Against Pulpit Freedom Sunday*

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is October 7, 2012. On that day, the sermons of participating pastors will provide specific guidance about how to vote on issues and candidates. This is, of course, their First Amendment right. However, doing so may endanger the tax-exempt status of their churches and ministries. That’s precisely the point, of course: to initiate a legal challenge to limits on the political speech of the leaders of tax-exempt, non-profit institutions, including churches and ministries, with the hope of seeing those limits overturned.

Personally, I think Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a terrible idea, regardless of the merit of the legal ideas underlying it. First, preachers are ministers of the gospel, not experts on public policy. Pulpit Freedom Sunday tempts preachers to speak beyond their areas of competence. Second, while the gospel outlines clear moral standards, the application of those standards to public policy is not always straightforward. This means that Christians committed to the same moral standard may disagree about the best application of that standard in the public square. When pastors advocate one application through their sermons, they needlessly divide congregants on an issue where they should be free to disagree. Third, advocating specific legislation or candidates through the sermon may constitute a needless stumbling block to a person’s acceptance of the gospel. If I read the St. Paul correctly, the only stumbling block to the gospel should be the Cross of Christ. Fourth, while I recognize that there may be kairos moments where the gospel itself is at stake and the churches must take an explicit, prophetic stance against the State or for the Opposition, I don’t think we’re at that moment or anywhere near that moment in America.

One more thing: I sincerely doubt that the Supreme Court is going to overturn the so-called Johnson Amendment any time soon. The so-called Johnson Amendment is that part of the tax code which gives tax-exempt, non-profit institutions limited freedom to advocate on issues but no freedom to advocate for candidates. Pastors have a First Amendment right to advocate for issues and candidates, but they don’t have a First Amendment right to tax-exempt status.

For the reasons I outlined above, and because I believe that a church’s tax-exempt status is advantageous to its ministry, I encourage pastors and church’s to ignore Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Preach the gospel! Preach the Bible! But don’t confuse your public policy preferences or favored candidates with either!

For more on what tax law permits and prohibits tax-exempt churches from doing with regard to issues and candidates, see “Election Year Dos and Don’ts” by Richard Hammar.

*The view expressed in this blog post is the personal opinion of George P. Wood and does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Enrichment journal or the views of the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center

4 thoughts on “Against Pulpit Freedom Sunday*

  1. I couldn’t agree more, George. Michael Hyatt, in talking about the new maps feature on the iPhone said “never replace a superior product with an inferior one”. That’s what we do when we speak politically from the pulpit. Politics is a lesser product and calling than the gospel. When the two mix, they both lose — and so do we.

  2. I said this very thing a few days ago on FB, and BOY!, some thought I was advocating us NOT taking a stand for moral issues and biblical standards. My comment was: preach about abortion & murder – GOSPEL MESSAGE; preach about which candidates/parties to vote for or against – POLITICS, which have no place in our GOSPEL PULPITS. Jesus and Paul both spoke of “preaching” and “gospel” together, never “preaching” and “politics”. Thanks George P. for speaking out on this issue.

  3. Who says that this Sunday is about picking one candidate over another? Should not we as pastors teach the congregation the wisdom from the Bible in passages like I Samuel 8 which warns the people about having they want? What is so wrong or bad to preach about the proper role of government is Paul says in Romans 13? Shoudn’t our people know about the legal stealing that the government is doing by being involved in things it has no business and coercing citizens to pay for it? Taxes are a moral issue. If the church is not to say anything about politics, what should the church have done in Germany in the 30’s? Obviously, they should preach law and gospel, but did that mean staying silent about the racist ant-Christian policies of the Third Reich especially as it proceeded to mass murder in the 40’s?

  4. Our Pastor is participating. I have to say, that too many of our “brethren” have drank the cool aid. If we do not discuss the reasons behind our current administrations plot and plans, the America as we know it will be gone. A president deeply rooted in Muslim heritage and socialism is going to take over our country if we stand idly by. Too many of our congregants have made a relationship with God very one sided. And since our Churches have become Social clubs of thousands of people being rushed through a 1 hour service to get more in, we have denied people a possibility to really find out who God is. People don’t worship in “The House of God” , They worship “the House Of God”. We participated yesterday since we will be joining other congregations next week for a community wide “Communion Service”. We had about 2% of our people walk out. Guess what… I am proud that my church family is aware of where we are headed and will stand up and be counted. At the close of our service yesterday, people filled the altars praying for our country, our Leaders, and our President. Go to the Bible, you will find on numerous occasions where spiritual leaders were Gods mouth peace to declare a pending judgment if the current courses were not changed.
    Please everyone, pray for our country, but do not be persuaded by the enemy of the cross that we have no rights.
    GOD BLESS THE USA!!!!!!!

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