October 2010 Church & State | Editorial

We at Americans United never thought we would agree with bombastic Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck.

Beck seems determined to promote the idea that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation.” He frequently has David Barton, a notorious Religious Right historical revisionist, on his program to press this claim.

Beck and Barton are wrong about that, of course. But on July 1, Beck did say something that actually made sense. He had convened a panel of Religious Right figures to talk about religion and politics. Beck made it clear that while he believes pastors should discuss political issues in church, they should stop short of endorsing candidates.

“I mean, because I’d walk out of a church that was telling me, ‘vote for a Republican or vote for a Democrat,’” Beck said.

Does Beck really mean it? On a later program that aired Aug. 27, he seemed taken with the Alliance Defense Fund’s reckless scheme to prod pastors to openly violate federal law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.

It may be hard to know where Beck stands, but the opinion of the American people is clear: They oppose pulpit politicking by a wide margin.

A recent survey by the Pew Forum found that 70 percent of Americans oppose houses of worship endorsing specific candidates for public office. Only 24 percent support these endorsements.

Pew goes on to note, “These opinions have changed little in recent years. More than half of every major religious group opposes such endorsements.”

Contrary to what some Religious Right activists assert, the American people don’t take this stand because they want to gag pastors. In fact, most Americans simply don’t see houses of worship as proper places for partisan politics.

Americans understand instinctively that houses of worship should focus on spiritual matters. People attend them to develop a relationship with God, not to be handed a list of candidates to support.

Many others are bothered by the arrogance implicit in pulpit endorsements. They believe (rightly) that they are quite capable of making up their own minds about which candidates to support.

Over the years, Americans United has received many calls and e-mails from people who attend theologically conservative churches. They are bothered by pastors’ pulpit endorsements – even though they agree with the candidates being promoted. They simply don’t believe acting as a political boss is part of their pastor’s job description.

Our callers are right about that. Pulpit politicking divides congregations and distracts from the true mission of the church.

Even Glenn Beck seems to understand this. One wonders when his admirers in the Religious Right will wake up and follow suit.