Politics in the pulpit: More religious leaders weigh in
St. Paul, Minn. — MPR News asked clergy members in the Public Insight Network, Do you agree with the restrictions on political activity for churches and certain other non-profits?
Here are some responses, edited for length and clarity:
Rev. Emily Meyer, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Akeley:
"I think that the law is sound from a biblical stand-point, and I think it makes the most sense from a socio-political perspective. When religious weight is thrown behind any one candidate or issue, that candidate or issue (along with becoming idolatrous) carries the weight of religious right, which therefore cannot be refuted. This leads to the end of dialogue, which is the end of democracy. In preaching and teaching, I tend to lift out the social justice focus of biblical texts. However, I cannot preach to support any particular candidates and I think that the law on this is just. Even without the law, preachers should be loath to support any political candidate, as all politicians will disappoint."
Doug Donley, pastor of University Baptist Church in Minneapolis:
"As a tax-exempt organization, we have certain restrictions in exchange for that exemption. This includes not using the pulpit to endorse candidates nor the property to post signs for a candidate. I am very comfortable with that, and I find it alarming that people are willing to deliberately and defiantly cross that line. Historically, Baptists have been champions of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Jesus was an intensely political figure. As his followers, we ought to be involved in relevant issues of our day. Jesus always sided with the poor and the outcast. If there is injustice or violence or abuse happening in the community, those are political events and demand a response from the pulpit. We encourage people to be involved, discuss issues, even support and oppose legislative initiatives. But we cannot and will not endorse candidates."
Lawrence Lee, pastor of United Church of Two Harbors:
"I talk about issues, such as the environment, poverty, justice, peace and war. All of these themes are prevalent in scripture and I'd be neglecting my duty as a minister of the gospel if I ignored them. It is normal during the fellowship time after the service or in Bible study to have many discussions regarding politics, especially during election season. I have to be cautious how I enter these conversations. We do have people who advocate for certain legislation in worship and I am very careful to be clear of the line between advocating for issues as opposed to advocating for parties or candidates. As long as we can address issues, I am fine with not endorsing any political party or candidate."
Adam Copeland, pastor of The Project F-M (a ministry of the ELCA) in Moorhead:
"I view the restrictions as a tax status rather than a political muzzle. The government has said if you want certain tax benefits afforded to non- political non-profits, then we expect you to remain within your classification. Faith is necessarily political. The call to love our neighbor, the call to forgive, the call to feed the hungry, the call to pray for our enemies: That's all inherently political. I don't say, what does the Republican or Democratic party call us to do, but what does Jesus call us to do? Through that lens I can find general principles, but no political party is totally aligned with Christianity. God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat."
Charles Preble, long time supply priest, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria:
"I try to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is full of values that reflect on the political situation: helping the vulnerable, aliens, the hungry, the marginalized and even the despised. I believe people in the congregation can draw their own political conclusions and make their own political decisions. We encourage our people to become involved, to be active citizens, voting their own conscience."
Keith Homstad, retired ELCA pastor from Northfield::
"The scare tactics of extremists for the separation of church & state are egregious in their strident demand to silence the voices of the churches. If the Supreme Court has decided that corporations are 'people' then maybe it's time to revisit the IRS rules that muzzle political speech of 501(c)3 organizations. The paying of taxes, or the exemption from them, is not the criteria for the expressing of political opinions and the taking of political actions. Neither individuals nor organizations buy their right to do this when they pay their taxes, or are exempted from them. That right is free speech and is inalienable and can not be quashed. Our society is impoverished when we silence ANY group or individual. I say, remove the muzzle from the churches!"