Every year, on the Sunday before the U.S. Supreme Court convenes its fall term, many justices of the court go to St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the “Red Mass.” A centuries-old tradition that originated in Europe, this special religious service allows judges to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit.
This year on the following Sunday during religious services across America, clergy put themselves and their membership in the government’s crosshairs in hopes of creating a case that might put them in front of those justices.
October 7 was a “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” where hundreds of clergy openly defied a nearly 60-year-old IRS rule – originally crafted by Lyndon Baines Johnson – banning clergy from discussing political candidates during services. Opponents of the rule are openly challenging it. They want to be penalized so they can challenge the constitutionality of the rule.
Before entering full-time ministry, I earned my crusts of bread working and commenting on political issues as well as lobbying. I still enjoy politics as a private citizen, but I was happy to shed the 24/7 political life for the fulfilling vocation I now enjoy.
I don’t understand why my fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ want to use their precious pulpit time to talk about Caesar rather than God.
In the synoptic gospels of the Bible, Jesus said – when discussing taxes with some Pharisees and Herodians – that they must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars; and unto God, the things that are God’s.
For two millennia, Christians have claimed to understand precisely what Christ was talking about. Whether it is our original Puritan forefathers or those fleeing to America to escape modern persecution, the church has largely remained a sanctuary from the secular world.
‘Free from noise’
For an hour or so out of a hectic week, church is supposed to be free from the secular noise – where one can commune with God. It is the job of the clergy to protect that safe haven.
Pastors who would willingly throw the door open to the wolves – and even do the bidding of the wolves – should rethink their calling.
Why put a congregation at risk? In all the previous “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” events, the IRS never took the bait. After all, the rule pertains to electioneering and not talking about even the most divisive social/political issues such as abortion, education and the definition of marriage. It’s still legal to talk about the issues – just not the candidates.
Jesus taught that Christian leadership should be different from worldly concepts of leadership. But many Christian leaders have yielded their God-given authority to pollsters, politicians and public relations experts.
In this world of declining moral standards and an absence of religious obligations, where fewer people are lifting their hearts and minds up to God, clergy should be preoccupied with dealing with the immediate needs of the community instead of who’s in the mayor’s office, the state capital or Washington, D.C.
If the justices of the Supreme Court seek guidance from the Holy Spirit, clergy can always be there – uncorrupted by partisan politics – to assist them in that process. They need not also serve at polling places.
Archbishop Council Nedd II is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 Black leadership network. Contact him via Project21@nationalcenter.org.