The Rev. Jerry Johnston of Oakland Park, Kan., recently organized a group of local clergy to argue that churches must get more involved in politics. Upset about the Kansas legislature's defeat of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Johnston began distributing a pamphlet containing background information on incumbent state legislators from the area. If they supported the amendment against gay marriage, the word YES appears by their picture. If they voted against it, the word NO appears, according to the Kansas City Star.
Concerned that he is trying to illegally stir up support for favored legislative candidates, a group of church-state separationists has decided to respond. The Mainstream Coalition has recruited volunteers to mail letters to more than 400 houses of worship in Johnson County to remind them that all churches must abide by Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit church electioneering.
Every weekend, millions of Americans attend houses of worship to hear sermons, study scripture and participate in other religious activities. Some politicians and Religious Right activists want to transform this religious devotion into partisan politicking. It is not the role of ministers to deliver partisan sermons, solicit believers in the pews for campaign contributions and or give instructions about whom to vote for on Election Day.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, church and religious organizations are explicitly prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign. This does not preclude religious leaders from assuming the important social role of advocates on matters of great national importance. Clergy in Kansas and around the country should recognize the important distinction between advocating for social change and partisan electioneering.