Protestant pastors shouldn't be intimidated by left-wing pressure groups trying to keep Biblically faithful churches from participating in this year's elections.
"If pastors find out what the law really says and what their rights really are, they'll see there's nothing to be afraid of," said Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. Palmer also writes a column for many Alabama newspapers.
Anti-Christian groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State (see au.org) and the Mainstream Coalition (see mainstreamcoalition.com) have been much in the news this summer. To "keep electioneering out of the sanctuary," in the words of AU's Barry Lynn, the groups have sent "monitors" into churches to report any pastors giving political speeches that would allegedly violate the tax code.
"What they're really doing is sending spies and informers to churches that are opposed to the legal recognition of homosexual 'marriage,'" Palmer said. "They don't want these churches mobilizing voters for this election."
Liberal Churches Do Politics
Palmer, who was in New York City for the Republican National Convention, contrasted "electioneering" in Biblically faithful churches with political activities staged at liberal churches.
At the "interdenominational … non-judgmental" Riverside Church in New York (see theriversidechurchny.org) on Sunday Aug. 29, former president and impeachment survivor Bill Clinton — from the pulpit, during the worship service — denounced President George W. Bush by name. The Clinton speech was part of Riverside's "Mobilization 2004" campaign, aimed at getting the president voted out of office (according to the church's website — see the William S. Coffin interview).
"I'll bet Mainstream and Americans United didn't have any monitors at that service," Palmer said. "Their street only goes one way. They want liberal churches to be political.
"Pastors ought to look at what the liberal churches do. See what they're getting away with. Whatever those churches can do, all churches can do."
Pastors who want to mobilize voters to defend marriage and defeat liberal politicians are allowed by tax laws to be actively involved in politics, Palmer said.
"They can hold voter registration drives," he said. "They can distribute nonpartisan voter guides [keeping track of how public officials vote on the issues]. Churches can even provide transportation to the polling places for voters who need it.
"Pastors can preach on social and political issues, and even discuss the candidates' stands on those issues. As long as they don't endorse a particular candidate or party, they're in the clear as far as the law's concerned.
"The Left is alarmed because the churches are waking up politically."
To learn exactly what the law allows them to do by way of political activism, Palmer advises pastors to contact the Alliance Defense Fund (800-TELL-ADF or alliancedefensefund.org), a national organization of constitutional lawyers.
So far in American history, he said, no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status on account of its political activity.
What About the Congregation?
Especially since the rise of the homosexual "marriage" controversy, Christian congregations are "becoming more motivated" to play a part in issue politics, Palmer said.
"There's a lot that Christian citizens can do," he said.
- "Register to vote, and get others to vote."
- "Get well-acquainted with the issues."
- "Educate yourself as to where the candidates stand on the issues."
- "Then go out and vote your faith, not your pocketbook."
Don't be afraid of radical "monitors" who may be in the church on any given Sunday, Palmer said.
"It's true that Christians are being harassed by these groups this election season. But the current administration in Washington won't put up with much more of that," he said.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.