Monday, September 29, 2008

Of Politics and Pulpits

A group of pastors is challenging the legal ban on Churches endorsing candidates for political office. To be more precise, the group is challenging the current law which bars churches from endorsing candidates and remaining tax exempt.

I'm honestly torn on this one. It is one of the few topics on which I do not have a fully formed opinion.

Some of the language put out by those in favor of the status quo is pretty stupid:
They seem to have ignored completely what politicking would do to compromise the credibility and lessen the integrity of religion... They would seem to place more emphasis on getting a particular candidate elected to office than on preserving the historic ability of religion to reconcile people's differences.
I suppose there is something to be said for religion's ability to "reconcile people's differences". But it's not like they want John McCain elected so that he'll buy new cushions for the pews. These candidates perform a duty in political office which is actually a lower calling than their call to serve God. We have a right to have a religiously formed opinion on these matters, and it is the job of pastors to help us form these thoughts.

There is something ghetto-ish about the whole thing. "You're going to compromise the the credibility of religion!" Well, religion is not doing terribly well in many circles, nowadays. I'm not sure that those who would be upset at the pastor's behavior are not those who already have a fully-formed negative opinion of religion and its place in the public square.

So I do have some respect for the idea that religion should not be married to politics. Congregations should have a political identity separate from their identity as churches. But endorsing a candidate is not to identify yourself with that candidate.

I also have a great respect for some of my Catholic pastors here in town and I am unwilling to believe that they are merely cowed by Big Brother into acquiesence. My thought is that they have their reasons.

The Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
If my religion says that I shouldn't vote for John McCain, is Congress prohibiting my free exercise by preventing my pastor from telling me so?

I would lean towards yes.


Jocelyn said...

This is something I also have thought about, albeit probably not as much as you. Many anti-religious people with a fully formed negative view of religion already think the Church endorses candidates simply because many Catholics tend to support certain candidates.

The fact that keeps nagging me is that if there were a true Catholic candidate, who never supported anything against the Church's teachings, then it would seem to be a no-brainer that the Church would support this candidate. However, because no candidate like this is running in the election, it would be hard for the Church to endorse a candidate and then have to explain itself when said candidate does something the Church does not agree with. Because endorsement by a group doesn't coincide with any allegiance by a candidate to that group, there's no way to ensure that the candidate will always act in the group's best interests. I disagree with your statement that, "endorsing a candidate is not to identify yourself with that candidate." I really think that aside from any laws, it is not in the Church's best interest to tell parishioners who to vote for, but there is nothing wrong with preaching about the holy issues and encouraging Catholics to research candidates' views and voting records on these issues.

This Liberal said...

Thanks for your comment, Jocey. Much appreciated.

Hmmm... I suppose there would be some blowback if an endorsed candidate did something silly and/or embarassing after he/she was endorsed.

Do you think that endorsing a candidate does identify the candidate with the endorsing entity? Would it make it any different if the endorsement had caveats, such as "We don't agree with all of this candidate's views, but because of blah blah blah we are endorsing him for President"?

This Liberal said...

Here's another pertinent article:

Virginia Teachers Union Sparks Outrage With 'Obama Blue Day' - Fox News

The gist is that the teachers' union in Virginia has encouraged teachers to where blue shirts to show their support for Obama.

So, teachers can endorse candidates in schools but pastors can not?