The Freedom from Religion Foundation has taken up the challenge on evangelical groups to push back on the ugly mixture of religion attaching itself to Neo-nut politics.
For years now, the craziest of the religious fringe has been daring the IRS to test their 501(c)3 tax exemption status.
Preachers have been standing in front of pulpits endorsing candidates, handing out political leaflets, and holding pro-Republican rallies. Parts of the religious political right have chosen to flaunt the fact that they are abusing their 501(c)3 rights, and the IRS has chosen to let them get away with it.
This lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation will, at the very least, help the public think about whether the $71 billion a year granted to Churches in tax breaks is a bad idea. Have those political pulpit preachers abused the bargain that taxpayers make with them by using tax money to campaign for their right wing list of crazies?
The law is clear – These religious organizations are specifically limited to using their groups for education, science, and charitable activities.
Karl Rove’s Republican “Southern strategy” did immeasurable harm to the American evangelical movement. Much of the decency and compassion that defined the evangelical movement was temporarily overshadowed by Karl Rove-style pulpit politics.
Everyday, evangelicals feed, clothe, and house the world’s underclass. But the evangelical church’s willingness to live by the beatitudes started to become less the focus of how evangelicals are defined.
Instead, the ugliest stories became part of the conversation material when discussions about religion and politics took place during the Rove years.
When a southern Baptist preacher from North Carolina announced to his congregation that they all needed to be Republican only, the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount suffered just as badly as the fundamentalist movement.
When Ted Haggard’s fundamentalist believers had to face the fact that he was both a political and religious fraud, no doubt Haggard’s followers suffered with him. Again, the missionary work and all the selfless sacrifice that the fundamentalist movement had shown for decades was diluted.
It’s doubtful that Karl Rove has lost sleep analyzing the damage he brought to the evangelical movement in his effort to reshape that movement into something more Republican and less Christian.
There are, however, growing numbers within evangelical leadership who understand how pulpit politics does harm to the mission of evangelicals. It is a simple mission that in its non-political form does more good in the world than a million Karl Roves could do in a million lifetimes.
There are emerging evangelical visionaries who are uneasy about how politics has high-jacked the evangelical movement.
What makes those new visionaries impressive as evangelicals is that they understand what was never obvious to the Haggards, Falwells, and Robertsons. They understand that during the Rove years the moneychangers again moved into the temple.
Dozens of new generation evangelical leaders recognize that demagoguery mixed with money and power has a comfortable place in American politics but creates a disease in any religious movement as important as evangelism.
Organizing the evangelical movement into a political block may temporarily make the movement appear powerful and influential. In fact, it may even temporarily reward the leadership of the movement with the same power of authority that Jesus resisted in the last temptation he faced on a mountaintop outside Jerusalem.
The carnage that is scattered down the path of that power grab piles up too high. More importantly, that temptation to grab hold of more political power runs contrary to every word spoken by the man who for so long has driven the spirit of the compassionate, gospel driven evangelical movement. And no, the man at that center is not Karl Rove or any politician from the G.O.P.
Before this day ends, the compassionate works of America’s evangelicals will inspire thousands of the world’s have-nots. Those thousands will not be impressed one iota by the political power and influence of the evangelicals feeding them. But they will be moved by those timeless, simple words spoken at the Sermon on the Mount.