It was Sunday, July 3, 2011, when my mentor took her place in the pulpit of her Alabama Episcopal Church, and preached the sermon that shocked her congregation into an uncomfortable reality. She told them that the recently passed anti-immigration law in Alabama flew in the face of the Gospel and Christ's redemptive love for all people. She was clear and specific in her message, and it wasn't lost on those in attendance.
It also wasn't necessarily appreciated. Some yelled at her, wagged their fingers at her, and one of her biggest financial contributors picked up his money bags and walked out. And the universal complaint was that she should never have preached politics from the pulpit. This was church; we don't want to think how our public policies fail to live up to the Gospel when we're in church!
So, I find it sad and irritating that this weekend, there will be hundreds of preachers across the country, standing in their pulpits with their captive church audiences, and telling them who they should and should not vote for in this election. It's called, "Pulpit Freedom Sunday". Or should we call it, "Break the Law Sunday." As tax-exempt entities, churches are not supposed to be in the business of endorsing candidates. But the pastors and preachers who plan to use their pulpits as bullies for particular politicians say such a restriction is preventing them from testifying to truths. Their version of truth. And, in an amazing twist of their own logic, some of them are arguing that the IRS' ban on allowing endorsements of candidates is state infringement on the church. "Separation of Church and State!" they cry. And the world is turned upside down again.
There is a big difference between what my mentor did and what will be happening this Sunday. I have no problem with a priest or preacher looking at the Gospel lesson of the day and marveling at how it is speaking to an issue of current political debate. I don't mind them sharing their thoughts and challenging congregations to think through the catchy bracelet slogan, "What Would Jesus Do?" and reaching a conclusion that might make some squirm in their comfy seats. Preaching the Gospel, really doing it, would make lots of people uncomfortable. But that isn't the same as standing in a pulpit and announcing that one candidate is the "chosen one of God" while the other is Satan incarnate out to destroy America. Believe me, there will be those churches where the pastors will be arguing such a case in their effort to elect Mitt Romney. Worse is that some will decide that the loose-plate collection at the offertory will go to a political cause or candidacy. And they will do all this while being let off the hook from paying taxes.
Enough of this! Either we enforce the law and fine these churches, or we admit that we won't enforce the law and we repeal it.