Stanley Fish wrote an interesting article last week on a developing debate in the US over the right of Preachers to advocate for particular presidential candidates from the pulpit. Under legislation introduced by Lyndon Johnson in 1954, any Pastor who endorses a particular candidate during a sermon potentially jeopardizes the ‘tax exempt’ status of their church.
“Now, in the middle of the 2008 election, several dozen pastors are challenging the amendment by speaking out in the pulpit in favor of a candidate (usually John McCain) and by sending the I.R.S. copies of the sermons in which they openly cross the line the law has drawn since 1954. At the same time, a bill (H.R. 2275) repealing the Johnson amendment has been introduced by Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee where it awaits action.”
The issue ultimately revolves around the separation of Church and State. The difficulty, according to Fish, is that the issue cannot be resolved by debate – each side works from a completely different conception of what the separation means. The only possible resolution is political – one party will overrule the other. If this happens through a process to which both sides share a higher-level commitment then the resolution will be relatively peaceful.
I wonder if a lot of the debates that Christians have with each other aren’t a lot like this? Lately I’ve been watching guys at College debating six day creationism and the roles of women in ministry. In my context, people agree that Christians can disagree on these questions and this suspends the need to find a resolution. However, if resolution was required then I have to think that the only means to achieve it would be straightforwardly political.
What process would you commit to, such that you would be willing to accept a ruling against you on one of these matters? Or would you aim for separation so that each side could maintain its position?