Home / News / The Episcopal Church, faith, and U.S. politics, defying the defiers on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”
The Episcopal Church, faith, and U.S. politics, defying the defiers on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”

The Episcopal Church, faith, and U.S. politics, defying the defiers on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”

According to the Episcopal News Service (ENS) over 1500 clergy defied Separation of Church and State on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, but ministers of the Episcopal Church allegedly defied the defiers by staying non-partisan and continuing to preach on non-partisan topics, encouraging their congregations to protest war, fight poverty, and support women’s health care, as well as LGBT issues.

Some of the ministers defying the IRS told their congregations that if they voted for a particular candidate, they would go to hell.  Others told their congregations if they support particular issues, they are going to hell or called sinful for voting for Obama.  The Alliance Defending Justice does so, in an effort to challenge the IRS, according ENS.

However, Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, did the opposite and even went as far as telling the story of the IRS attending church, in the second video, and accusing the church of practicing politics during an election season.  The IRS, after demanding the church admit to it, with the church refusing to do so, dropped the inquiry after two years.  The sermon in question dealt with peacekeeping, justice, inclusion, compassion, healing, and environmental justice, critiquing various politicians and government policies.  In the video below, the minister did state whom they endorsed, reminding people, “Faith without works is dead” and “spirituality without action is fruitless” and “social action without spirituality is heartless”, adding that they are political without being partisan, acting daringly.

The minister goes one about the charges the IRS attempted to charge the church with, but stated that the Bible says they must practiced their faith both in season and out of season, adding that there is no season for a church to call the government to make an exit plan from a country they are at war with.  He also criticized a government who steals from the people and then quoted Martin Niemöller, who wrote a poem about who all a group came for, finally coming for him, and there was no one left to speak out against such things.

Bacon stated in the video that ministers who support “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” muddy the waters of Separation and State by taking a partisan stance, by telling members they are going to hell for voting in a particular manner, instead of a non-partisan stance. “Faith based politics expresses the conscious of the individual believer and the collective consciousness of the faith community on the level of political policies, but not on the level of the political candidates or parties.” That encompasses issues of war and peace, the power of non-violent social actions, protesting violence and torture, economic fairness, education and health care reform and the right of women to health care and control of their own bodies, as well as climate change. (19:55 mark below)

He stated that is not the same as partisan politics, but rather concern for others and love of our neighbours. They should never become instruments of a particular party.

“Preachers who tell you for whom to vote and who become instruments of partisanship have thus relinquished their freedom to evaluate prophetically all candidates and all parties using the plumb line of the house of love,” said Bacon in remarks posted on YouTube.

He added that we must always conduct ourselves in non-partisan politics. Non-partisanship is for doers of the word, because faith without works is dead. Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless, according to Fr. Bacon.

ENS spoke with others concerning faith, God, and politics.

Others who spoke with the Episcopal News Service about the intersection of faith, God and politics agreed that the church’s role must be prophetic, not partisan.

Mary Getz said the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network, for which she is grassroots and online communications officer, help “Episcopalians stay active in our nation’s democratic process by providing them with current information about legislation that stands before Congress and about related General Convention resolutions.

“In an election year, we remind, encourage, and support full voter participation,” she said in an e-mail to ENS.

One example ENS gave was the DREAM Act, which the Episcopal Church passed a resolution supporting the act and according to Getz they church will send voting reminders to EPPN members in Maryland to remind them of the resolution.

ENS also spoke with Presiding Bishop Schori, who stated, “Jesus was deeply concerned with political processes in his own day, challenging people around him as well as the Roman and religious governments about injustice, violence, and exploitation.”

“Our task as Christians is always to explore how the political processes and decisions before us can help or hinder the coming of the Reign of God in our midst,” she added. “Does a tax proposal seem to care for ‘the least of these’? Does a policy decision mean greater justice for the ‘little ones’? Does one candidate seem to have a greater interest than another in the primary issues of justice that Jesus spoke most about?”

Schori also stated that while people may disagree, the quality and conduct of dialogue is important.

Rev. Bob Massie stated that his faith inspired him to run for lieutenant governor and then for senate in Massachusetts, because in his view  “the public conversation was so bleak and pessimistic … [and] about welfare, taxes, not about the possibility of what people could do together in community.”  Later, he was surprised he won the Democratic primary, but he later dropped out of the race for senate when he was defeated for the senate seat.

Massie is still an active priest in the Episcopal Church and serves as president and chief executive officer of the New Economics Institute, a Barrington, Massachusetts think-tank whose mission is to advance a just and sustainable economy.

According to ENS, faith meant, for him, no negative campaigning or personal attacks on opponents. Which is different to telling the truth, he said.

“If I pointed out that Congress, and particularly the House of Representatives controlled by the Republican Party, was trying to deny health insurance for 50 million Americans, some people might experience that as a negative comment,” he said. “But it’s a true comment. Part of my responsibility as a citizen and as a candidate was to talk about what was true, but I didn’t believe in attacking anyone else on personal basis.”

What is not appropriate, he said, is for clergy to avoid public issues.

“We live in a world that remains grotesquely unjust and controlled by powerful forces we need to expose,” he said. “Secondly, we are on the path to destroying the planet and generations that follow will wonder why people of faith didn’t rise up to object to this slow-motion self-destruction. It is a critical part of one’s faith and of any Christian community to take public issues seriously, to engage them, to discuss them in the light of the Gospel and then to act on them.”

Others, such as Stephanie Seefeldt and her husband Scott, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Wisconsin, have made a comment to stay out of politics altogether due to the diversity of views in their church.  Their church has members who are conservative and others who are ultra liberal, so she and her husband do not wish people to view them in any particular manner.

“My favorite image is that of the Prius covered in Obama stickers parked next to the Expedition with the ‘how’s that hope and change thing workin’ out for ya?’” she said.

Still, her husband “works very hard to raise the level of discourse from the pulpit, and does a great job of it, so that what he challenges our congregation to do is to honor Christ and one another, no matter the political persuasion.”

Bishop Alan Scarfe of the Diocese of Iowa feels that church should be a safe place to discuss politics freely, especially when both parties are pushed into one school for their caucuses.

Iowa’s system of caucusing means “you go to a local school and you’re all pushed together in a big crowd, Republicans and Democrats all together,” he said. “You’re pushing down the corridor to go to the Democratic caucus and you’re pushing past your neighbor who’s going to the Republican caucus and you’re saying, ‘Hey Joe. How are you?’ There’s no hiding.”

A priest he knows called this “the most divisive election she’s ever experienced in her congregation among her own people,” Scarfe said. “I wonder if she’s attempted to say, ‘let’s sit down and have a conversation and set some rules and be civil and do it under the shadow of the cross and in the spirit of the reconciling God.’”

He envisions a gathering where “you’d have people who are Romney supporters and Obama supporters within a given congregation talking together about what is a fair and just budget, with perhaps some leadership from pastors and priests that can lead into some biblical searches. You can do the same for one’s nation’s place regarding security and interdependence globally, all these things.

“We can use the church as the place where people live a reconciled life and through the safety of that reconciled life they can talk to each other about these things that are most important. We can put some human face on issues, because it is your neighbor, and hopefully there is some way you can humanly appreciate the other person just beyond their politics.”

Nancy Frausto, age 29 and a DREAMer in the Diocese of Los Angeles, believes that faith is the absolute jumping off point for politics.

DREAMers qualify for benefits under the Development, Relief and Education for Minors or DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who meet certain criteria.

For Frausto, faith means siding with the candidate who is “talking to the real people down here in the streets, the working class, all of us who are struggling.

“We are here on earth to look after one another, to take care of the poor, to be there for the orphan and the widow … the voiceless,” she said.

“I have been so frustrated because I’ve never been able to vote and I have friends who are citizens who’ve never voted at all. You may think your vote doesn’t count but you are willingly letting people take your voice away, take away your rights. As people of faith, we need to stand up and make our voices heard.”

Retired Missouri Senator John Danforth (R) is also an Episcopal priest told ENS, “One of the dangers is when people who are in politics purport to speak for God, or to say that their political positions are God’s positions, because they’re not.”

Danforth continues, “We have a candidate in Missouri for the U.S. Senate, Todd Akin, who has become very famous nationally for his comments about abortion. He would say yes, that it’s God’s will that he’s the candidate.  I think his reading of God’s will would not be mine. I think that’s a claim that’s dangerous to make.”

Rather, politics is “a balancing of interests, meaning there are all kinds of peoples and groups asking the question ‘what’s in it for me?’,” he said.

“Religion does offer into this political world of self-interest a second question which is, is there something beyond yourself, something that you want to serve beyond your own interests? That’s an important message in politics and it’s not heard today.”

He added that “the prophetic message of the church should be precisely against the claim that one position or set of positions is the religious position. Because in reality, everything is debatable in politics, and everything is up for compromise or else it’s just going to be gridlock, which is the current situation we now have and have had for the last decade or so.”

Politics is a business of struggle, Danforth said. “It’s ambiguity and it’s different people with different positions and how do you hold them together. By the way, that’s a very religious undertaking, isn’t it, simply to hold things together?”

Rev. John Forney, an Episcopal priest since 1985, and a chapter organizer for Progressive Christians Uniting in Los Angeles stated that faith informs everything we do, as well as our political views, how we treat others, and being part of a community that is “life-giving”.

“Essentially, our national life is our national community, a community that invests in people, is safe for people, those kinds of communities reflect our religious values,” he said.

He cited the criminal justice system as an example. “We are bound to do better than locking up 60 percent of minority youth for crimes white kids would never get locked up for,” said Forney, who is white. “When you do this it diminishes their ability for the rest of their life to be productive citizens. Our faith values say that we mustn’t throw away people. There are no throwaways, no 47 percent here. God loves everyone here and we must love everyone and do by them what God does by them.”

Mixing partisan politics and religion only makes religion the loser, he added. “Sure, the church needs to say something about politics. But we don’t need to be backing candidates.”

The Pew Forum explains the IRS rules concerning religious organizations’ involvement with politics.  This includes the First Amendment and IRS restrictions concerning ministers preaching politics from the pulpit, as well as what religious organizations are allowed to do concerning politics and how often before losing their religious exemption status.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Peter

    What do you know. Voices of reason and sanity out there with all the craziness going on out their. But I wonder, should they keep silent about someone like Akin, and others, who deserve to be called out. Tough choices.

    • Yes, while not perfect, the Episcopal Church and some other mainline churches do possess reasoning skills and use them. I think we do not want to alienate these groups because they try to fight the same issues as we do and are usually fighting with us, including and esp issues concerning women and LGBTs. We need their help.

      As for Akin, they do speak out, but avoid naming specific individuals because that would not be non-partisan, as mentioned in the article. To name Akin specifically and speak out against him would cause them to be partisan and potentially violating IRS rules.

      • Deborah_B

        Good for them for not embracing the far religious right's marching orders to endorse politicians from the pulpit.

  • Pingback: Iowa pastor gets slap-happy; threatens to smack woman over separation of church and state in political pamphlet dispute | God Discussion()

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