On the Church Stump

Print More

Molly Ball’s story in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal follows Obama campaigning around southern Nevada, including a visit to a COGIC congregation where the pastor did not disguise his political preference.

Obama had a full Sunday in Southern Nevada, first making a surprise appearance at a downtown black church, where he spoke at the end of the service.
Before he arrived, the pastor of the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, speaking from the pulpit, advocated for Obama, possibly breaking the law. Pastor Leon Smith told the congregation that “the more he (Obama) speaks, the more he wins my confidence, and … if the polls were open today, I would cast my vote for this senator.”
He urged them to do the same, saying, “If you can’t support your own, you’re never going to get anywhere. … I want to see this man in office.”
Under federal tax law, nonprofits such as churches are prohibited from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that the forbidden partisan activity includes speech from the pulpit that indicates the church favors a particular candidate.
The campaign said the pastor simply had made supportive statements about Obama’s record. The church could not be reached late Sunday.
As Obama took the stage, the church choir of mostly red-jacketed women swayed behind him, breaking into song at the word “change,” the Obama campaign’s byword.
Obama spoke to the congregation of more than 400 for more than 20 minutes. He told them about his home congregation in Chicago and his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who is somewhat controversial for his black-separatist views.

There are faith forums and then there’s the tried and true. For the record, nearly seven percent of the Nevada population is African American, according to the 2000 census. That’s compared to two percent in Iowa, less than 1 percent in New Hampshire, and 30 percent in South Carolina.

  • Richard Pierard

    As an “old-fashioned Baptist” who still believes in the separation of church and state, I believe what the pastor of this church did in his Sunday service was wrong. If he wants to support Obama personally, that is his business, but not in his worship service. As far as I am concerned, his church’s tax exemption now is in jeopardy, and I would demand that he withdraw this endorsement.

  • Mark Silk

    My guess is that the IRS will in fact be looking into this, particularly in light of its investigation–inappropriate, in my view–of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, after an antiwar sermon was given there two days before the 2004 election. Personally, I worry more about church-based voter mobilization–putting the resources of the institution behind a candidate–than about a spiritual leader declaring his political preference to his congregants.

  • Asinus Gravis

    It is not that Smith should withdraw his endorsement, it is, rather, that he should be fired for his endorsement, or that the church should forfeit its tax-exempt status.