Battle of the Sundays: Pulpit Freedom vs. World Communion

A curious thing is happening this Sunday in churches across America.

For some, this curious thing is Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The day, promoted by the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom for the fourth year, urges pastors to speak out in favor of candidates they support, defying IRS restrictions that forbid such political speech in religious nonprofits.

It’s generally a bad idea, and even most conservatives Christian pastors disagree with the ADF on this one. Yet there are still about 1,000 pastors who signed up for the ADF’s intiative, and, of course, Fox News personality Mike Huckabee has pledged his own support.

Meanwhile, in many mainline churches, the curious thing this Oct. 7 will not be Pulpit Freedom Sunday, but World Communion Sunday. In these churches, the day’s worship will not be centered on one man (because it is almost always a man who enjoy freedom to speak in a pulpit in most churches) at the podium, but on the body of Christ around the world feasting at a communal table.

The difference in how this Sunday will be marked seems instructive, symbolic even. In one, the focus rests on the importance of freedom and of an individual speaking out, fist pounding with righteous fury about a fleeting moment in one country’s political history. In the other, the focus will be on men, women, children, rich, poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Asians, Australians, Eurpoeans, and Americans, coming to a shared table with thanksgiving and solidarity, palms outstretched receiving a piece of bread, a sip of wine, eternal life.

One reduces Sunday to a politically engineered farce that celebrates American nationalism and elevates the individual above all else. The other expands Sunday to include a global village that transcends partisan politics, celebrates a global community of God and elevates the host,* not the individual.

It is a sobering reminder as the country enters the homestretch of the presidential campaign and prepares to watch its two candidates debate for the first time. It is not to say that the debates and the election are not important or that people of faith shouldn’t be involved in the political process as activists motivated by their religious convictions. We should! Rather, World Communion Day, at least when juxtaposed against the competing Pulpit Freedom Sunday, reminds us that at the end of the day, the reign of God isn’t coming with a president or a political party or a pulpit pronouncement.

Instead, it’s already here.

Within us.

Us.

Even in those celebrating Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

 

* I know, I know. Not all of us elevate the host. See: Reformation. But it was too good of a rhetorical flourish to edit out, and every now and then, it’s true, my Anglicanism shows.

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry

    Preachers who defy the IRS should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law UNLESS they are willing to pay taxes on their building and grounds and any other assets their religious political corporation(otherwise called a church) owns.
    What a country we live in from the Episcopal bishop of San Francisco dancing around with ecclesiastical niceties towards the Roman Catholic Archbishop designate whose pope called gay folke undeveloped human beings to right wing religious fascists have the gall to claim a Constitutional right that they reject which is the separation of church and state!

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    I vote for Murika! Ain’t freedom if I can’t preach hatred under the banner of Christ and all…

  • http://www.facebook.com/ljkillion Larry Killion

    They tell me that there are at least three themes that are being taught October 7th, 2012 in various places. First, there is “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem Day” and I confess that I am very sympathetic to that. God has a special love for Israel and we would do well to be the best of friends with the nation of Israel. Second, there is “Pulpit Freedom Day” and again as a God called minister of the Gospel, my conviction is that it is God and His Spirit that is to guide and direct me in the sermons that I preach. So, – That is who I want to listen to as I study and prepare the messages for my ministry. It does not matter what the King says or the Denominational leaders say or anyone else. Third, as a reaction to the independent conservatives of “Pulpit Freedom Day”, many mainline religious organizations are promoting “World Communion Sunday.” This is an ecumenical thing where the focus is on people of all nations and walks of life, rich, poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Americans, in global solidarity sharing a piece of bread, and sip of wine. Reading about this last one actually gave me a sour tummy. It is so anti-Christ. Jn.14:1-6. http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Lords-Baptist-Church/72922169417

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      Larry: Actually, World Communion Sunday predates the political farce of Pulpit Freedom Sunday by several decades in mainline churches. It is an ecumenical thing. And yes, bringing people from all walks of life to share communion is certainly the most anti-Christ thing I can imagine the church doing this Sunday. I can see why such an expression of Christ’s love would give you a sour tummy.

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