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“Pulpit Freedom Sunday” and the Call to Politicize the Pulpit

Religion Dispatches online magazine shared an article in which conservative evangelical leaders are calling on pastors to dare the government to sue them by using their pulpit to speak out against Obama and other “ungodly” candidates. They are hosting “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on October 7th in an effort to shame pastor’s “timidity” and get them to “Vote the Bible” as well as pressuring their congregations to do the same.

I honestly admire the passion with which these Christian leaders want to take a stand for Jesus. We do need to get out of “our complacency.” We do need to “take a stand.”  But for followers of Jesus, this is the exact wrong way to do it.

We are repeatedly, and emphatically, commanded to imitate (mimitai = to mimic) Jesus, and more specifically, to imitate his choice to set aside the power he could have used to impose his will on others and instead to humbly lay down his life for others (e.g. Eph. 5:1-2; Phil 2:5-11; 1 Pet 2:21-24). This is what it means to “share in his sufferings” (Rom. 8:17; Phil 3:10; I Pet 4:3). This is what the kingdom is all about: bearing witness to God’s unique kingdom by sacrificially serving others, including our “enemies” (Mt. 5:43-45; Lk 6:27-36; Rom 12:17-21), just as Jesus did.

But there is nothing uniquely kingdom about what these angry leaders are calling for. There is nothing that resembles Calvary when people shout out their opinions. Everyone does that! There is nothing humble about trying to grab hold of whatever power you can to impose your will on others. Everyone does that! There is nothing self-sacrificial about fighting for your rights and defending your freedom. Everyone does that! And there is nothing that resembles Jesus’ choice to suffer for his enemies when these leaders motivate the masses by fear and stir up animosity toward others in their hearts. This is precisely what leaders have done throughout history, and it is why human history is a merry-go-round of hatred and violence!

These Christian leaders think they are defying the government, but in fact that are defying the kingdom. They are taking the Lord’s name in vain by using his name to further their own political cause. They are desecrating the kingdom by not keeping it “holy” (= “consecrated,” “set apart,” “distinct”). In the name of furthering the kingdom, they are fighting against it.

We are called to be “ministers of reconciliation” as we embody the message that “God [is] reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:18-19, emphasis added). Indeed, we are commanded to consider whatever sins we think we see in others to be mere dust particles compared to our own plank-size sins (Mt 7:1-3). But these leaders are working as ministers of accusation, playing the role of the Accuser (Rev. 12:10) by pointing out, and lobbying against, what they believe are other peoples sins, forgetting that they themselves are, as Paul himself confessed, the worst of sinners (cf. I Tim. 1:15)

As a final thought, when a church accepts tax exempt status, it is premised on the promise that the church will not be used for partisan political purposes, for the church is now subsidized by all taxpayers. If a pastor is going to use the authority of the pulpit to weigh in on partisan politics, wouldn’t integrity demand that they first wave their tax exempt status? To use the authority of a pulpit to weigh in on partisan politics demonstrates a complete lack of integrity, which is yet one more way in which the activity of these leaders doesn’t resemble anything Jesus would do.

Image by Mike Licht. Sourced via Flickr.

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