Breaking Communion

October 10, 2012

Sunday was "World Communion Sunday," a time when churches around the world celebrate communion and therefore together celebrate being part of the global body of Christ. The service I attended Sunday highlighted this special focus by including readings of the biblical passages about communion in three languages (English, Italian, and Lao). I was excited to be able to lead part of the service by praying and announcing the result of a community missions project. As I drove home from church, I passed another church that--according to their sign--has been going through a series on the Sermon on the Mount. Each Sunday, the sermon title is declared as "Sermon on the Mount" and then a subtitle. This week the subtitle was "An Illegal Sermon." I immediately guessed what had occurred there that morning. Instead of celebrating communion and therefore enacting the global unity of the body of Christ, the pastor of that church decided to break the unity of the fellowship by endorsing a political candidate for office (most likely Mitt Romney for president). Sunday was also declared by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom to be the annual "Pulpit Freedom Sunday." They claim the free speech rights of pastors are trampled on when pastors cannot endorse candidates from the pulpit during services. What they forget is they have the right to endorse candidates--they just cannot do it and remain tax-exempt. This is not a special limitation on churches; rather, churches are fairly being treated like any other non-profit organization. So these pastors claim to be victims even though they are actually demanding special rights. Sadly, over 1,500 churches joined the effort this year by replacing a time of worship with political campaigning (as if there are not enough ads on TV). Hopefully your church is not listed in this shameful breaking of communion. The problem here is not the breaking of the law (since laws are not inherently moral), but the selling of our blessed birthright for a bowl of political stew. If if pastors had the right to endorse candidates (without losing the church's tax-exempt status), it would not be right to do so. When a church aligns itself with a political candidate or party, it cuts itself off from serving those with differing political views and attaches its credibility to that party or candidate. I dealt with this problem is both of my books (For God's Sake, Shut Up! and Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics). While churches should speak out on political issues, they should not become partisan hacks. America's funniest Sunday School teacher pointed this out well last week on his show, "The Colbert Report" (see videos here and here). Hopefully we will no longer have churches putting up odd signs that say "Sermon on the Mount: An Illegal Sermon." Pick one--either preach the Sermon on the Mount or give the other sermon, but do not pretend your partisan sermon honors the foundational text of our faith. It is time for us to come together to break bread, and leave the partisan politicking to the would-be Caesars.