This past Sunday, more than 1,500 churches across the nation took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. An effort organized by the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, the movement was a bold denouncement by religious leaders of the decades-old Internal Revenue Service regulations that forbid churches from engaging in partisan political speech.
ADF released the list of churches with Pulpit Freedom Sunday late Monday afternoon.
As we reported, seven churches in the Springs participated. In this week's paper, we spoke with pastor Mark Cowart with Church for All Nations.
As Cowart explained to the Indy, he was convinced to participate after cracking the history books. He says that he went to Texas public school and remembers praying in school, and reading scripture there. “God was taught more freely, and there was a more accurate teaching in our history.”
And yet, he adds, “For years, I was under the impression that the church, i.e. the pastor, was to have nothing to say in the way directly about the candidate that is up for president. And that if you didn't stay in very strict parameters you would lose your tax-exempt status.”
Emboldened by what he says were the Christian underpinnings of our founding documents, he realized that the church has a role to play within the political sphere. And, with the growing support by other religious leaders across the country for Pulpit Freedom Sunday, he decided it was time to act.
“No one at the presidential level is addressing the real problem with America right now,” he says. “The real problem is going away from God. And when you go to our founding, our founding fathers warned us … that if America ever failed, the decay would come from within. And that's what convicted me.”
This matter of the church's historical role in partisan politics is a matter of contention among supporters of Pulpit Freedom Sunday and its detractors.
According to Dr. Kurt Fredrickson, associate dean for Doctor of Ministry and Continuing Education and assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Fuller Seminary in California, before the IRS regulations put in place by the 1954 Johnson Amendment, the church was not monolithic in its relationship with politics.
While many churches shunned the political arena historically, others embraced political battles, whether it was the fight for the abolition of slavery or the civil rights movement.
With the 1980s Moral Majority, evangelicals were driven into the partisan fray, he says, while a number of other Christians continued to find ways to work within the political realm without aligning themselves with political parties. He points to a number of issues that can dovetail with the political world: homelessness, poverty, the sex trade and so on.
These, he notes, are societal issues that rise above political parties or campaigning for specific candidates.
While the growth of the churches involved with Pulpit Freedom Sunday — from 33 in 2008 to 1,500 this year — might seem to signal a growing belief in politicizing the pulpit, Frederickson argues that, in the number of Christians who refuse to affiliate with a church, we might be seeing a rebuke.
"Over the past 20 years, that number has doubled," he says. "And some people theorize that part of the rise of the non-affiliated is a reaction against this linking of religion and politics."
For example: Despite the seeming adoption by the evangelical world of Republican politics, Fredrickson says, he is an evangelical and he won't be supporting Mitt Romney.
On Pulpit Freedom Sunday, Cowart was joined by the Pray in Jesus Name Project, a one-chaplain nonprofit that publishes and distributes voting guides across the nation, promoting its core principles: pro-life, pro-liberty, pro-marriage and pro-Israel.
Watch, here, as chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt explains how homosexuality can be exorcised — as in exorcism — through "personal repentance."
Also on the list of participants is Radiant Church, an Assemblies of God-affiliated church in Colorado Springs.
Speaking before his congregation last Sunday in a recorded segment, Todd Hudnall says that this might be the most important election of his lifetime, "because of the crucial period in our nation and the starkly different directions the two candidates envision taking America."
He urges his congregation to vote "biblically" — taking into consideration what values God holds.
"There are certain Biblical values that are critical to contemplate when voting for a candidate and for any public office" he continues, and encourages his congregants to vote with the word of God in mind.
His congregation was provided a voting guide in their church bulletins, supplied, he says, by Focus on the Family. This voting guide will let his congregants know where the candidates stand on "critical biblical issues."
Without coming out and saying that he was endorsing the Republican candidate, he did outline the issues he believes they ought to consider when voting. The candidate that they should support? The one who is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and who will "work to protect our religious freedoms."
"I know that some are going to object to a pastor making such statements from the pulpit of a church. They would even say it's against the law. I beg to differ. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. And as a pastor, I have both the right and the responsibility to teach fundamental Biblical principles to our congregation."
Hudnall says that he sent a copy of his sermon to the IRS, which you can watch below. You'll want to skip ahead to about 28:45 for the section that deals with the presidential election.