One of the worst ideas to come out of conservative evangelicalism in recent years is the Alliance Defense Fund’s “Pulpit Initiative.” Its purpose is to challenge the IRS prohibition on endorsement of political candidates by churches by getting pastors to do just that, this years on September 26. It is an egregious example of putting political activism before godly churchmanship, and is defended in World News Daily by Dave Welch, founder and executive director of the U.S. Pastor Council and Houston Area Pastor Council (last seen opposing a gay candidate for mayor of Houston) and a former field director for the Christian Coalition. Welch writes:
Alliance Defense Fund’s Pulpit Initiative is an act of ministry that I urge every pastor to consider participating in for one very specific reason. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures are the governing authorities given jurisdiction over the preaching and practice of the Gospel, nor is any such authority granted in the Constitution.
The existence of this restriction on what is preached in pulpits is offensive and unacceptable in every way.
On one level, I agree with him. The state has no business telling pastors what they can and cannot preach. On this principle alone, I would like to see the prohibition repealed. But that’s a very different matter from saying that, from the standpoint of the church, pastors ought to be doing what Welch and the ADF are advocating.
The matter of endorsing candidates falls in the same category of subject that I’ve said before the church should stay away from. Picking between candidates is a matter of prudential political judgment about which we have no specific guidance from Scripture. And so, for example, it would have been easy to justify a vote for either Barack Obama or John McCain in the last presidential election, depending upon which particular issues (moral, social, economic, international, etc.) one chose to emphasize. The matter of the individual characteristics of the candidates is also going to be a matter of prudential judgment–is executive experience important, or is a hot temper a problem? Every individual voter must make up his or her own mind about such things, and I as a pastor may have strong opinions, but the opinions of a pastor as such have no more weight than that of any other person. (I believe I’m a very well informed person regarding politics and government, so maybe my opinion would carry more weight with an inquirer, but that has nothing to do with my being a pastor.)
In other words, while the state shouldn’t be seeking to regulate my speech as a pastor because of the First Amendment, I as a pastor have an obligation to keep partisan politics out of the pulpit. That’s my calling as a pastor, which is higher than my calling as a citizen. But that’s not something that Welch seems to understand.
He ends his article with quotes from an 1896 political science textbook regarding the duties of citizens (including such bromides as, “… In order to sustain a good government every man should exercise his political rights to the best of his knowledge … every man should be able to vote intelligently” and “It is your duty to act generally with some political party and to exert your influence upon its leaders to induce the nomination of capable and honest men for office”) and concludes:
If you notice in the principles listed above, there is no “exception” clause for Christians in general or for pastors in particular. If you are an American citizen, these are your duties, period.
Really? And if I believe my calling as a pastor is to avoid partisan politics as a corrosive poison that inevitably undermines the integrity of the gospel pulpit and my mission as a shepherd of souls regardless of their political opinions, does that make me, as he implies earlier, an “enemy of the state”? (Before the list of citizenship duties, Welch writes, “Following the compelling assertion that ignorance and inaction are equivalent to being an enemy of the state, the textbook describes…” ) Or does it simply mean that I put my duty to God and His ministry above my duty as a citizen of the United States?
As a great man once said, if this be treason, let us make the most of it. For God’s sake.