by Steve Fair
Blair was participating in what is called The Pulpit Initiative by the Alliance Defense Fund http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/main/default.aspx whose stated mission is to “reclaim a pastors’ constitutional right to speak truth from the pulpit.”
Pastors, priests and rabbis were free to say what they wanted to say about politics and the issues of the day through the early history of our nation – in fact, right up until 1954. That year, Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, was facing opposition in his re-election bid from Christians and anti-communists, some of whom were speaking their minds freely from the pulpits.
Johnson, a powerful figure in the Senate who would later become John F. Kennedy's vice president and succeed him following the assassination in 1963, had a solution for his own political predicament – to muzzle churches and clergy with federal regulations.
Through what became known as "the Johnson Amendment," the U.S. Congress changed the Internal Revenue Service code, prohibiting non-profits, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It still allowed for pastors to preach about “issues”, but not endorsing a candidate from the pulpit. That’s when the liberals begin to use the term “separation of church and state” to justify removing God from the public square.
Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution has the phrase “separation of church and state” included in them. Those words do not appear in either document. The words “separation of church and state” appeared in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists. The Baptist group was concerned with the possibility of the newly formed republic establishing a “state” religion. Because of their background and the religious persecution they endured before coming to the New World, they wanted Jefferson’s assurance the government would stay out of the spiritual realm.
Jefferson agreed with them and wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
The goal of The Pulpit Initiative is to reverse the Johnson amendment. While that may be a worthy goal from the political view, it’s misguided from a spiritual standpoint. I applaud these pastors’s willingness to stand for the truth, but their zeal in “endorsing” any man is misguided. Romans 13 is clear that we should obey the laws of the land and recognize that a sovereign God put elected officials in power. No place in scripture exhorts a pastor to preach anything but the “gospel” and the “whole counsel of God.” When a pastor steps into the pulpit, he should not be concerned with delivering a political parties message, but God’s message.
Issues are a different matter. Homosexuality and abortion are issues that are condemned in scripture and a pastor should address those issues. Drunkenness and perversion are not just political issues, they are spiritual ones, and so pastors should be bold and address those. But when pastors begin to endorse particular men for a particular job from the pulpit, they have gone too far.
I can’t imagine Jonathan Edwards, the Presbyterian theologian and the grandfather of Vice President Aaron Burr standing in his pulpit and endorsing a candidate. Behind that sacred desk, Edwards dispensed God’s message. His famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” http://content.christianity.com/1/33075/1_33075_SinnersintheHandsofanAngryGod.ALL.mp3was preached in 1741, well before our nation was founded. This sermon has been widely reprinted as an example of "fire and brimstone" preaching in the colonial revivals. Was Edwards political? Absolutely, but when he was in the pulpit, he preached righteousness, temperance and judgment to come. He didn’t talk about the upcoming election.
In our “talking head” society, some ministers have taken their eye off the ball and believe they must engage in the political process from the pulpit to be relevant. While their motive may be pure, pastors should not endorse candidates from the pulpit. As ministers of the gospel, they should know the hope of the world is neither John McCain or Barrack Obama- it’s Jesus Christ.