South Dakota GOP gubernatorial candidate and self-proclaimed teabagger Gordon Howie challenged pastors last week to endorse him from their pulpits. Now the Howie campaign issues a press release trumpeting the results of that bold challenge: one pastor said "Vote Gord!" from the pulpit Sunday. One. Constitutional prooftexter extraordinaire H. Wayne Williams of teetotalling Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City. So much for walking circumspectly in this world.
The press release also cites Pastor Steve Hickey, but only to say that pastors' political speech is "a very important topic to be talking about." Pastor Hickey addresses the issue of whom to endorse directly on his own blog:
I can't stand up and say vote for Howie**** because I have no Scriptural justification to favor him over Munsterman, Daugaard or Knuppe. Pastors need to focus on what is clear in Scripture - good/bad/right/wrong- the leadership and fiscal nuances that distinguish these four candidates right now don't catagorize them morally as good or bad choices [Pastor Steve Hickey, "Pastors: IRS Code Does Not Trump U.S. Constitution," Voices Carry, 2010.05.17].
I would love to see Pastor Williams and Pastor Hickey compare notes on Scriptural justification on this one.
So a candidate tries to manufacture an issue. He adds one pastor to his vote count. Not the best return on investment.
Kevin Woster tries to help Howie raise his profile by asking another gubernatorial candidate, Dave Knudson, what he thinks about Howie's "challenge" to pastors. Knudson, bless him, doesn't pander to the Howie crowd:
Knudson: America was founded on a concept of freedom of religion. The safest way to preserve that is observe separation of church and state. You are in fact free to endorse from ther pulpit as long as you do not want the special tax exempt treatment. I think the restriction against direct involvment in political campaigns is fair if you want the special tax exempt treatment.
Woster: Do you think this is an effective political point for Gordon in a primary where the Republican base - what some might argue is a strong pro-God entity - is especially influential?
Knudson: It is always dangerous to encourage people to break the law (even a law you do not agree with ) at their risk and not at your own risk. This is especially suspect when done for political gain.
Woster: As a business lawyer, if you were representing a church, what would you advise the minister to say about politics during a primary season?
Knudson: This not an area in which I am particularly knowledgable but I believe one is free to talk about issues but not to endorse particular candidates. As a lawyer I would not advise a client to put their tax exempt status at risk [transcript, live chat, Mount Blogmore, 2010.05.17].