Pastors + Politics = Problems

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As reluctant as I am to admit it, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura made a good point the other day about pastors and politics. In an interview with Dan Abrams on MSNBC about John McCain’s recent rejection of Rev.John Hagee’s endoresement, Ventura posed the question, “Why aren’t these pastors losing their tax exempt status for engaging in political campaign activity in the first place?” 

(As you may remember, I wrote a post back in March saying that John McCain’s efforts to reach evangelicals by seeking out endorsements from John Hagee and Rod Parsley was a terrible idea and ought to get pounced on by the media.) 

Currently, IRS laws prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one "which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

So why don’t Hagee and Parsely’s respective churches lose their tax exempt status? Why aren’t they fined or reprimanded for formerly supporting a candidate? Am I missing some loopholes here?

And, on a broader scale, to what extent should churches be involved in politics to begin with? 

I remember a few years ago, several churches in my area got really involved in the Tennessee legislature’s effort to amend the state constitution to include a ban on gay marriage. I didn’t support that measure, and was discouraged to see signs on my church’s lawn proclaiming “Marriage = Man + Woman. Vote Yes on One.” I get a little uncomfortable when my church tells me how I ought to vote. 

Last time I checked, Jesus wasn’t a democrat or a republican. I’ve met a lot of Christians who vote Republican because they feel very strongly that the Bible’s emphasis on the sanctity of life compels them to support pro-life candidates. I totally get that. I’ve met other Christians who vote Democrat because they feel just as strongly that Jesus’ call to minister to the poor, sick, and disenfranchised is best answered by the policies of the Democratic party. I get that too. It seems to me that church leaders who tell parishioners that God wants them to vote a certain way underestimate the diversity of their congregation. 

My prediction is that the Wright/Hagee/Parsley debacles will put an end to candidates actively seeking out endorsements from pastors. Furthermore, with James Dobson’s refusal to back McCain (apparently it’s important to God that the U.S. continue to torture detainees and toughen up on illegal immigration), I think evangelicals are beginning to learn to make political decisions on their own again. It will be fun to see how they choose.

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