Friday, September 24, 2010

Petulant Pastors Seeking Headlines

This Sunday seven Tennessee pastors will take their marching orders from the Alliance Defense Fund--a Fundiegelical answer to the ACLU based in Scottsdale, AZ--and “bait” the IRS with pulpit politicking:
"For governor, I'm going to encourage people to vote for Bill Haslam," said David Shelley, pastor of Smith Springs Baptist, one of seven Tennessee religious leaders who plan to take part in the pulpit protest. He also will throw his support behind Republican congressional candidate David Hall and Republican statehouse candidate Jim Gotto and urge his congregation to skip the spot on the ballot where state Sen. Thelma Harper, a Democrat, is running unopposed.

"My support for these candidates has nothing to do with their party or their skin color or any other non-biblically related issue," he said.

This is absolutely hilarious, since Shelley is perfectly free to tell everyone who to vote for any time he wishes, save the one hour Sunday morning that he’s speaking from the pulpit in his capacity as pastor of a tax-exempt religious organization.

So you know, fine. More power to you. And be prepared to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s for your trouble. Hey Pastor Shelley: I just quoted the Bible at you. You do know that, right?


This is all about meaningless grandstanding and nothing about religion. Let's face it, pretty much anyone who attends Smith Springs Baptist Church is probably planning to vote Republican. So basically you’re hoping to open a legal can of worms just because some out of state right wingers are trying to make a name for themselves by keeping the culture wars alive.

Sadly, no one appears to be paying attention. Whaah! Yes, it appears Shelley and the rest of these Petulant Pastors pulled this stunt last year too. The IRS still hasn’t taken the bait:

Participants in the ADF's pulpit protest send audio or videotape of their sermons to the IRS, but so far the agency has ignored them. The agency declined to comment on the issue, other than to share a copy of its regulations for tax-exempt religious organizations.

I’m torn between gloating over the fact that their pathetic screaming for attention has been ignored and wishing they did get their tax-exempt status yanked just because they are violating law and I thought we had these laws for a reason. Someone point me to that place in the Bible where Jesus says to give your money to lawyers to fight a battle over the First Amendment instead of caring for the poor? Must be in the Gospel According To Wingnuts.

Anyway, I’ve written about this before (notably here) but what idiots like David Shelley don’t get is that separation of church and state protects the church from state interference, not the other way around. And as I’ve written before, one needs look no further than those evul abortion-loving homosexual-embracing morally bankrupt socialisticky Scandinavian countries, which until very recently (2008 in Norway’s case) had state religions. As I wrote in 2009:

Yes, that’s right, up until last year, every person born in “secular, liberal” Norway was automatically born a Lutheran. If you wanted to raise your kids Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist or atheist, you had to petition the government. Can you believe that?

The Norwegian government still finances the Lutheran Church, and until last year appointed church bishops. In other words, the government had authority over the church. Can you imagine? Can you imagine your tax dollars funding church salaries?

Secular, liberal, socialisticky Sweden had a state religion until 2009. The constitution of Denmark still lists the Evangelical Lutheran Church as the country’s official state religion and they receive government subsidies.

I wonder if David Shelley really understands what this means. I’m thinking not. Let’s have President Obama pick the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and appoint the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. How would you like that? That is what it means to have a state religion, assholes.

The wall of separation you try so hard to pretend does not exist protects the church from government influence. It’s what allows the Southern Baptists to discriminate against gays in their hiring -- except in those programs they take government money to perform. Because then you are acting on behalf of all of us, not just Southern Baptists, and we don't all believe what you believe. I know you think you are right but some of us disagree. I really don't get why this is so hard for some people to understand.

This wall of separation is also what allows Pastor Shelley to opt out of paying Social Security tax on his personal salary. It allows Smith Springs Baptist to not pay property tax on its rather substantial acreage off of Nolensville Road. It allows the church to not be taxed on its income. You enjoy these benefits because We The People have decided you benefit the community in other ways, such as caring for the poor and elderly and the sick.

So look, people. This stuff isn’t hard. There is a huge benefit to being a religious institution in this country. You are free to preach that “Negroes are not equal with other races” (actual 1966 LDS doctrine!) and the government will not interfere. You can be as mean and hateful towards gays, Muslims, or anyone else you want and call it God's Word, no matter how abominable some folks may find it. That is your right. You get a free ride and the government can't say squat to you. You can even host candidates' forums like the one Church of Christ-affiliated David Lipscomb University just held here in Nashville. Or the Southern Baptist-affiliated Belmont University's presidential debate in 2008. Heck, my own church had the candidates for Nashville Mayor appear in our Fellowship Hall every Sunday to speak to us about their vision for the city. It was very informative.

But autonomy from the government is a two-way street. If you want the government to leave you alone no matter how heinous you want to be, even if your beliefs are far outside the mainstream, then you have to stay out of politics. You can talk morals and beliefs and current events and issues all you want but you can't tell people who to vote for in your sermon. That's the one line you can't cross, and it's the line that allows you to enjoy all of those other benefits.

But people like David Shelley don't get that. They want to have their cake and eat it too.