There is a movement afoot to “thwart” the IRS this Sunday by having preachers around the country “preach politics” this Sunday. Here is as good a summation of what is going on as any (from Scot McKnight):
This seems to me to be just another media-blown crisis, another attempt to incite the Evangelical Church to wrath. Seems Fox thought CFA Day was such a hit that they would play two. Factcheck- a month later Chick-fil-a announced that it would no longer be donating money to that group. Oops, seems everybody forgot to keep going to CFA. Nothing was accomplished, except a bunch of people felt all righteous for eating greasy chicken things. Yeaaaa team! Changing the world for God, one heart attack at a time. Worse the protest left such a stink among non-Christians that one could ask if no reward was worth the damage done from a P.R. perspective. I’m not saying the church should always do the math, but we should be smart enough to ask if the fight and or opportunity for victory are worth the potential damage done. The crisis needs to demand an answer, before we jeopardize years of work within a community.
So one should ask the denizens of that certain non-biased news channel, where is the crisis, and is the risk worth the reward? The issue is not that the IRS hates churches. The issue is not that the IRS wants to see religion in general, and Christianity in particular, die a gruesome death. No, if that was the case they would levy all the taxes that each church should rightfully pay. As someone who has sat on a church board, I can tell you that if churches had to pay taxes like a business(35%), then most smaller churches, and some larger ones would wither away. The church I worked for could not have afforded that payment (or would have had to cut way back on things like outreach, and charity). No it is because we believe that churches are valuable and important clogs within the community that it has been decided to allow churches the privilege of not paying taxes. In this way the government of our country is honoring and showing its validation of the church.
The only catch is this. We have decided that it is improper for any organization which receives such a benefit from directly participating in the election process. This is done not to spite these organizations, but to protect them. First, if these organizations become political, then so does the benefits they gain. This means they could be “punished” for supporting a losing candidate or party. Second, there is an avoidance of the appearance of evil kind of thing going on. Perhaps the organization is not doing anything wrong, but moseying around with candidates and then receiving benefits it just looks bad. Last, organizations have horrible track records at supporting candidates. More than one interest group has learned this the hard way. Just ask the pro-life parties how they feel about supporting John Roberts for Chief Justice post-big health care decision. Unintended consequences are often a bitch.
This is not to mention the fact that the Church has a horrible track record on supporting world leaders. Just ask the Catholic Church how they feel about naming Henry VIII, Defender of the Church. How’d that work out for you guys? [crickets] Or take a look at the Arian controversy. Or Constantine. Or Charlemagne? Or the so-called Anglican church at prayer otherwise known as the Tories. Or any number of Republican senators and congressman now disgraced. Or any number of African leaders. When we get into the power producing role, things go bad, and not just for the world. Usually the men we put into power turn around and bite the hand that fed them. The church just ends up worse for the power grab. It’s almost as if God laughs when the Church nominates some new leader, and says “watch this.” We aren’t about power. That’s not our bag. It’s just not our thing. Besides that leader that the pastors love is just not into them. It won’t work out. Trust me.
And that comes to the last point. The boys at that truth-loving network have actually created a bait and switch. The problem is not that the church cannot discuss politics, the issue is one of endorsements and campaigning. Speaking prophetically is our thing. Our pastors should be opening up the word each week and asking what it means in the American context, or African context, or so on. We can faithfully stand before our congregations and preach concepts. We can look at O.T. passages on ‘welcoming the stranger’ and attempt to apply it to the immigration crisis. We can look at Romans 1 and ask what that passage means for gay marriage. We can look at Genesis 1 and ask what that means for abortion. Or Genesis 4 and what that means for the death penalty. We need pastors who are not afraid to speak truth to power. We need pastors who are unafraid to speak prophetically to the greed of Wall Street, and the lust of Main Street. As a pastor you can do that, and the IRS will not blink an eye. Why? Because when we do this, we are keeping covenant with our government to make moral citizens worthy of our democracy. ]
What you can’t do is nominate a candidate for office. And this is the problem for that new network. Because they have staked themselves to a party. They are committed to seeing one group of people into office, and they know that the soft power of TV is nothing next to the power of the pastor. They are salivating at the chance to get pastors to do their dirty work. After all they pay taxes already, so they have nothing to lose (and everything to gain). The Church, on the other hand, does have skin in the game. We do have something to lose (both monetarily and morally), and it is not worth getting Mitt Romney (or any candidate) closer to winning an election.
So I urge my pastor friends. If you must preach on politics this weekend, at least preach on politics this weekend at least pick Mark 12:17. And please leave the endorsements to Fox, or MSNBC, or someone with the low moral calculus to need to do so.