Friday, June 07, 2013

Pulpit Freedom Sunday takes on controversial issues

Jun. 7, 2013 1:37 AM

Pastors take stand for Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Pulpit Freedom Sunday, recognized on Sunday, June 9, 2013, is a day during which pastors will discuss politics during their usual services. Video by Craig Rubadoux. Voiceover by Emre Kelly.

Written by
J.D. Gallop

Pastor Charles Ross Rowland of Satellite Beach's Oceanside Community Church preaches to his congregation. / CRAIG RUBADOUX/florida today

church rules

IRS rules and regulations regarding churches and religious organizations:
• A church or religious organization’s earnings may not be used to benefit any private shareholder or individual
• Religious groups must not provide a substantial benefit to private interests
• Churches cannot devote substantial efforts in an attempt to influence legislation
• Churches and religious organizations must not participate in political campaigns, either for or against a candidate seeking public election

Charles Rowland is not worried that his message may be politically incorrect or out of vogue with popular culture. He may even rub political powers the wrong way.

The 65-year-old Southern Baptist pastor says he will step to the pulpit this Sunday and speak about his belief that homosexuality is a sin against God, that marriage is between a man and a woman, abortion is wrong and that believers must speak their conscience.

“I’m going to preach the gospel no matter what,” said Rowland, the spiritual leader of Oceanside Community Church in Satellite Beach.

This Sunday, many pastors across the nation plan to participate in the fifth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a day aimed at defying IRS rules intended to regulate the balance between free speech, religion and laws governing tax-exempt statuses for churches.

Government rules restrict churches, and some other nonprofits, from campaigning for or against specific candidates for office or politicking about proposed legislation.

Some pastors say the rules contradict their biblical commission to preach the gospel or even call certain actions sin.

Rowland said he believes that more than ever, ministers are on the front line of an ongoing culture war and need to be outspoken — even if it against Internal Revenue Service regulations.

“What the government says is legal is not necessarily moral. You see that in the fact that the cohesiveness that held our country together has been breaking down for some time,” he said. “Having that community of shared values is eroding and everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. We have to speak out.”
Shared views

Increasingly, some pastors say, issues about which they’ve been preaching cross into the political realm.

Some pastors point to the recent IRS admission that officials targeted dozens of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status. Some say the IRS case is another indication that churches could face similar scrutiny for what someone deems political speech. Last year, pastors at about a half dozen local churches participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, directly calling for a conservative outcome in the coming election. Many of the local pastors focused on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

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