Rendering Unto Caesar: Pulpit Politics and Christian Witness

Tomorrow, October 7, has been labeled Pulpit Freedom Sunday. It is a day when participating pastors will take a stand against threats against their freedom of speech by giving sermons that “preach Biblical truth about political candidates.”

The fact that ministers of the Gospels feel sufficiently pressured and harassed to self-censure their sermons to organize such a day says quite a lot. My great hope is that they will give America an astringent dose of genuine Gospel preaching without falling into the trap of indulging in personal attacks against any person or group of people. If they do that, tomorrow will be a great day.

It’s interesting to me that things have gotten this far. I can tell you for sure that the pastors in the house district that I’ve represented for going on 17 years have never been shy about speaking out. Back in the day when I was pro choice, they denounced me roundly and loudly from the pulpit, including saying a whole host of things that were untrue and extravagantly malicious.

I  never questioned their right to preach about me from the pulpit and I never made any attempt to force them to stop doing it. I think that America needs a free and untrammeled church for its health and well being as a society and a culture. I also think that the right of Americans of all walks of life to criticize their politicians and elected officials is a core freedom. I didn’t like being the target of all this hate from the pulpit, but I never wanted to curtail the freedom of speech on which it was based.

I’ve written before about the threats many pastors have faced from non-governmental groups and their vague, chain-rattling allusions to possible legal actions against those who fail to comply. I find this behavior disgusting.

The idea that the government would use or threaten to use the tax codes to silence potential critics is appalling. However, while I heartily support the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit, that does not mean that I support everything that gets said there. All civilized people are called to exercise personal responsibility in what they say, and Christians, especially Christian leaders, should adhere to an even higher level of personal responsibility.

I know from my own experience that when pastors regard their pulpits and the respect people hold for their position as an entitlement to attack and harm people, they damage the Body of Christ.

It is past time for clergy to stand up against the oft-proclaimed notion that the pulpit should be a free-speech-free zone where government censorship can run riot. But I do hope that whatever truth they decide to proclaim is, in fact, the truth, and not just an amalgam of oft-repeated slanders.

That’s what happened when pastors attacked me. They said outlandish, slanderous things. They said things that were personal, sexual, and verifiably untrue. They were cruel, vicious and, I realize now, an embarrassment to Christ and genuine Christianity.

What these preachers said didn’t convert me at all. In fact, they hardened me in my thinking. I experienced a profound religious conversion a few years later. But most of my friends of that time remain hardened in their dislike and contempt for Christianity and, by default, Jesus Himself. What these preachers said about me isn’t the only reason for this, but it is a contributing factor.

I will be praying for these pastors who plan to “speak truth” this Sunday, but probably not exactly as they would expect. I pray that they will tell the truth and not go off into some hellacious slander fest. I also hope that they remember that they are most likely not Jeremiah and John the Baptist all rolled up into one person, so maybe they should behave with a bit of judicious thoughtfulness before engaging in wild denunciations of individuals and whole groups of people.

America needs the cleansing fire of strong Christian preaching. Say a prayer with me that this is what happens tomorrow.

For more about Pulpit Freedom Sunday, go here.

 

 


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