Partisan Pulpits? House Race in Chicago Brings Candidates to Church
White, the newspaper said, is backing State Senator Toi W. Hutchinson. He has also, The Times said, pushed more religious leaders to meet with Hutchinson and asked her to speak in front of his roughly 500 parishioners in the coming weeks.
That’s where the trouble comes in.
Clergy, like all Americans, are entitled to participate in elections. But they must do so in their personal capacity, not as heads of tax-exempt organizations. Pastor White is perfectly free to support Hutchinson on his own time and his own dime, but when he invites her - and not the other candidates for the office - to occupy the church pulpit and speak to the congregation, he’s stepped over the legal line.
If churches want to participate in elections, they must be even handed. They can hold a forum and invite all of the candidates to speak, but they cannot show preferential treatment.
If Pastor White invites Hutchinson, he needs to invite all the other candidates as well.
African-American clergy have historically played an important role in political life. Black churches were a crucial component of the drive to pass voting-rights laws and other civil rights legislation that has made our country a better place for everyone.
Dr. Martin Luther King, whose life we celebrate later this month, was a Baptist preacher who often quoted scripture as he called on our nation to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24) But according to U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and others inside the civil rights movement, Dr. King never endorsed a political candidate from the pulpit.
Dr. King knew, as we know today, that it is important that America’s pulpits not become partisan soapboxes for any party or any candidate.