WASHINGTON (ABP) — While only 33 churches signed up to participate in a conservative Christian group's Pulpit Freedom Sunday Sept. 28, planners viewed it as a success.
That is, organizers said, because its stated purpose was not to inject politics into the pulpit, but rather civil disobedience aimed at prompting a legal battle over an Internal Revenue Service restriction against churches endorsing candidates as a condition of their tax exemption.
However, new polls show Amer-icans increasingly are uncomfortable with the idea of injecting partisan politics into the pulpit.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund said they are prepared to defend any pastor targeted by the IRS for endorsing a candidate based on the First Amendment guarantee of the right to free speech.
Meanwhile, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed complaints with the IRS against six churches for violating federal law by endorsing candidates from the pulpit.
“These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn.
At Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bethlehem, Ga., Pastor Jody Hice endorsed Sen. John McCain for president, telling worshippers the Republican candidate has a more biblical worldview than Sen. Barack Obama when it comes to issues of abortion and gay marriage.
“These are not political issues,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Southern Baptist pastor and local talk-radio host as saying. “These are moral issues.”
Pastor Wiley Drake told First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., that “according to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world” a Christian can vote for Obama.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Drake suggested his parishioners vote for a different presidential candidate — himself. A past vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Drake is on the ballot in California as running mate of American Independent Party presidential candidate Alan Keyes.
The pulpit initiative comes at a time when many Americans are growing increasingly wary of politics in the pulpit.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found for the first time since the question was first included in its poll 10 years ago, a majority of Americans said churches should stay out of politics instead of expressing their views on social and political concerns.
Another poll, conducted by the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm, found 59 percent of Americans disagreed with the statement: “I believe it is appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office.”
Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said that's because the ADF initiative was “misguided” and a “brazen attempt to blend the worship of God with electoral politics.”
“This initiative certainly will politicize churches more than it will Christianize politics,” Walker wrote in an opinion article prior to the event. “It will assuredly turn our pulpit prophets into political puppets. It will, no doubt, convert our churches into virtual political action committees — where candidates will line up at the church door to seek endorsement, especially those that are on television.”