Church leaders blur the line between religion and politics – Chicago Tribune

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A cheering crowd of around 150 gathered at Living Stones Church in Crown Point on Wednesday to receive the message that Christians and the church must claim their rightful place in politics.

For too long, pastors have kept themselves out of political discourse by adhering to an ill-conceived notion of the separation of church and state, panelists said. The time has come to bring the nation back to its founding Judeo-Christian values ​​by advancing Christianity.

“Our job is to bring it back to our schools, to our communities, to our government, to public squares”, said Micah Beckwith. Beckwith is the pastor of Campus Life Church Noblesville. He ran an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for the United States House of Representatives in 2020.

He said the Christian right wants a constitutional republic based on biblical values ​​and must fight for it.

The intersection of politics and religion isn’t new, said Marie Eisenstein, associate professor of political science at Indiana University-Northwest, but sometimes it’s more important than other times. .

“It comes and goes, but it’s always been there”she said.

The subject, she added, is both nuanced and complicated, because the freedom to practice one’s religion is not just the right to worship as one pleases. “but to be able to manifest his faith in all dimensions of his life”.

A growing number of faith leaders are telling congregants to raise their voices and vote on their values, she said, but under the Johnson Amendment, churches and other nonprofits cannot openly campaign for a candidate because they risk losing their tax. -IRS exempt status.

“It’s really a delicate question. Where is this line? said Eisenstein.

Beckwith was one of four panelists on the God > Gov forum at Living Stones. Living Stones is described on its website as a “spiritual greenhouse where people are loved, encouraged and equipped to grow into all that Christ has called them to be”.

The panel was led by Reverend Ron Johnson of Living Stones, who advocated against LGBTQ+ rights at the Indiana General Assembly, and included Beckwith, former Indiana State Rep. Christy Stutzman and Reverend Rob McCoy, of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, Calif., and Co-Chair of TPUSA Faith.

A crowd of around 150 applauded speakers at a recent God > Gov Forum at the Living Stones Church in Crown Point.” src=”https://www.chicagotribune.com/resizer/Trf2_n5KbRu3RID1xvfHlgKEyOI=/1440×0/filters:format(jpg):quality(70)/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/tronc/NPKWIBHRLZDV5DYJB3UP2UQAGY.jpg” width=”1440″ height=”0″ loading=”lazy”/></picture><figcaption class=

Turning Point USA is a conservative political organization founded by Charlie Kirk, who denied that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and sent buses to a Trump-led rally on January 6, 2021 that preceded the insurgency at the United States Capitol. Its events have featured such speakers, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. McCoy has served on the city council of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and as mayor of the city.

“The pastors who do what we do tonight are like dinosaurs”Johnson said.

Speakers framed the charge as a biblical battle for good and evil, with a radical left that must be defeated at all costs – a charge playing out in churches across the country as more pastors take political positions from the pulpit in violation of the Johnson Amendment.

Panelists encouraged participation at all levels of the political process, pausing before endorsing particular candidates. They say churches can no longer stay out of politics and welcomed IRS investigations.

“All important crucial issues of our culture are now labeled as political”, Beckwith said. Issues of marriage, abortion, sexuality and taxes have become political.

The interplay between religion and politics has been part of the nation’s body politic for centuries, but the rhetoric has become more pervasive in the past six years since the election of former President Donald Trump, Andrew said. Whitehead, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University. -Purdue University Indianapolis who has written extensively on Christian nationalism.

Right-wing religious leaders “really lean into this rhetoric”said Whitehead, and it is not focused on the Christian concept of piety but on Christian privilege in politics and social identity.

In practice, that happens when voters think they have to vote a certain way to be good Christians, Whitehead said, adding that it has less to do with whether a candidate is a good representative of society. someone’s faith and more with the candidate’s policies. could set up.

There are gradations in how religious leaders show support for a politician, Whitehead said, adding that a pastor might not endorse a candidate but will state their position on an issue.

“More and more right-wing pastors and clergy are willing to say” if you vote democrat, you are not christian “”, he said, adding that more and more Americans are falling into different houses of worship based on their political beliefs. , making them echo chambers of like-minded people.

Wednesday’s discussion at Living Stones Church skirted corners of federal law, which jeopardizes the tax-exempt status of churches that take political positions through the IRS.

According to the Johnson Amendment, signed into law in 1954 and named for U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, churches are allowed to hold candidate forums and policy discussions, but are not allowed to endorse specific candidates during church functions. Pastors can support candidates outside the church and not break the law.

Beckwith, with Life Church Noblesville, said he would be happy to fight the issue of church involvement in politics in the US Supreme Court, which drew applause from the crowd.

Eisenstein and Whitehead said the IRS has only once revoked a church’s nonprofit status.

The case, which began in 1992 but was not solved until eight years later, involved a church that ran an ad in two national newspapers denouncing then-Arkansas governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

The ad, according to court documents in the case, said Clinton “promotes policies that are in rebellion against the laws of God” and asked for tax-deductible donations to help pay for the ad.

Local pastors said they are finding different ways to serve their congregations and motivate them to engage civically in their communities without violating the Johnson Amendment.

In Valparaiso, Reverend Timothy Leitzke has been at Trinity Lutheran Church for seven years. During this time, he participated in rallies for reproductive rights; in favor of face masks in schools in Valparaiso during the pandemic; against deportations at Gary/Chicago International Airport; and as a counter-protester last month when people showed up to protest a drag show at the Memorial Opera House, among other events.

There is a “nice and cozy place” where pastors can complain without doing anything, Leitzke said, but he is embarrassed by this approach.

Advocacy, Leitzke said, is his job as a clergyman and he is not comfortable staying on the sidelines. His church hosted a postcard-writing session for lawmakers about banning trans student athletes and a meeting with Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, to meet members of the trans community. Charbonneau, Leitzke said, has become a reliable vote for trans rights.

He turned down an offer to host a campaign event for Democrat Joe Donnelly as he ran for the U.S. Senate.

“In my opinion, this clearly crosses a federal line”said Leitzke.

Crossing that line, he added, also risks crossing a theological line of condemning people for their votes.

“It’s one thing to advocate for policies that embody what God wants for people,” he said. “It’s another to decide what’s right for everyone.”

Reverend Mark Wilkens of First United Methodist Church in Crown Point said breaking the Johnson Amendment was easy to avoid.

“I leave politics out of it. We’re setting up a big big tent here,” Wilkens said. The challenge is to pitch a tent where an ardent Donald Trump, MAGA Republican, and progressive liberal can both feel safe and find common ground.

Wilkins said as a pastor, he focuses on things he can do to bring people together and focus on the community, such as feeding hungry children, helping teenage mothers and supporting veterans and first-timers. stakeholders. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, the issues are on everyone’s mind, he said.

“There are enough things we can talk about that we can still agree on. You want to discuss the 2nd Amendment, discuss whatever you want. Go ahead, have fun. Here we feed hungry children,” Wilkens said.

Back at Living Stones, LaPorte’s Drew Becker was happy to discuss his views, while other attendees declined to be identified or interviewed. As a self-proclaimed true believer in Jesus Christ, he welcomed the message Wednesday from the stage.

“I believe that every human being in this country enjoys the protection of the First Amendment. As long as you don’t shout fire in a theater, your opinion is your opinion. You should be able to express it anywhere,” Becker said.

Johnson’s strong message from the pulpit is why the church has grown to about 2,000 members each Sunday and continues, Becker said.

“If you don’t like what Pastor Ron says, you can leave.”Becker said.

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