The shocked response I have received frequently through the years is troubling as I have challenged pastors that the tax-exempt, non-profit status they were so fearful of losing was a historical right that transcended even our Constitution and certainly IRS Code. Therefore, the status could not be "revoked," only the advance recognition letter sent benevolently by the IRS when we go hat in hand to seek something that is already ours.
This is relevant now due to the "Free the Pulpit" project facilitated by the Alliance Defense Fund, which encourages pastors to challenge the biblically, historically and constitutionally indefensible political restrictions on pastors' speech in the pulpit. I have advocated this for years because the "chilling effect" of these restrictions has kept most pastors far away from the battlefield of having any influence on whom we choose as civil leaders and what they do while in office. The bottom line is that neither our federal, state nor local governments have any legitimate authority to dictate and interfere in the free exercise of religion or political speech in the church. A pastor and the church itself has the full right and duty given by God and protected by the Constitution to endorse or oppose candidates without having the heavy hand of taxation threatened against us.
With that said, I do not believe that the vast majority of the time the pastor's influence, position and credibility is necessarily best served by endorsing candidates for office, for several reasons. First, it is a primary duty of the pulpit to "labor in the word and doctrine," as per 1 Timothy 5:17, teaching each true follower of Jesus Christ (I won't get into the plethora of "church attenders" who are not) to understand and apply "The Word" in every area of our lives. Going directly to the area of citizenship, we have been given clear standards of whom we choose to govern in Exodus 18:21:
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- Able men – proven and capable, qualified to serve;
- Fear God – are governed by God;
- Men of truth – have reputation of character, integrity, honesty;
- Hate dishonest gain – will serve God and the people, not themselves.
We have also been given a clear hierarchy of issues in how we assess potential leaders regarding their worldview and governing philosophy – the multitude of issues that God gives us direction on are condensed into "God's Top 10." The first is the most controversial, discussed, debated, etc.: "You shall not murder," and "God hates … hands that shed innocent blood" (Proverbs 6:16). If a candidate embraces the protection of all innocent life from conception until natural death, we can go to the next issue for assessment. However, if a candidate is "pro-choice," fundamentally meaning supportive of the legal taking of innocent life, there is no need to go to issue No. 2. If he or she is wrong on that issue, the bankruptcy in core values is so foundational that placing a trust of public leadership in such a person is and has been catastrophic on that and most other issues.
Let me simply it even further – protecting the lives of the innocent and vulnerable trumps jobs, economic stability, the environment, health care and every other issue. The Bible does speak to those issues as well; however, they cannot and must not take precedence over the highest purpose of civil government: to protect the lives of its citizens. For Christians, choosing leaders must start with capability, character and core values, which reflect clear, defensible standards and priorities given in Scripture.
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"Choose life …" (Deuteronomy 30:19) we are commanded. In the presidential race, this issue serves to clear up the muddied water of all the other differences and similarities between the Republican and Democrat candidates. One chooses life, one chooses death – we will choose one of them based on how we think and what our priorities are. Those will be determined for Christians in a major way by what they hear from our pulpits.
To take off from a familiar saying, "Tell people how to vote and they may vote right one time. Teach people to think biblically and they will vote biblically all the time."