Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Strict Separation Of Church & PowerPoint

Saint Paul has been all over the story of pastors mixing preaching and politics in defiance of the IRS. In Friday's WSJ, Dale Buss looked at one of these preachers. Two things caught my eye from the story:

So it wasn't much of a stretch for Pastor Johnson -- whose father, the Rev. Ron Johnson Sr., founded the church in 1981 -- to volunteer earlier this year when the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal-aid organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was recruiting ministers for what it called the Pulpit Initiative. "Pastors who were very sincere men of God were very afraid and didn't know where the line was," recalled Erik Stanley, the fund's senior legal counsel. The group's provocation of the IRS is designed as much to relieve the anxiety of those ministers, Mr. Stanley says, as to force an eventual resolution of the constitutional issue involved.

Pastor Johnson's 50-minute sermon on Sunday quickly launches into a history of civic discourse in the church. He explains the reasons that political judgments are to be expected from the pulpit and offers support for his argument from such figures as Martin Luther King Jr. "We hear objections from people saying, 'You can't legislate morality,'" he says. "But every law put into effect is a function of someone's morality."

I couldn't agree more with the pastor's view on legislating morality. It always annoys me when people trot that tired trope out as if it's a precious nugget of indisputable wisdom. I doubt if most have even though through what it really means and why it's so obviously untrue. But I have to wonder whether you really need nearly an hour to get the message across.

Eventually, Pastor Johnson addresses the two subjects that he -- and most of the other ministers participating on Sunday -- selected as most in need of a dose of Christian morality: abortion and same-sex marriage. As a preamble, he dismisses the many people who criticize the Christian Right for a "single-issue" focus.

"If you find out [that your wife] likes to kiss the mailman, then you've got a single issue that probably is a deal-breaker." Similarly, "There are some single issues," he says, "that should disqualify candidates for political office."

Pastor Johnson uses PowerPoint to review the presidential candidates' stands. Sen. McCain scores perfectly; Sen. Obama, with his support for late-term abortion and courts deciding on the definition of marriage, fails just as sweepingly. And at the end, while the pastor stays away from explicitly endorsing Sen. McCain, he isn't shy about saying that a vote for Sen. Obama would be evidence of "severe moral schizophrenia."

Again, great message but I have to question the medium. One would hope that church would be a sanctuary from the intrusion of PowerPoint into so many facets of modern life. Maybe you could just include a few handouts with the weekly bulletin.

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