Can a president really fix America?

Campaign 2012
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at 11:12 am

Both conservative and progressive (liberal) churches seem to be anxious about the 2012 presidential election. The anxiety is so great that many pastors are willing to bind the consciences of other Christians by telling them how to vote. Over at The Daily Beast, David Sessions highlights the much complained about annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” where "copies of hundreds of illegal sermons being mailed to the IRS to challenge its restriction on tax-exempt organizations endorsing political candidates." On the other hand, black pastors, like the Rev. Ottis Moss, pastor President Obama's former church in Chicago for example, are directing Christians in black churches in the same way. Should pastors be doing this?

According to the current restriction on pastors talking politics from the pulpit began in 1954, when, then senator, Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the restriction as an amendment to the § 501(c)(3) tax exemption for charitable organizations "to keep two nonprofit organizations in Texas from supporting his political opponent, but the amendment has also had the effect of restricting the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit." In other words, the law represents the abuse of law as a political maneuver instead of the use of law for the common good. During the 2008 presidential campaign, many Americans were alarmed how politicized Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama's former pastor, was from the pulpit. Sessions worries that "on the ground in evangelical churches, explicit political talk carries the risk of being divisive and alienating, two things that are deadly to most churches’ goal of getting as many people as possible into the fold." I wonder, however, why this is not also true for all pastors regardless of tradition.

Rev. Otis Moss II and Rev. Charles Jenkins explicitly state all black Christians in black churches "must" vote to reelect president Obama.

"As African-American clergy deeply committed to the welfare of our communities and the future of our country, we are writing to offer our strong and enthusiastic endorsement of President Barack Obama. In the face of laws designed to limit democracy, and voices seeking to depress the participation of our community rather than to empower it, we will not be silent. Too much blood was shed for us to remain on the sidelines. We must stand up once more, and we must keep marching on this November. We must reelect this President."

I am beginning to wonder what Barack Obama can do to support human flourishing in black communities when the prevailing pathologies destroying those neighborhoods, and the rest of America, are primarily moral in nature. The culture of death that sees an unborn child as a non-human, women birthing children out of the context of marriage, the black-on-black violence sending young black men to graves, the breakdown of the family, and so on, are all moral problems that politics cannot fix.

I'm no passivist by any means but it seems that Christians, progressive and conservative alike, may be expecting more from politics than politics can deliver. Our politicians and laws reflect the morality of America's citizenry. Does it not, then, seem more effective for social change for pastors to admonish Christians to focus on pointing their neighbors to Christ? The social change that Christians truly want in America will come when we, the people, desire to live according to our Creator's design.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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