The Rev. Kevin Baird, pastor of the non-denominational Legacy Church in West Ashley, delivered a sermon Sunday critiquing President Barack Obama and urging his congregation to vote for Mitt Romney in November.
Now, anyone who's spent some time in evangelical churches knows that this sort of thing happens in the pulpit from time to time, and anyone familiar with the Internal Revenue Service's rules for nonprofit organizations knows that advocating for a specific candidate renders a church ineligible for tax-exempt status.
But Baird was making a point, and he was not acting alone. He was one of 1,586 pastors across the country (including 10 in the Charleston area — see list below) who participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual protest against the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which established the no-endorsing-candidates rule for nonprofits. The movement is organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative advocacy group whose founders include the founders of Focus on the Family and Campus Crusade for Christ, and whose stated purpose is "advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family."
Baird echoed those issues in his sermon, and he was far from subtle. In his 45-minute message, he described the Obama administration as being "in rebellion to God" (drawing applause from the congregation), citing its pro-choice policies and support for same-sex marriage.
"I've often said, 'Isn't it too bad that Jesus isn't running this year?'" Baird said. "It would fix everything, wouldn't it?" Baird also said he voted in 2008 for Chuck Baldwin, a Pensacola, Fla., pastor and Constitution Party candidate for president.
The litany of Obama's offenses that Baird rattled off included "unfair preferential treatments of Islam," instructing the Attorney General to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, and "requiring religious institutions to provide abortion-inducing drugs under the guise of birth control."
On the matter of Romney's Mormon faith, Baird had this to say:
Am I comfortable that, historically, those of us that would call ourselves evangelical have understood his faith to be in theological error? Of course I'm not comfortable with that. I wish we had a Bible-believing evangelical Christian to choose from … But that's not where we are. That's not what we have. That's not an option. Is his record sterling? No, his record isn't sterling, but he says, at least with his words, that he has had an epiphany of many of the things that we would say are foundational, which would be traditional marriage and being pro-life.
As support for his sermon, Baird used the 82nd Psalm, which calls on believers to "defend the poor and fatherless" and "do justice to the afflicted and needy." He also quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14, a passage directed at Israel that is commonly interpreted by conservatives as being directed at America. It reads: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
In a phone interview Monday, Baird said he had received "nasty e-mails" from people threatening to send copies of his sermon to the IRS. He said he hopes the IRS picks his sermon out of the 1,600 delivered across the country on Sunday, saying, "There is a group of attorneys ready to litigate that."
"My point is, if you don't want nativity scenes on public property, if you don't want prayers at football games and commencements, if you don't like Ten Commandments on the walls of public buildings, then here's the deal: That street runs two ways," Baird said. "Keep your nose out of my pulpit. You don't get to tax me. I have a First Amendment right. That's how the founders set it up."
Audio from Baird's sermon, which is titled "A Shaky Foundation: A Biblical Referendum on the Current Administration," can be downloaded here. Nine other Charleston-area churches participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, according to a press release from the Alliance Defending Freedom:
* Interesting side note: Cathedral of Praise is no stranger to politics in the pulpit. The North Charleston megachurch featured Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as guest speakers at weekend worship services during the run-up to the January Republican primary.