I'm interrupting my usual blog (and I'm behind two churches, now) to talk about this upcoming Tuesday. Election day. Presidential elections are always heated, always passionate, and each person believes they are right.
This Sunday, I went to another new church and I fully expected to hear something about voting or about the election. I hoped I would hear "Pray, then vote" or something along those lines. Instead, I heard this:
"Now, you know I can't tell you who to vote for, but I want you to vote. And I want you to vote the right way." Throat clear, ah-hem, church said "amen".
Now, maybe I'm being too sensitive. Maybe I'm wrong, and the church demographics didn't automatically mean they wanted me to vote the way I think he was implying.
Frankly, I don't care.
This is what else I've heard, via Facebook, since I commented on this today:
"I went to a baptism today at an Episcopal church. His message was 'vote for who you want, but vote. Know whether he wins or not, we will pray for the President because all men deserve our prayers.'"
"Our church says vote for who you vote for. Just remember, Jesus is King!"
"One of the things I miss about the Episcopal church is that ours never tried to tell us what to do at all politically. Pray, get educated, vote for who you think God would want you to, end of spiel."
"Pastor told us this morning that he went to war so we would have the right to vote so please do. He told us to vote for who we believe is best, but to please pray about it before we do. He didn't endorse a candidate but he did say if a candidate has a platform that has things that distinctly oppose what it says in the Bible, he doesn't understand how someone who is a Christian could vote for him. I completely agree."
"If a pastor is going to make those kinds of statements, then his church needs to lose their tax exempt status and be funded by the 'right' candidate and make that known to the public."
"I agree. And I think for a pastor to try to influence a congregation to vote a particular way is running a big risk. If the pastor says, 'Vote for Candidate A,' but Candidate B wins instead, does that mean the pastor got bad information from God? Or did he go against God's wishes, in which case what else has he misled the congregation about? Some pastors do the right thing and urge the congregation to participate in our election process; some try to influence. But hooray for the pastors who do urge their congregations to learn, think, and then vote as their conscience tells them is best. I know there are some out there, and that is heartening."
"It is wrong either way. I like to make sure people know that both sides are guilty of it and not let a biased, one-sided statement go by, alluding that only one side is guilty of the action and the person making the statement doesn't succeed in putting out only half the truth. A half truth is still a lie because it's not totally honest."
(Is it any wonder I am tired of this election?)
These comments are from people whose votes will go to different candidates. They are not all Republican, they are not all Democrat, and in fact another friend assumed the pastor meant a different party from what I thought. We all have our opinions. We all have our passions.
I am absolutely certain that every pastor of every church also has their own passions about this subject. Some of them may be biblically-based, some of them may be based on what they feel will most help their congregations, some may be looking to their own self-interest. As with everything, pastors are human also.
However, as leaders of congregations, pastors and bishops and priests and leaders of religious organizations should not try to tell me who to vote for.
There are many reasons for this-- as stated above, they run a real risk. They run the risk of having to explain why they were wrong, or saying that they aren't prophets. They also run a risk Constitutionally, because their tax-exempt status relies on them keeping out of politics. This violates rules set in their rules for a 501(3)(c) charitable organization.
I found this article about "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," and it makes me uncomfortable no matter which candidate any of the pastors try to endorse or influence their congregants to vote for. The date this year was October 7, but it sure seems like other pastors may have chosen this Sunday for their speech.
I found specific information on church tax-exempt status in another article on about.com that explains atheism, because of the implied governmental support for religion and some beliefs that this goes against the separation of church and state.
Want specific tax-code information from the IRS itself? IRS.gov has an entire 32-page tome on this subject alone-- Churches and Religious Organizations.
Here are some church-specific stances on the subject:
"The United Methodist Church believes that the church has the moral imperative to act for the common good. For people of faith, therefore, there are no political or spiritual spheres where their participation can be denied. The attempt to influence the formation and execution of public policy at all levels of government is often the most effective means available to churches to keep before humanity the ideal of a society in which power and order are made to serve the ends of justice and freedom for all people. Through such social action The United Methodist Church generates new ideas, challenges certain goals and methods, and helps rearrange the emphasis on particular values in ways that facilitate the adoption and implementation of specific policies and programs that promote goals that are congruent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This task of the Church is in no way in contradiction with our commitment to a vital separation of Church and State. We believe that the integrity of both institutions is best served when both institutions do not try to control the other. Thus, we sustain with the first amendment to the Constitution that: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;' We live in a pluralistic society. In such a society, churches should not seek to use the authority of government to make the whole community conform to their particular moral codes. Rather, churches should seek to enlarge and clarify the ethical grounds of public discourse and to identify and define the foreseeable consequences of available choices of public policy."
The Mormon Church, or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) has a specific article on political neutrality. This explains why neither candidate has been endorsed, nor will they be, despite the religion of one of our candidates. I found this article to be really interesting, and I appreciate my sweet LDS friend who posted it.
I'm going to quote that article, because I think this is how I feel churches should be --
"Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent."
People are to follow God, not their church. Follow the Bible, not the pastor except as they follow the Bible.
That's how to vote the "Right" way.