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Pulpit Freedom Sunday

October 7, 2012

(Written for the back of the bulletin for Oct. 7, 2012)

Today is “National Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. It is an effort by some pastors and Churches to defy (and encourage overturning) what is called the “Johnson Amendment.” The Johnson Amendment prohibits the use of Church pulpits for political gain or endorsement. The amendment has never been enforced; however the threat of enforcement has created a fear in some pastors and Churches. This has been particularly true recently in some states where homosexual marriage and related issues have been hotly contested.

As your pastor, I would like to let you know a few of my thoughts on this. First, I agree with the concept of “Pulpit Freedom.” The Johnson Amendment is patently and clearly unconstitutional. It is a plain violation of free speech and freedom of religion. The federal government may be able to regulate shouting “fire!” in a movie theater, but it has no right to impinge the free expression of ideas or of worship. The First Amendment can be an unpleasant double-edged sword (Westboro Baptist Church abuses these protections in much the same way pornographers do), but it is a fundamental, God-given right to every American.

Second, I am not participating in PFS because I do not think that Church should be a place of political demonstration in any way. The organizers of PFS and I would likely agree on many political subjects and I don’t have anything against them. But not everyone in Church does or would. Just because I am of one political persuasion doesn’t mean that I should express that from the pulpit or in the prayers of the Church. The Church is about God, about His great love for all people, about salvation and Jesus Christ, about living as a disciple, and learning how to love your neighbor as you love yourself. In my opinion, if a pastor has time to preach politics then he is not spending enough time preaching about the things that the Church is about.

Third (and may be most important), is that the Johnson Amendment will not change the way I preach. It hasn’t yet. There are significant moral issues that the Bible addresses and I have never felt hindered or limited in preaching those things. The fact that some in our society politicize moral issues doesn’t make them political issues. The Church has always spoken God’s Truth about moral issues. I will not stop doing so, whether or not someone turns a matter political. I don’t have a corner on the Truth (and we don’t at Peoria Church), but with the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Councils, and ample precedent, we have many ways of knowing what God’s Truth is.

In the past, Christian preachers didn’t need Constitutional protections in order to preach the Gospel. They challenged governors and kings, economic systems and pagan religion. They weren’t worried about going to jail or being fined; many of them paid for their faith with their lives or with “dungeon, fire, and sword.” Even now, Christians in Moslem countries face persecution and martyrdom for simply wearing a cross around their neck. Their Churches are raided, vandalized and destroyed. They need no Johnson Amendment to protect them. They are living their faith as Jesus Christ calls each of us to, in spite of government laws and bans on Christianity. When your pastor to kowtows to the government on spiritual, Biblical, and moral matters, then it’s time to find a new pastor.

In conclusion, I do thank Peoria Church for the freedom and latitude to preach the Bible. Some in denominations find themselves having to stick to the ‘company line’ or endorsing issues or concerns that are, in fact, political. Though we are just a small corner of God’s Church in our little plot in Butler Township, God continues to do wonderful things for us. I believe this is because He has seen your faithfulness to Him since 1856. Our forebears may not have been perfect (and neither are we), but our congregation today is the result of their boldness and freedom in preaching what the Bible teaches and lifting up God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to Him, be all the glory.

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4 Comments
  1. Every pastor (and every parishioner too) should read this balanced and Biblical response to National Pulpit Freedom Sunday!

  2. The Johnson amendment doesn’t specifically prohibit churches. What it does is say that a tax-exempt organization may not endorse specific candidate. Any tax-exempt organization, cultural, educational, religious, etc.. And if you want to do such an endorsement, give up your tax-exemption. Why should churches be given a special status in that regard?

  3. I think the issue some Churches are raising is the idea that they could be censored by the government (and my article was intended for Church, not necessarily other groups). As I said, I don’t think politics belong in Church anyhow, and therefore shouldn’t get a special status. I do think the government (on all levels) shouldn’t inhibit the work of Churches that are for the greater good – food pantries, etc. That is a difficult line to cross, though. Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution – freedom to run a tax-exempt is not (necessarily). No easy answers to it. The Churches should keep out of the government and government out of the Churches… 🙂

  4. Well, I think that some churches just love playing the martyr game (and I also think there are some religious leaders who find it convenient to take advantage of their flocks). There is no censorship here, just the loss of their tax-free status. If they want to get involved in the politics, then they should be taxed like other political entities. The restriction is only for one very small area: endorsing specific candidates or specific ballot issues. And they are still perfectly free to express approval or disapproval with policies associated with one candidate or another.

    It’s a mountain out of a molehill by some who are exploiting it for their own gain. They are basically bearing false witness for their own purposes.

    And I agree with you about churches keeping out of government and vice versa. When governments “help” churches, they often end up corrupting them, usually for the politicians’ own selfish purposes. One example for me is “one nation, under God”. The arrogance of that is astounding. We don’t get to decide whether we are sufficiently “under God”—that is God’s province, not ours. He’s the one who decides that, not us. We are taking from Him what is rightfully His when we arrogantly make such proclamations. It is not up to us to tell God how he should judge us.

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