Campaign Confidential

Pastors Endorsements to Test IRS Politics at the Pulpit Prohibition

By Brett Lieberman

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If the Northminster Church that the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy leads in Monroe, La. were to endorse a presidential candidate, the decision would cause a deep and irreparable rift within the Baptist congregation.

Instead of being known for their religious denomination or community works, churches, synagogues and mosques like Northminster would become Red, Blue and divided just like many other institutions where politics has been allowed to invade.

“If we allow partisan politics in houses of worship, you would see a reconfiguration of religion in the landscape of America,” said Gaddy, the president of the Interfaith Alliance. “We would see houses of worship identified not based on denomination but based on the candidates they endorsed over the years.”

“It hurts the nature of religion and the nation in that way, plus it robs individuals and families of the basic resource for understanding helpfulness, therapy, encouragement, nurture unaffected by partisan political divisions,” Gaddy told the Forward.

It’s too soon to tell what the impact will be of Sunday’s “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” organized by the Alliance Defense Fund to challenge the Internal Revenue Service’s rules prohibiting political endorsements from the pulpit. The effort drew the participation of 33 pastors in more than 20 states.

The conservative group based in Arizona promised to release the names of churches and pastors participating before Sunday, but changed its tune late last week. A spokesman, citing concerns about potential protests and interruptions, said names of participants would not be released ahead of time after some names leaked. ADF still hadn’t released a list as of Monday afternoon.

Some clergy offered explicit endorsements, while others were more subtle, according to reports.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal wrap up after visiting several churches. A pastor in Minnesota endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times reports that The Rev. Wiley S. Drake urged parishioners to vote for him and Independent candidate Alan Keyes.

Not everyone who supports ADF’s goal participated in Sunday’s “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

David Crisp, pastor at the Hanover Evangelical Friends Church in Mechanicsville, Va., says it’s the job of every “Bible believing pastor” to speak out on what the Bible says about issues including abortion rights or gay marriage. And he believes that the government has no business telling him what he can say from the pulpit.

Yet Crisp, who says he plans to vote for McCain, says politics has no place at the pulpit.

“I don’t think its the place on Sunday morning to do political endorsements per se,” he told the Forward.

“We’re trying to win people to Jesus,” said Crisp, an Evangelical minister, who said clergy have a higher calling and endorsing from the pulpit diminishes that responsibility.

“The pulpit for me is somewhat sacrosanct,” he said.

Crisp, who planned to give each of his congregants a dollar bill out of his own pocket (and later ask them to add it into the collection tray), said he would talk about the message of “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill.


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