of most of the significant societal and government changes in our history – slavery, child labor and civil rights.
 
            This proud history was truncated in 1954 when then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson persuaded Congress to pass an amendment stating that tax-exempt entities could not “participate in, or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”  LBJ was concerned that two wealthy donors were using a non-profit to support an opponent. He didn’t want to silence the church; but that was the result.
 
            For example, the IRS investigated the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena over a sermon arguing that Jesus would not vote for President Bush because of the Iraq war.  After the church refused to cooperate with the IRS investigation, the IRS closed the examination without penalizing the church.
 
            Garlow is probably right that the IRS fears it would lose in court over the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Therefore, on the first Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008 he and 32 other pastors began to defy the “unconstitutional amendment.” He asks, “How has it worked out for us over the past 58 years? Are we more righteous or more Godly? Pulpits have gone silent.  Pastors in fear of the loss of their tax exemption have backed away.  They are afraid they can’t register voters.  They have been muzzled, intimidated and bullied.”
 
            In his sermon Garlow quoted Jeremiah 1:5 on abortion: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  And Luke 1:41: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby lept in her womb.”
 
            On marriage, he noted “Genesis starts with a wedding of a male and a female. In Matthew 19, Jesus says “the Creator made them male and female and said, `For that purpose a man will leave his parents and cleave to his wife.’ The two complimentary genders form the full image of God.  As we come together in physical marriage, what God has joined together, let no person ever redefine, let no person tamper with. So when government steps in with same-sex marriage, the results are immediate. Personal freedom, religious rights, personal liberty and parental rights are threatened.”
 
            Across the country at Hope Christian Church in Maryland, Bishop Harry Jackson asserted “We have an out-of-control state legislature that put same-sex marriage into the law,” on which there will be a referendum. As an African-American, he challenged his black church: “The black community has the highest unemployment. You are foolish to vote against the God who brought you out of slavery, for a man because his skin is black though he supports an anti-God, anti-Gospel position on marriage.
 
            “You celebrate your race over grace. No wonder you can’t get a job.”
 
            It’s time to unshackle the church.
 

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