I’m not a fan of the IRS. I don’t even think that there should be an IRS.
But I’m not picking a fight with the IRS.
A lot of my fellow pastors are. It’s called Pulpit Freedom Sunday and many church leaders are using the opportunity to voice their support for specific candidates. That’s a big no-no for churches wishing to continue enjoying their tax exempt status. But these pastors don’t care. In fact, they welcome a lawsuit.
That’s not why I’m refusing to pick a fight with the IRS. My reasons have nothing to do with the fear of a lawsuit from a government organization that likes to bully its subjects into submission. My reasons have more to do with the guy on the back row.
I rarely ever get to talk to him and the five or ten others who are like him. I don’t see them until I get up to preach on Sunday mornings. By the time I’m done preaching and talking to people, the building is cleared out. The guy on the back row is gone. Even though I don’t know his name, I think about him every time I prepare and deliver a sermon.
Why does he keep coming back?
What’s he going through?
What is his standing with God?
I assume that he’s hurting. I could be wrong. Statistics tell me that I’m not. The old saying among preachers is that there is a broken heart on every pew. Personal experience has shown me that it’s more like three or four broken hearts on each pew. My guess is that the man on the back row has a broken heart.
And that broken heart doesn’t need to hear what I think about David Perdue or Michelle Nunn. It doesn’t need to hear my thoughts on foreign policy. It doesn’t need to be told how to vote.
It needs the gospel.
I think that’s why the guy on the back row keeps coming back.
Perhaps the man on the back row is being routinely beaten up by an addiction. Maybe that’s why he’s by himself. Maybe his addiction has cost him his family. That could be why he comes every week by himself. It could be that he’s coming in to hear what the Bible says about hope. It would be a real tragedy if all he hears is what I say about Governor Nathan Deal and Jason Carter. What broken hearts need is the gospel message that has been handed down from the God of the universe. What too many churches settle for delivering is a message that people could have gotten if they had just stayed at home and watched Fox News or MSNBC.
We’ve forgotten something. In all of our political passion, we’ve failed to remember that it is possible for someone to vote like us and still have a broken heart. We’ve forgotten that there are intelligent voters in hell right now. I don’t want to be a part of more going there just because I wanted to play the role of political pundit rather than gospel proclaimer.
That’s why I’m not picking a fight with the IRS.
But, as is the case with most bullies, sometimes the fight comes face to face with you anyway. A first century follower of Christ named Stephen found himself on the wrong side of the cultural elites without picking a fight. All he was doing was ministering to widows and sharing the gospel. It cost him his life. And then he saw Jesus standing and welcoming him into heaven (Acts 6-7).
May the same be true of us.
If we find ourselves on some IRS hit list, may it not be because we picked a political fight. It should be our devotion to the gospel, not a political party or candidate, that gets us a visit from the IRS.
There are times when pastors have to talk about politics. Marriage, abortion and corruption are just a few examples that are frequently addressed in Scripture and that regularly sprout up in our political landscape. By all means, pastors must speak up on these issues. But we must do so out of a devotion to Christ, not a political persuasion.
A few months back I was listening to a couple of guys talking about church. One guy told of how his pastor regularly received death threats for sharing his political views from the pulpit. The other guy said something along the lines of, “Well, that’s what happens when you preach the word.”
But that wasn’t preaching the word. It was just a political rant that made people mad. As pastors, we are called to do more. We are called to speak to those broken hearts on the back row. And even above that, we are called to lift up the name of Jesus, not our local congressman.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday shouldn’t be a day on a calendar. In this country, it should be practiced every week. But instead of using the opportunity as a chance to brag about our favorite candidate, we should use it to proclaim the power of the One who holds every politician in his hand.
I am a very opinionated person. I have strong political beliefs. Some would even call those political beliefs fanatical. I can appreciate that. Like most people with an opinion, I like to make mine known. That’s part of the reason why I maintain this blog. But it’s important to remember that with strong opinions comes the discernment to know when and when not to share them. Sunday mornings are not the time for a pastor to ramble on and on about his opinion. Instead, we ought to be about the business of passionately pointing people to the Way, the Truth and the Life. People like the man on the back row.
The courageous pastor isn’t the one who makes bold political statements and then dares the IRS to do something about it.
The truly courageous pastor is the one who boldly proclaims the gospel to the man on the back row, caring not what the IRS, the deacons, his old seminary professors or the pundits think about it. For him, love, truth and the glory of God are his motives, not politics.
Now that’s real pulpit freedom.