They realize the nation is making history in this election. Most of
them admire and support Barack Obama. But they’re exercising the virtue
of prudence in speaking publicly.
The Rev. Jeffrey Bryan has posted campaign signs for
“Obama in ‘08″ and displayed snapshots of the presumed Democratic
presidential nominee visiting his Newark, N.J., church. At times he
wears a T-shirt emblazoned with Barack Obama’s face.
That’s as far as Bryan will go — there will be no sermons peppered with “Vote Obama!”
“It’s a historical time for black people. We cannot ignore what’s
going on,” Bryan said. Yet, he added, “you can’t tell people who to
He’s right, for multiple reasons, starting with some whip-cracking regulations.
This election year has seen an effort by the IRS and
church-state separation watchdog groups to significantly step up their
monitoring of churches and other nonprofits. Obama’s own denomination,
the United Church of Christ, was investigated and quickly cleared by
the IRS for hosting the candidate at the religious group’s national
meeting last year.
Quickly cleared of violating standards forbidding endorsement of
candidates? With all that extra monitoring to assure churches don’t
show any support of a particular candidate?
Meanwhile, pastors’ sermons are being posted on YouTube and analyzed for any clue to the values of the candidate.
The scrutiny has gotten so tight, it’s threatening. Which is why
this story of these restrained pastors is so interesting at this time
The pulpit plays a powerful role in shaping political
views in the black community. During the civil rights era, for example,
pastors were activists as well as spiritual leaders. Now, with a black
candidate one election away from the White House, black churches are
trying to balance their support for Obama with their legal obligations
as nonprofit institutions.
It’s prudence, whether self-imposed or IRS-induced.
This week, about 7,500 pastors gathered for the annual
Hampton Ministers’ Conference to discuss issues of faith and relate
them to daily life.
That’s good preaching.
By midweek, pastors were openly supporting Obama’s
historic candidacy — but choosing their words carefully. Many said they
personally endorsed him, but stopped short of saying more.
That’s political (and pastoral) expediency.
Some pastors at the Hampton conference wouldn’t talk publicly about politics, fearful of hurting their church.
And that’s prudence.
Churches are very actively engaged in the political process this
year. As long as they center their focus on the responsibilities of
faithful citizenship in a democracy, everybody wins.