Pulpit Freedom Sunday: A Misguided Idea

by Bryant Evans on October 7, 2012

Hundreds of preachers are going to break the law today (October 7, 2012). It’s called Pulpit Freedom Sunday and it is staged by an organization that works to protect churches against government intrusion. Preachers will step into their pulpits today and take a political position for or against Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Intervening on behalf of ( or in opposition to) a political candidate violates IRS rules and could jeopardize the tax exempt status of the churches. Those participating hope the IRS will act against them so  that the 1954 law which prohibits tax exempt bodies from such activity can be challenged in court. Participants believe that they must speak out against President Obama as being dangerous for our nation and “un-American.”

I don’t believe the government should control what comes from the pulpit. But this approach is misguided and wrong.

Barack Obama is Not the Gospel; Mitt Romney is Not Worth the Time

Writing at a time when the church was under growing pressure and persecution, Paul stated the clear theme for preaching:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, emphasis mine)

For Paul, there was nothing more important than Jesus and his death at Calvary. His preaching was in the same spirit of the early, original Christians who “did not cease preaching and teaching that Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). He preached the cross:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

For the apostle, there was nothing more important than preaching Jesus. Paul was willing to give up everything just to know Jesus (Philippians 3:8).

Time in the pulpit is precious. Many hear only one very brief sermon every week; some hear less than that. To take time away from Jesus and give it to either the President or to Mitt Romney is a shame. Let them hear Jesus. Let them hear the words of inspiration. Let them hear the message that sets men free.

Be Subject To the Governing Authorities

Christians cannot pick and choose laws they like. There are many laws that trouble me deeply. Taxpayer funded abortions, protection and support of immoral practices, gambling and beverage alcohol sales are just a few of the laws which I oppose. But Scripture says:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1,2).

Jesus said to give to government its due (Matthew 22:21). It exists for the common benefit. But even when it goes horribly wrong, Christians must not break the law unless that law forces us to choose between God and government. This IRS law does not. The IRS law is about money. I can endorse anyone I want from the pulpit. But when I do so, I surrender a tax benefit. I am free  to preach anything but in doing so I may have to pay a price.

Paul preached under the oppressive hand of government persecution. First century Roman persecution against the church was unlike anything we have ever imagined today. This was the era of murderous emperors who thought nothing of burning Christians alive or sewing them into burlap bags along with vipers and scorpions and then casting them into the sea. Yet Paul demanded submission to the authorities. If it wasn’t bad enough in 60 AD to preaching against Caesar by name, it sure isn’t bad enough to do so now.

Do We Ignore Sin?

Obviously not. The spiritual battles we wage is in the hearts of men. We can and must preach against any kind of sin anywhere for such sin separates from God (Isaiah 59:2). Sin brings death (Romans 6:26). It is by the “foolishness of preaching” that men are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21-23). Let us preach salvation in Jesus Christ. No man is lost eternally because an American president makes poor policy decisions. Men are lost because they sin (Romans 5:12).

The problem with Pulpit Freedom Sunday is that it substitutes the glory of Jesus Christ with the tawdry business of politics. It confuses a a real, fundamental problem with a symptom. The real issues lie with the voters themselves. Preach the gospel soundly and men will be changed. Let us focus on changing hearts and bringing souls to the kingdom. Then we will see changes in government.

Until that happens, let us pray for those in high offices (1 Timothy 2;1,2) and then entrust our future to the Lord! Do not allow our anger and disappointment with the present authorities to cloud the message of Jesus Christ!

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{ 16 comments }

Colin Lambert October 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Hi Bryant,

I’m an Australian so my comments need to be taken in the light of that fact. Consider this. The government says you will not be able to buy (the sell is actually already here but no implant is needed yet) without an implant containing the number six six six. If you refuse to have it you will be executed. What will you do? Will you obey the law of the land or the word of God?

The thing is that the overriding legal issue is actually to be salt and light which as a law has precedence over obeying the laws of the land. God wants us to do both, but what do you do when the two are in conflict which is actually the scenario your comments portray. Personally I say go for it to the preachers who want to exercise their religious freedom. The Australian constitution actually protects this right. Go Aussies! This is the reason why we aren’t a republic because the old monarchy constitution protects this right and Australian Christians simply don’t trust the politicians to change what we have to something which is (supposedly) better.

I note that John the Baptist actually lost his head ultimately for being political.

Be salt and light and stand therefore. Preachers lose your income tax exemption our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills anyway.

Colin Lambert

Bryant Evans October 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm

The law allows you to endorse or oppose a candidate and protects that right through the 1st Amendment. The government has however provided a tax-exemption for churches. Acceptance of that exemption requires them to abide by certain laws, namely, they must avoid endorsing or opposing a candidate. No restriction is placed upon preaching on any issue. John suffered for his preaching as did Stephen and others. He was not seeking to influence an election but was upholding a well stated Biblical principle. We may do the same thing without penalty. When our President, Bill Clinton, was involved in an affair with a staffer, many spoke out against it from the pulpit. It seems a very fine line, and it is. But in legal issues it is important. As one brother said, just preach the word and the endorsement will take care of itself. He has a fine point.

Colin Lambert October 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm

If you can’t endorse or oppose a candidate from the pulpit it is a restriction on both your religious and political freedom. You said “no restriction is placed upon preaching on any issue.” Can’t you see that you are contradicting yourself if you aren’t “legally” entitled to endorse or oppose a candidate. However, this shouldn’t preclude others from making up their own minds.

Personally, I will preach and comment on anything that enhances the kingdom providing it is salt and light. Let them cut-off my head if they so choose.

Blessings,

Colin

Bryant Evans October 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I think you are missing two important points here. First, you can preach anything you want but you may have to surrender the tax-exempt status to do so. The law can be changed and their are mechanisms in place to do it; this is an end run and brings trouble to the church needlessly. But more importantly, why would I ever want to use the pulpit to endorse a candidate? I devote my time to Jesus Christ and his gospel. To discuss Obama or Romney from the pulpit is a distraction from the gospel. I hope and I encourage our members to vote and participate in the process. I will preach on the issues enumerated in Scripture but I will not take time from Jesus for Barack or Mitt.

Colin Lambert October 7, 2012 at 10:49 pm

The old story of separation between church and state continues. In my opinion you can’t separate them. You can’t be salt if you can’t comment on political issues. If a canditate is pro-abortion for example, the church has a duty to condemn the stance or it isn’t being salt and light.

Colin Lambert.

Melissa B October 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm

” Preach the gospel soundly and men will be changed. Let us focus on changing hearts and bringing souls to the kingdom. Then we will see changes in government.”

I love this line. It crystallizes so well what I have been thinking but unable to put into words for several months. Thank you!

Bryant Evans October 7, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Thank you Melissa, please come again.

Nancy Ann Zakrewski October 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

Melissa, you have it right. The Gospel/Jesus Christ should be the only influencer in a person’s life, shining God’s love, grace and mercy into a dark world.

Dave Moser October 7, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Thanks for arguing this, not on political grounds, but in light of the gospel. Refocusing on what the pulpit is for is the only way to fix our preaching.

Bryant Evans October 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Thanks Dave, I appreciate your thoughts.

Cade Somers October 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Bryant, having heard a lot about this on radio talk shows and other media, I’m glad you’ve addressed it. I think a lot of preachers (most denominational, as far as I’ve heard) have good intentions in this effort, but we certainly have lost our focus if our (i.e. Christians, preachers, etc.) sole purpose is promoting a candidate. Our focus must always be the persuasively preaching the fruitful morals and values Jesus teaches us to bear. It’s tougher to logically convert or incrementally develop thinking than it is to dictate how to vote or act, but it is far better in the long run to stick to “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Thanks for the article. I appreciate you making your articles available to all; I’ve used many of them for our bulletins.

Bryant Evans October 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thanks Cade. Like you, I think they have good intentions but have become a bit distracted from the gospel. Thanks for your kind words too. I’m glad you find the articles useful.

Samuel Thrasher October 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Hi! First off, let me just say this was a great article sir. I definitely agree with you.I am 16 and, Lord willing, will be attending MSOP when I graduate. So, what I’m wondering is, do you think its wrong for a preacher to voice his political opinions OUTSIDE the pulpit?

Bryant Evans October 14, 2012 at 7:23 am

Hi Samuel, thank you for your question. It’s great to see a young man focusing on a future as a preacher. I wish you the best.

You ask a fine question. I don’t think there is an answer that I can cite from the Bible except tp say that as a preacher, people will see you as a representative of the church whether you are in the pulpit or not. Therefore, always be aware of what you do and the image you present to the community. For me personally, I do not publicly endorse candidates, I do not put bumper stickers on my car and I do not put signs in my yard. However I will discuss politics with my friends and family freely. What must always come through is the foundation of Jesus in my life. I decide upon my candidate based upon which one will bring the most glory to God.

Some years ago I was pushed by a local brother to publicaly support a man for a state-level office. He wanted me to come to a rally in support of the candidate. I did not and he became angry. Within the days, this candidate was featured on the front page of the newspaper because of uncouth public behavior. I was glad I, and by extension, the Lord, was not associated with him.

Focus on preaching Jesus Christ and don’t worry about the rest. Politics is not important enough preempt Christ.

Thanks for visiting and please come back again!

Bryant Evans October 8, 2012 at 6:21 am

I think I see our misunderstanding. I can condemn the stance. I can condemn (or support) any government action or law. I cannot, by name, say you should vote for X or you should oppose Y. These preachers accepted a benefit and have profited greatly from it. I agree that church and state mustn’t be separated but the reality is the two have been foolishly severed. We need good people in office. But the pulpit is not the place for political speech. It is the province of Jehovah. When I speak of politicians and attempt to rally support for them, I have taken my eye off the cross.

Colin Lambert October 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

The great difficulty with preaching is not just being understood, but also not being misunderstood by the way things are expressed. It is a very difficult thing to do.

You can’t express all things in a forum that requires summary. But it is great to explore positions through being misunderstood. Self very much included.

All good Bryant,

Blessings Colin Lambert

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