A Religious Right spokesman with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention says he plans to counsel pastors to “cross the line” in telling church members how they should vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Kenyn Cureton, vice president for church ministries for the Family Research Council, discussed his work with iVoteValues.org–a collaborative effort of the FRC, Focus on the Family and the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to register and educate voters–in a radio interview April 22 with Faith2Action founder Janet Folger.
Folger, a conservative Christian activist who supported Mike Huckabee for the Republican nomination for president, expressed alarm that so many people in her church seemed to be considering voting for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, despite both the Democratic candidates’ liberal policies on gay rights and abortion.
“The pastors need to speak more clearly about it,” Cureton said. “I’ll tell you that we are working with the Alliance Defense Fund on a series of sermons this fall for pastors to preach, so that they educate their people on the issues. We’re going to be talking about the value of life, the value of family and the value of freedom–basically talking about abortion and stem-cell research and then also about the gay agenda and then finally about our Christian heritage and how it’s being stripped from every corner of our society. And finally we’re going to be doing a candidate-comparison message that is going to ask pastors to cross the line.”
“Really?” a surprised-sounding Folger replied. “What do you mean cross the line? Are you going to be suggesting who they vote for?”
“Well we’re going to go to pastors and say to them that we really believe that they need to challenge some of the thinking that we have going on in our society, which is that separation of church and state doctrine, that we really need to preach the Bible on these issues and apply them to the things that are going on in the culture today,” Cureton said.
Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said the line being crossed might be a legal one. The Internal Revenue Service forbids certain non-profit organizations from involvement in political campaigns. While churches may speak out on political issues, they must refrain from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to political candidates. The IRS recently sent out a reminder that crossing that line could jeopardize a non-profit’s tax-exempt status.
Folger indicated she hopes the ban, which has been in effect for 50 years, will eventually be overturned, but in the meantime she speculated about what might happen if large numbers of pastors would ignore it as a matter of civil disobedience.
“I think we can actually within the legal means explain here’s where the candidates stand, here’s what the Bible says and people can draw that conclusion,” she said. “But we need to make sure that it’s clear not only what the Bible says but where those candidates stand.”
“It’s interesting though,” she said. “I wonder what would happen if a bunch of pastors decided they were going to cross the legal line until we get that glitch in the system fixed legally.” As an analogy she described a protest in Colorado where 10,000 people lit up marijuana joints in public, while police did nothing to stop them.
“I’ve just got to wonder: there’s enough people who say, ‘You know what? This is important enough that I’m going to speak the truth’–and again I think you can do that perfectly legally within the church–but when push comes to shove I think sometimes we just need to do it anyway, to obey a higher authority than the one that represents our government,” she said. “When the two are at odds, it’s God we obey, much like Daniel.”
Folger cut to a commercial before Cureton had a chance to respond, ending his segment of the program. Earlier in the interview, he boasted that the pastor network he manages has grown from 1,800 to 10,000 since he came on board with the FRC in the fall of 2006.
“We’re trying to get Christians to take their biblical responsibility of being active as salt and light, and that means in every arena, including government,” Cureton said. “You know, God created government to begin with–if you look at Romans Chapter 13 that’s clear. So here’s just a dumb question: If God created government to begin with, would he want his people to stay out of it? I don’t think so.”
Before moving to the FRC, Cureton was a Southern Baptist pastor who worked briefly as vice president for convention relations at the SBC Executive Committee.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.