Forward Thinking

But Did Their Congregants Stay Awake?

By Jane Eisner

  • Print
  • Share Share

Pulpit Freedom Sunday was, its organizers proclaimed, a success. At more than 1,500 churches around the country — mostly, it seemed from small communities outside the big cities — preachers defied the Internal Revenue Service this past Sunday and preached politics from the pulpit.

Must have been scintillating. As Stephen Colbert said, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is when “the thrill of lengthy sermons finally meets the excitement of tax policy.”

And that’s the real question, isn’t it? The aim of this exercise of civil disobedience, which more and more pastors participate in each year, is to challenge the IRS on the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 rule that says that, for the privilege of being a tax-exempt organization, churches may not openly endorse a political candidate.

As I’ve written in editorials, this rule is an entirely sensible compromise that doesn’t hamper free speech — the pastors are free to say what they want off the pulpit — and is the price all churches pay for the privilege of foregoing taxes and maintaining an opacity that few other not-for-profits enjoy.

But what the pastors don’t seem to realize in their zeal is that their congregants don’t want to hear such sermons. The vast majority of those polled in a major national research project conducted by Robert Putnam at Harvard University said that they disapproved of any attempts by religious leaders to promote partisan causes. And a July survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 66% of Americans do not want their churches or other houses of worship to publicly favor one candidate or another.

People go to church and synagogue and mosques for religious teaching, communal support and spiritual sustenance, not campaign commercials. And given how polarizing this election has become, for the sake of what we Jews call “shalom bayit” — peace in the house — it’s probably better for the overall health of the congregation to stay away from such matters. The pastors who openly violate the law may think they are doing the right thing, but I’m willing to bet that many of their congregants were unmoved. If they were awake.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: tax-exempt, state, separation, pulpit freedom sunday, internal revenue service, irs, church

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.