Politics and Places of Worship
Dear Readers: The letter from a woman who left her church because she did not want to hear political sermons brought an avalanche of mail. The majority wrote about the tax-free status that churches enjoy. Here are two examples, which I am including because they are so succinct. They are followed by a letter from a pastor, which provides his perspective.
Dear Annie: If his church receives nonprofit status, that preacher using the bully pulpit to push political views risks losing it if politics are discussed. -- Nonprofit Status
Dear Annie: A house of worship is allowed to exist tax-free because they are supposedly focusing on faith, which is, or should be, outside of the political arena.
Unfortunately, in today's America, churches are admonishing their congregants to vote for particular candidates, which is outside the realm of the ideal of separation of church and state. If a house of worship wants to preach politics, then it should be taxed as is any other institution that supports politics. -- Sick of Political Preachers
Dear Annie: As a pastor myself, I found your response to "Keep Politics out of Church" may have made my job harder by seeming to support the writer's bias. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that are concerned with matters of justice, so it is impossible to faithfully preach the Word without mentioning how it is sadly lacking in our world today.
Unfortunately, some hear messages about justice and can only associate it with political speech. This is not a new issue for pastors who seek to faithfully preach the Word. In this very divisive time in our country, mentioning matters of justice has become a trigger for some. The great 20th-century theologian Karl Barth counseled preachers to preach with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
Please advise me on how to do that and not sound political to some. Frankly, all I have to do is mention a current situation in a sentence in my sermon and the whole message gets branded by some as being "too political." Many people, whom "Keep Politics out of Church" represents, would prefer I not mention matters of societal justice at all. Is that the kind of loving kindness you suggested?! Your reader would be satisfied, but what about all the people who suffer because it serves another's political interest? If church is just about being nice to one another and ignoring real issues, then the Gospel will have been neutered. By the way, I don't just preach about justice issues, but my church and I are actively seeking to make a difference where we can in the lives of others.
Preachers are called to both comfort and challenge. My guess is that if the message supported the writer's political views, then the writer would not find it so difficult. I don't make it a practice of railing against the government in my sermons, nor do I endorse candidates or even mention them by name, but some issues need to be addressed. I can't help what some people hear me say. I know you need to take your writers at their word and not challenge their perceptions, but I can't help but wonder how political her pastor really is from the pulpit.
This is a very divisive time in our country, and many people are quick to jump to conclusions. My colleagues and I have the rather unenviable task of representing the whole Bible and keeping our churches, synagogues or any other religious community together. Please refrain from offering advice on subjects that are complicated unless you can appreciate all the nuances. -- Threading the Needle in the Pulpit
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.