Mixing Politics and Religion

If we (preachers and parishioners) don’t want to risk the ire of the government now, when it’s relatively easy and painless to do so, is there any chance we will risk the ire of the government when the government tells us that preaching on subjects like homosexuality constitutes criminal hate speech?

This past Sunday seven preachers in Tennessee were to join 93 preachers from other states in telling the IRS to stay out of their pulpits. And those who want to decry their stand need to be ready someday for even more government control of their pulpits.

Up until the 1950s preachers across America would often take politicians and candidates to task. And those in the pews expected them to. After all, they came to hear the truth and wanted to know what their preacher, presumably mature in the Christian faith and doctrine, had to say about the issues of the day from a biblical perspective. In fact, during the Revolutionary War, preachers in the colonies became known as the “Black Robed Regiment.” In fact, many believe that it was the preachers who stirred the flames of liberty by their fiery sermons about the policies of the King of England. Without them, we might still a part of England.

But Lyndon Johnson, at the time a U.S. Senator, put a stop to that kind of preaching in the 1950s, inserting a provision in the Internal Revenue Code that forbids not-for-profit organizations from “endorsing” candidates. That, coupled with the pronouncement a few years earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court that “religion and government” need to be “left free of each other,” has changed the church and its relationship to government and politics.

Today we have not only grown to accept the IRS’s “doctrine” as infallible instead of the Word of God, but it has been joined with what the apostle Paul called “itching ears.” We don’t want a preacher to go to meddling with what we think, even if it what we think may be wrong in God’s eyes. Loyalty to political party is more important than whether the positions of a candidate are righteous and just according to God’s definition of those terms. Instead too often a longing for preachers to “just tell me what I want to hear” or “just make me fill better about myself” fills the pews … and reaches the ears of preacher. And sadly too many preachers are more than happy to accommodate to avoid controversy.

I’m not sure I understand that since Christians are supposed to want to become like Jesus. He was pretty controversial, called out the “bad guys” even while offering them the opportunity for forgiveness, and made a big deal about “the truth.” After all, he told Pilate, under oath, that the very reason he came was “to bear witness to the truth.”

But here’s the real issue. If we (preachers and parishioners) don’t want to risk the ire of the government now, when it’s relatively easy and painless to do so, is there any chance we will risk the ire of the government when the government tells us that preaching on subjects like homosexuality constitutes criminal hate speech?

Personally, absent a move of God, which may be coming, I don’t think so. If we won’t stand for our right to get the government out of our pulpits now, we sure won’t do so if it means going to jail.

I know that some will say we shouldn’t risk going to jail because we can’t do the Lord any good sitting in jail where we can’t reach people for Jesus. Well, please don’t tell that to the “Philippian jailer,” described in Acts 16, who was saved during Paul and Silas’ stint in jail. He might just disagree.

It just might be that the preachers who are among that “great cloud of witness” and who “spoke to power” in their generation would be proud of these seven men in Tennessee.