Sunday, September 14, 2008

Preaching Politics form Church Pulpits

I’ll argue that one of the greatest innovations in government that made America so successful was the notion of separation of church and state. In our current version of that, religious organizations can get involved in promoting causes, but should stay out of party politics and elections. This may be challenged soon.

The socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to endorse political candidates from their pulpits Sept. 28, in defiance of IRS rules. Click here for an article on this.

Personally I think partisan political campaigning from the pulpit would be an absolute disaster for both religions and our political process. Democracy is supposed to be about building consensus through debate, discussions, and compromise. Admittedly it doesn't always work quite that way, and we suffer whenever such failures occur. But if religious leaders start routinely preaching that it is immoral and a sin to vote for a specific candidate, and that it is your moral duty to support some other one, than rational debate, discussion, and compromise get thrown out the window. Who would want to support listening to and compromising with "evil"? A more preferred view would be to do everything possible to defeat "evil", with the ends justifying the means in such an important struggle. Such extreme demonization of people in the political process is where I think this will quickly lead.

I also think that political parties and lobbying groups would start putting considerably more pressure on religious organizations to support them, with funds flowing to those who are willing to adjust their stances to match those of the political parties. Congregations would become scenes of bitter disputes and end up highly polarized, and in the end many would become branches of other political organizations. Are you worried about corporations controlling the government? Then you should be really scared about giving them the motivation to start controlling religions too. It's not a good circumstance for promoting the spiritual development of the membership of religious congregations.

Someone once said that when it comes to politics, religions work best when they are "outside forces" acting as checks and balances and providing independent moral direction to the political process. I completely agree. I think the historical record supports this too.

Keep in mind that religious leaders are free under law to say anything they want, including from the pulpit. It's just that if they want to keep the tax breaks of a non-profit non-political group they need to follow the tax rules.

I am getting concerned that there could be a major movement to change this though, especially after watching how religious groups influenced the selection of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidates recently. I would hope that there would be a strong backlash against this from many religious and secular organizations.