Tea Bagger Dares Local Pastors to Endorse Him From the Pulpit


Some Tea Bagger in South Dakota has decided to double dog dare via a press release pastors across the state to use their position of influence to endorse him for political office, an action which would rightfully jeopardize any participating church's tax exempt status since they would not be playing by the rules of the establishment clause which gives them tax exempt status in the first place.

Shockingly, one pastor of a Baptist (no so shocking) church took him up on the challenge.

One Rapid City pastor has accepted gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie's challenge to defy federal tax law and endorsed Howie from the pulpit.

However, other local religious leaders have dismissed Howie's Pulpit Challenge initiative as legally and pastorally irresponsible.

On May 15, the Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City, officially endorsed state Sen. Gordon Howie in his bid for governor during a church service.

Williams did not return a message last week when called by the Journal, but few here expect that his church will face repercussions from the Internal Revenue Service as a result of his sermon. Federal tax code prohibits all tax-exempt organizations, including charities and churches, from endorsing any candidate for public office.

It also forbids those organizations from making donations to or fundraising for a candidate and from "becoming involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate." Those restrictions on political activity for charitable organizations stem from a 1954 amendment to the tax code that historians attribute to then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson's desire to punish certain tax-exempt organizations (not churches) that supported his opponent in the 1954 Texas primary.

Federal courts have upheld those tax-exempt conditions about political activity, most recently in 2000. But the Alliance Defense Fund, which promotes Christian values in the political sphere, encourages pastors such as Williams to openly challenge the IRS and risk their tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization, in hopes that it might lead to a legal challenge and a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Johnson amendment.

It would seem that the current opinion is that it's OK for these institutions to break the law because 'no one is really going to do anything anyway.' Hopefully these churches will continue to push the envelope, to the point where the Christian privilege is forced into the mainstream and we as a nation are similarly forced to deal with it.

It would be disingenuous to insinuate that this moronic Baptist pastor is indicative of the general opinion of the religious leaders in the area, however. Though that seems to be exactly what Howie himself is trying to do.

Howie said Wednesday that his Pulpit Challenge was "getting great response from pastors across the state.

Not from the Rev. Jeff Otterman, pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Belle Fourche, however. He called Howie's Pulpit Challenge irresponsible and insulting to his congregation.

"The people at St. James are very well-read, and they don't need their pastor telling them how to vote, or who to vote for," Otterman said. "To back one candidate over another seems far-reaching and could alienate a congregation rather than create opportunity for growth."

At Synagogue of the Hills, vice president Wayne Gilbert said its congregants hold divergent political opinions but all agree not to jeopardize the synagogue's tax-exempt status over political activity.

"I don't think any responsible leader of a tax-exempt religious group would be willing to risk tax-exempt status to endorse a candidate," Gilbert said.

Gilbert said the idea "that I should be instructed by a religious leader as to which candidate has the moral or religious high ground is personally insulting to me. I expect religious leaders to offer me insight and guidance into spiritual and moral matters, not secular and political ones."

Craig disagreed, saying pastors have a responsibility to educate their flock on God's laws, including which elected officials do the best job of following those laws. Pastors who don't are "not doing their jobs."

The Rev. Susan Huffman at First Congregational Church in Rapid City believes strongly in the separation of church and state, as did her religious ancestors, the Pilgrims.

"We recall that history and know the many problems that develop when politics and religion become entwined. We encourage our members to vote, but we won't tell them how to vote. We encourage our members to think, but we don't tell them what to think. We don't believe that one political party has a monopoly on the truth."

Even Howie's own pastor, Bishop Lorenzo Kelly at Faith Temple Church in Rapid City, said he has no plans to endorse his friend from the pulpit. "I have encouraged our people to be participants in the political arena and showed them the scriptures that back it up," Kelly said. "But I have not from the pulpit endorsed him. I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't put my church in jeopardy of anything."

It's nice to see that at least some of the religious leaders in the area don't feel it's their job to tell their congregations what to think outside of religion.

I'm very interested to see what comes of this. Like I said, the more churches that do this, the more obvious the Christian privilege becomes and we can all finally address it out in the open. Or, the churches that participate in political endorsements will lose their tax exempt status and very quickly churches will stop playing around in the political arena.