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Supreme Court of the United States

Political Sermons In American History

October 17, 2017

POLITICAL sermons (1) American pastors have historically addressed politics from the pulpit, offering Biblical context to the controversial political issues of the day. In fact, churches often served as a catalyst for change in America – playing a dominant role in the abolition of slavery, for example. It was also not uncommon for pastors to publicly oppose candidates they saw unfit for political office, including presidential candidates such as Thomas Jefferson, William Howard Taft, and Al Smith.

Pastors’ sermons, speeches, and writings on political subjects – such as the following – can be found throughout American history:

On Christians’ Role in Politics

[L]ook well to the characters and qualifications of those you elect and raise to office and places of trust… [L]et the wise counsel of Jethro… be your guide. Choose ye out from among you able men, such as fear God, men of truth and hating covetousness’ [Exodus 18:21] and set them to rule over you.  – Rev. Matthias Burnett, 1803, Keys to Good Government: According to the Founding Fathers (pg. 21)

 The church must take right ground in regard to politics… Politics are a part of a religion is such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as part of their duty to God… [God] will bless or curse this nation according to the course [Christians] take [in politics].  – Rev. Charles G. Finney, 1835, Keys to Good Government: According to the Founding Fathers (pg. 41)

 [T]he time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics… Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter. But the time has come when they must act differently… God cannot sustain this free and blessed country which we love and pray for unless the Church will take right ground… It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation are becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they think God does not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it, and He will bless or curse this nation according to the course [Christians] take. – Rev. Charles G. Finney, 1868, Keys to Good Government: According to the Founding Fathers (pg. 24)

On Women’s Rights

Having assembled to consult upon the interests of religion within the Commonwealth, we would now, as pastors and teachers, in accordance with the custom of this Association, address you on some of the subjects which at the present time appear to us to have an important bearing upon the cause of Christ… We invite your attention to the dangers which at present seem to threaten the female character, with wide spread and permanent injury. – Pastoral Letter from the General Association of Massachusetts, June 28, 1837, Women’s Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement 1830-1870 (pg. 119)

On The Civil War

Having protested against the evil of martial strife, and accepted it only as inevitable compromise with the pressures and frictions of selfish ambition for keeping the rightful framework of the Government in legitimate action, the second word needing to be said, when we look at our civil war from the pulpit, is, Let a careful guard be kept over the lower passions which such a crisis naturally evokes and stimulates. – William Rounseville Alger, 1861, Our Civil War, As Seen From the Pulpit

On Abraham Lincoln

 Mr. Lincoln is quite a genuine representative of American prejudice and Negro hatred and far more concerned for the preservation of slavery, and the favor of the Border Slave States, than for any sentiment of magnanimity or principle of justice and humanity... Notwithstanding his repeated declarations that he considers slavery an evil, every step of his Presidential career relating to slavery proves him active, decided, and brave for its support, and passive, cowardly, and treacherous to the very cause of liberty to which he owes his election. – Frederick Douglass, 1862, The President and His Speeches

On Slavery

One of the reasons for the low state of religion at the present time is that many churches have taken the wrong side on the subject of slavery, have suffered prejudice to prevail over principle and have feared to call this abomination by its true name. –Rev. Charles G. Finney, 1868, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (pg. 18-19)

On William Taft’s Presidential Campaign
Such are the two great reasons why Taft should never be elected President—he has not the democratic spirit—he is the tool of privileged wealth… These conclusions concerning Taft are reached after years of careful study of our political conditions. I mean no carping criticism. I admit Mr. Taft's many good personal qualities, but I affirm his general unfitness to guide this great nation in paths of justice and for the greatest good of the greatest number. – Rev. Robert E. Bisbee, 1908, Why Mr. Taft Should Be Defeated

Conclusion

The Church has a role to play in upholding morality and exalting righteousness in America.  But for the last 60 years, the American pulpit has fallen silent because of the Johnson Amendment, which threatens to take away a church’s tax-exempt status if preachers talk politics from the pulpit. Spiritual leaders are needed to change our culture. Are you up for the challenge?

Click here to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday or visit www.PulpitFreedom.org to learn more.


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