Wednesday, October 01, 2008

God is on My Side

Reading this Washington Post story about evangelical ministers flouting federal law, which prohibits endorsements of political candidates from the pulpit, by explicitly endorsing McCain, 33 Pastors Flout Tax Law With Political Sermons, reminded me of my recent family reunion.

The Post story reported:
Defying a federal law that prohibits U.S. clergy from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, an evangelical Christian minister told his congregation Sunday that voting for Sen. Barack Obama would be evidence of "severe moral schizophrenia."

* * * *

Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

The ministers contend they have a constitutional right to advise their worshipers how to vote. As Johnson put it during a break between sermons, "The point that the IRS says you can't do it, I'm saying you're wrong."

The fundamental problem with the premise espoused by these fundamentalists is that it is not illegal to a Church to endorse a candidate. It merely means that they cannot do so and take advantage of the advantages of tax exempt status afforded to churches and other non-profit entities. No one is forcing these ministers to accept the benefits of being a tax exempt entity under IRS rules. Just say no to tax exemption and endorse away! As the Post article notes:

Yet while the ministers say the rules stifle religious expression, their opponents contend that the tax laws are essential to protect the separation of church and state. They say political speech should not be supported by a tax break for the churches or the worshipers who are contributing to a political cause.
A few weeks ago was our annual family reunion in Lancaster. I've mentioned before that on Saturday, before the family dinner, there is a liturgy of the mass. Give Me Some of that Old Time Religion. The priest from the Lebanese parish in Scranton comes to celebrate mass. I've also mentioned that I'm probably the only person there who doesn't attend. I figure that there has to be one heathen in every gathering and I volunteered to be it.

During the Cocktail hour after mass (now, that's something I could believe in), several of my relatives were discussing the fact that the priest had addressed the election during his sermon and admonished them not to vote for any candidate who supports abortion. Not only was I shocked to hear this blatant political talk from the pulpit, but I was also appalled that my cousins (and spouses) were mentioning this approvingly. They felt this justified a decision not to vote for Obama. So much for Biden having much influence over the vote in Scranton.

The next morning, Father ended up sitting next to me at breakfast. I thought long and hard about expressing my dismay over his conduct, but decided to let it go, since the reunion is a family gathering, not a political forum. At least I would honor that tradition. However, I wanted to ask whether next week's sermon was to advocate against voting for anyone who supports the death penalty or unjust wars (isn't that what the Pope called Iraq?). I wonder whether he really wants all Catholics to sit out the election, since they can't vote for either candidate if that's the case.

My musings also reminded me how much the Catholic Church has changed from the Church that I remember. As a follow up of sorts to my post on Banned Books week, I was an English major undergraduate and attended Marywood College in Scranton, which was then an all girl's Catholic college. The school was run by the IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) nuns, so it was not exactly UC Berkeley on the Lackawanna.

Yet, as inconceivable as it sounds today, I actually took a course in college entitled "Literature in Pornography." We studied several of the books on the banned book list I noted, such as Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller and of course, Portney's Complaint by Phillip Roth. I am also certain, despite our supposedly more enlightened times, such a course would never be offered today.

Sad to say, but for many, religion has become the refuge of the small-minded.

No comments: