Let me begin with this disclaimer:
I love the church. By that I mean, not just the African-American church, but the church at large. I believe across the broad spectrum of faith and religious tradition, there is so much to learn from one another, and too often we allow our petty dogmas to get in the way.
That being said, I can't agree with every position of every church. I just believe we can have profound disagreements, regarding the interpretation of scripture, tradition and how we are to fulfill our mandate and still be brothers and sisters.
There are churches that are pushing this to the edge, however. They are churches that are deciding to take on the IRS on the issue of candidate endorsements.
Check out the CNN report:
Now I certainly understand the temptation to do this. And I also understand what may be best intentioned motivation. But the slippery slope the church begins to tread when it states a preference in a political candidacy of any kind is something that cannot begin without considerable prayer and...thought!
Do we really want different factions of the church at war with one another around the candidacy of politicians? Oh, don't get me wrong, I know it happens already, but once you blatantly begin going in this direction, your doing more than violating the law regarding 'separation of church and state'.
One Baptist pastor actually says, "...there's no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barak Hussein Obama." Really?! Do we really want to make that the determiner of whether or not one is 'Christian'? And what about non-Christians? Does a vote for the candidate this church endorses constitutes 'salvation'? You see what I mean?
And what about other churches for whom essential values, go beyond abortion, gay marriage, etc. What of those churches that believe social justice, racism, poverty and the environment are more pressing public issues?
Here's another thing: what if, one day, the president doesn't deliver on the issues that a church, or a pastor which served as the basis on which he or she received the endorsement? Oh, yeah... that's already happened a few times, to a number of us, Democratic and Republican! The problem is, we lose moral authority and we risk the capacity for prophetic witness, when the church is too closely aligned with empire - be it political, or commercial. And this is hardly a racial issue - I've heard black and white preachers cross this line.
The fact is, we are a pluralistic society. We compete politically in the public square with the interests of other groups, civic, religious, commercial and otherwise. You don't win, by declaring a holy war on everyone who doesn't believe the way you do. Nor is it wise, in a country founded on 'Judeo-Christian' principles, to declare that the only true 'believers' are the ones who vote the way you do.
Churches, whatever they teach, have the right to provide education on any issue that they feel impacts their community or the nation. Preachers have the responsibility to share their perspective on issues based on their interpretation of the scriptures. Responsible scholarship will should make sure that such interpretation is as accurate as possible. Responsible citizenship requires an informed electorate and that information should be in consonance with the values of the voter - including the values taught by his or her faith tradition. But beyond that, all pastors, ministers and church bodies, should be careful of entanglements that can come with endorsements.
We have recently seen a faction of our church entertain the world as theological contortionists - because in order to softly endorse a candidate, they have to deal with some issues that represent true doctrinal problems. But this is what happens when religion becomes hungry for secular power. Its hardly a new problem, but it is a real problem.
Those of us in the church who aren't spiritual enough to recognize the problem, ought to at least be too smart to keep falling into the same trap.