In this election year, evangelicals are pulling in opposite political directions. A couple of weeks ago, several prominent evangelical leaders, including Os Guinness, author; Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; and David Neff, editor of “Christianity Today” headed up a group that released a document called “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.” At the same time a legal advocacy group founded by Religious Right leaders like James Dobson and Donald Wildmon announced that it’s recruiting pastors to perform acts of civil disobedience by endorsing political candidates from the pulpit.
The manifesto states that its authors and signers “repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which Christians have fallen recently. One error has been to privatize faith, interpreting and applying it ot the personal and spiritual realm only. . .The other error. . .is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points tht have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes ‘the regime at prayer,’ Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form. Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.” It goes on to say, “Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church–and diastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons other than constitutional reasons. To see the document, go to: www.evangelicalmanifesto.com
At the same time, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), based in Scottsdale, Arizona, hopes a “Pulpit Initiative” on September 28 will start a legal battle allowing its lawyers to argue in court that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) bas on endorsing political candidates from the pulpit violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Current IRS law states that a church can lose its tax exempt status if it endorses a political candidate. The ADF isn’t merely calling pastors to address political issues. It’s calling them to speak about specific candidates and endorse certain ones for office. To see the press release on this issue, go to www.alliancedefensefund.org and go to “Press Releases.”
Historically, Baptists have affirmed religious liberty and separation of church and state. With that principle in mind, Baptist pastors have spoken to political issues, but have largely refrained from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit. I affirm the language and intentions of the Evangelical Manifesto, but find it appalling that the ADF wants to politicize the pulpit. Preachers should speak to moral and political issues like war, abortion, immigration, capital punishment, global warming, caring for the poor, and the like. But when churches cross the line and become partisans of one party or candidate they give up their divine mission and become “useful idiots” for that party or candidate. They cease to be churches and become political action committees. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for a bowl of stew.
The Manifesto sums it up well when it says, “The Evangelical soul is not for sale. It has already been bought at an infinite price.”