A U.S. Senate candidate in North Carolina has been appearing in churches all over the state, in at least one case playing a campaign ad during services.
Winkler’s Grove Baptist Church in Hickory, N.C., invited Mark Walker, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, to speak from its pulpit March 20, reported Word&Way, a Baptist publication in Missouri edited by Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood. Kaylor and Underwood noted that the service “started like any other as Pastor Paul Deal welcomed those present. But then things quickly got political.”
After some songs and other activities, Deal played a Walker campaign ad on a large screen. Kaylor and Underwood wrote, “The ad includes images of his campaign signs, a reference to Trump, a shot of him preaching in a church, and the claim that he was rated the ‘#1 America First candidate.’ In the ad, Walker argued about his campaign, ‘This is much more about spiritual warfare than it is politics. We’ve turned our backs on the Bible and the Constitution, and our liberty is under attack.’ His wife added, ‘We’re asking for your prayers and your vote.’”
Deal then introduced Walker, telling the congregation, “He’s running for the seat of Sen. Richard Burr, and he’s going to make us a great senator in this United States. Amen! I appreciate what he stands for. And I want to say that my name is Paul Deal and I approve this message.”
Walker’s speech to the congregation, Kaylor and Underwood wrote, consisted mainly of “a similar script he used in other church services as he tells the same stories and jokes about his dad as a pastor, his family growing up, running for Congress, and meeting with Trump.” He also attacked President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, remarking, “What we’re facing in this country, it’s beyond politics. This is spiritual warfare. We’re battling evil.” (The service was livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.)
A federal law known as the Johnson Amendment states that organizations that hold tax-exempt status as 501 (c)(3) entities, which includes houses of worship, may not intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.
On its “Wall of Separation” blog, Americans United asserted, “Attendees could be forgiven for believing they had stumbled into a campaign rally instead of a church service.”
A Raleigh TV station, WNCN, picked up the story after Word&Way’s report ran. During the segment, Walker admitted he has been endorsed from pulpits.
“There have been times where pastors take liberties to say, ‘We like Mark Walker, he stands for values, I’m supporting Mark Walker, etc., etc.’ There are some times where pastors or other people will mention that, and I’m not trying to be coy to say that that doesn’t happen from time to time. But it’s certainly not something we solicit or we seek out,” Walker said.
Asked to comment on the matter by WNCN, Jeffrey Vickery, pastor of Cullowhee Baptist Church and an instructor of philosophy and religion at Western Carolina University, observed, “Any time a worship service turns to focus on any individual, especially in the case of a political candidate, then it seems to have lost its central focus from God to that individual. Essentially what happens then is that church is taking advantage of North Carolina taxpayers in order to support their particular overt use of their property and their facilities to promote a candidate.”
After the Word&Way story ran, Kaylor, who is a Baptist minister, received a message from Walker accusing him of “bearing false witness against me.”
“I did not even preach this morning but was only a guest of the pastor,” Walker wrote. “So, your accusation that I had ‘another campaign event’ is a slanderous lie. No need to delete it because our team is saving the receipts. I thought about sharing this publicly but don’t know your heart whether you are really a Christian or not; however, wanted to follow the Matthew principle in speaking the truth directly to you first.”