During the primary campaign, GOP gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie waged one unsuccessful political stunt after another. One such fizzler was his call for pastors to endorse him from the pulpit. As far as I know, only one pastor in the entire state took that bait (and it wasn't even Howie's own pastor, who explicitly declined).
Constitutional prooftexter extraordinaire H. Wayne Williams of teetotalling Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City ignored his church's own tenet about walking circumspectly in this world and endorsed Howie from the pulpit. But now that Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the IRS to investigate Pastor H.'s Howie stumping, Williams is wimping out:
Williams says the church is protected by the 1st Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and religion. The pastor says he told church members that Howie shared his principles, but he never told people to vote for Howie ["Group Urges IRS to Look at SD Church's Endorsement," AP via KELOLand.com, 2010.06.10].
Come on, H., I thought when you had the Constitution and Jesus on your side, you didn't need weasel words.
The Rapid City Journal makes clear that the good LBT preacher endorsed Howie from the pulpit:
On May 15, the Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City, officially endorsed state Sen. Gordon Howie in his bid for governor during a church service [Mary Garrigan, "Pastors Divided over Howie's Pulpit Challenge," Rapid City Journal, 2010.05.24].
Howie's press release on Williams's endorsement says the same [emphasis mine]:
Reverend H. Wayne Williams, Pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City, became one of the first to accept the challenge, adding an official endorsement of Gordon Howie for Governor to a message delivered during his Sunday night services.
...[said Reverend Williams] "I’m glad that this issue has been brought to the forefront of public conversation. It is high time that churches return to the role that they’ve occupied historically in guiding their flocks in making election decisions.”
...Howie believes Williams experience represents a reawakening of clerical responsibility in shaping voting choices from the pulpit.
...[Williams again] “I have no fear of the I.R.S.,” Williams said. “Why should the church be silent on the issue of who governs us when I get letters all the time from the government asking us for involvement and endorsement of government programs. Asking us to refrain from participating in determining who governs us is a clear double standard” ["South Dakota Pastors Speak Out in Support of Political Speech from the Pulpit: 'No Laws Broken'," Gordon Howie gubernatorial campaign press release, 2010.05.18].
We can settle the Constitutional questions if the IRS takes up the investigation. What rankles me this morning is Pastor H. Wayne Williams's mealymouthedness. If you're going to make a brave stand for the First Amendment and the Word of God, then, by God, make that stand. Don't play word games and tell us you didn't really tell people to vote for Gordon Howie when your own language says that's exactly what you were doing.