A blog called Nation of Wussies written in October 2005 bemoaned what the writer saw as the deterioration of boldness in spreading the good news by pressing for rights to speak. In this blogger’s sights specifically the right to say Merry Christmas was all the rage on Christian radio I believe. The author felt it fed right into the flavor of the time, PC or political correctness.
Here earlier in 2012 I ran across a call to arms event for the church and pastors recently that skirts a major issue in the church for clergy and laity and I feel the author’s above pain. The event is called, “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” The impetus is from an organization called, The Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund. What I know of the organization is that it readily defends Christians’ freedom of speech under the law. For instance, a student attempts to start an after school bible club but the school will not allow it mistakenly believing it violates separation of church and state statutes or it forbids a bible club from passing out and posting flyers to promote the club. The ADF will represent the student or group for free. According to its blog it is “a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.” The Truth capital “T” is referring to Jesus whose one title out of many is the Truth.
The ADF presents a five point platform to encourage folks to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday a part with which this writer take great exception.
One issue is the ADF is encouraging the church to preach the “truth” about candidates. It was common place as I was growing up where politicians would be Christians for a day, show up on Sunday and do their song and dance during election season never to darken the doors of the church until next election year.
It used to be that competence and ethics played second fiddle to party line. As the landscape changed and more people of color ran for office race was added to the mix.
Even though those politician now had the weight of whatever church behind them, in many cases, the strength of the church support was not based on a governing church body or committee, say of pastors and deaconesses, coming together to choose to support a politician based on research and vetting. Now that it is taboo to bring politicians into the pulpit directly the ADF wants preachers again to preach “the truth” about them.
If you listen to Christian radio or Christian television it becomes clear that many times various programs have an agenda that goes beyond upholding Christian core values and can delve into ideology that often strongly suggests that one party or politician is simply “not our kind,” and even broach nationalism, militarism, imperialism messaging that God and country are one. Should the church by association be telling congregations for whom to vote or right out dictating such? Maybe they should be however; to this writer the whole fallibility issue is more than troublesome.
This ADF’s, “… five reasons your support is vital,” seamlessly blends promoting the church as the repository of, “Issues such as life, marriage, the family, the economy, the poor, and many others that are addressed specifically in scripture,” into “… bold pastors preaching biblical Truth about candidates and elections from their pulpits …” Does this event promote teaching and preaching biblical “issues” or preaching the “truth” about candidates? I am confused.
Some may remember Otis Moss III challenging Black clergy on the right to marriage for Gays and Lesbians. Should he have watered down his message by aiming it at a politician or in this case the pastor that prompted the letter, point being it was a strong message about an issue covered in scripture albeit not agreed upon by clergy? Reverend Moss delineates between what the church is supposed to support and its involvement in the civic political arena, an area that perhaps as a harbinger of dogma the church should think twice or even thrice about engaging in. I am in no way saying the church doesn’t necessarily belong but I will venture to suggest that an undue amount of energy is placed here taking away from other areas where the church can have eternal impact furthering the great commission.
I’d much rather see more energy invested into putting more people on the airwaves like perhaps Chris Fabry or Janet Parshall (both Moody talk show hosts) to do these things than focus on having off task messages from the pulpit. I wonder how many Chris Fabrys and Janet Parshalls are there in secular radio?
As far as 1st amendment rights we have much more to be concerned about with laws and the culture on hate speech, not as a church issue only but as a free speech issue nationally.
The ADF piece goes on to ask, “How can the exercise of religion be free if your church is subject to fines and penalties for something you as a pastor say from the pulpit” and continues with one of its five points being, the free exercise of religion requires a free pulpit.
Scripture cannot be any more emphatically against this point; free exercise of religion does not require a free pulpit.
Understanding what is meant by the popular definition of religion it may behoove us to revisit a definition of religion that is not harkened to nearly enough. The English Standard Version of the bible says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Isaiah chapter 1 verse 17 says, “learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow..” Not being a bible scholar it is very possible I have missed scripture exhorting us to make it easy for those of the faith to speak truth or Truth from a soapbox.
Without exhorting pastors, preachers, teachers, laity and all to speak in season and out (2nd Timothy 4:2) I think, “pulpit freedom Sunday,” boils down to whining and this is the crux of my opposition to the event.
According to the ADF youtube video hawking this event, the first event that took place in October 2011 was “the first time in 50 years that hundreds of pastors stood up proclaiming a message of biblical truth…” and blamed the Johnson tax code amendment for it not having taken place in that previous 50 years. If this isn’t an indictment against a cowardly church I don’t know what is.
Outside scripture one has to look no further than Martin Luther King to see that he did not have a free pulpit no matter what the laws of the land said about freedom of speech prior to the Johnson amendment.
As a matter of fact Reverend King preached against the law of the land, that is to say in direct opposition to the cultural norms of the time and civil law. Would that Reverend Doctor King only had loss of his 501c3 status to worry about.
Apostle Paul walked in resolute civil disobedience being constantly beaten, jailed and admonished not to speak the name of Jesus. The free exercise of religion does not require a free pulpit; it requires revelation knowledge of pastors and speakers that whom the Son has set free is free indeed, free in deed. I find it very interesting that pastors in lands where there is persecution of Christians like China as a rule don’t ask for laws to be legislated that make it easy for them to preach but that the Spirit of the most High will sustain them, just like Paul prayed for boldness and courage, just like he encouraged Timothy to speak boldly.
Though the ADF advances that every church and pastor has the right to decide what is preached from their pulpit they don’t acknowledge that with freedom, in this case freedom of speech comes responsibility and also the “freedom” if you will to suffer the consequences of your words, actions, and stance that many times is a standard and indictment against the culture.
Since this Johnson amendment has been enacted; another controversial sermon has been uncovered from a North Carolina pastor who made national headlines with his sermon that stated gays and lesbians should be held behind electric fences until they “die off.” Video of Pastor Charles Worley’s sermon went viral after he made the controversial statements during his Mother’s Day sermon at the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC. Posted May 2012 By Chris Dyches – email
A South Florida pastor, Jack Hakimian, whose sermons include “Bible Says Gays and Sex Addicts Can Change and Should Change,” is under review by the Miami-Dade school district for his Sunday services held inside North Miami Senior High School. Huffington Post.
Here is a knuckle headed pastor for you, Sean Harris who says punch your kids if they act Gay, so it doesn’t seem that these people are lacking freedom in the pulpit perhaps lacking decorum, wisdom, civility and possibly even love is missing but freedom to speak irresponsibly or otherwise, ummm no.
The ADF proclaims,“America needs to hear from pastors. Pastors in America have a rich tradition of speaking prophetically and boldly from their pulpits on the great issues of the day. The voice of America’s pastors led the way through independence, slavery, civil rights, and have even influenced which men and women we put into public office.”
As true as this may be I fail to see how this very statement make the case that we need a free pulpit by harkening to three examples, independence, slavery, and civil rights that took place when a free pulpit was the least of the church’s worries. This writing goes on to say, “the voice of pastors is unjustly silenced every election cycle,” when the truth of the matter to me is that pastors self censor rather than face the consequences like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Aung San Suu Kyi, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Ghandi and a myriad of others who spoke not from behind the skirt tails of the pulpit but out in the streets, parks, upper room apartments and the like. Paul Robeson who was not a pastor was severely punished for his views to the point where he was not allowed to leave the country losing most of his ability to make a living and defiantly singing at the US Canadian border to thousands on May 18th 1952 from the back of a flatbed truck.
This event, Pulpit Freedom Sunday, is a wake up call to me to press into the boldness of the spirit of God like never before. I re-determine to speak, act and move what and how I believe God would have me speak, act and move and not give in to the cowardice in me, the desire for adoration and acceptance and the want to belong when it is in direct opposition to my walk of love in spirit with the Spirit in me. It reminds me to continue to unravel what it truly means to be in the world but not of it and to remember what revelation of God’s word has shown me about how to be part of the world but not of it.