BJC warns against politicizing candidates’ religious beliefs and sermons: ‘No religious test means no religious test’

In a Facebook Live chat, BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler and Director of Education Charles Watson Jr. discussed the unique religious freedom concerns that can arise when a minister is running for office. a public function.

While candidates should always expect past comments to be scrutinized by their opponents, they stressed, religious expressions such as sermons should not be politicized. Doing so risks violating the clause in Article VI of the US Constitution, which explicitly guarantees that there is no religious test for office.

Specifically, the BJC conversation focused on recent reports of attacks targeting the Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is a Baptist minister and US Senate candidate in Georgia. The ads draw on his sermons in a way that challenges both his patriotism and, remarkably, his Christian faith.

word and mannerBrian Kaylor of reports the conversation and provides this helpful summary of a point that I found particularly important: sermons are not like other speeches.

Tyler, who noted that she had worked on political campaigns before coming to BJC, agreed that while candidates expect opponents to scrutinize past comments, treating sermons that way seems more problematic. Mentioning that Christians believe the Holy Spirit inspires a pastor as he preaches, she said that “there is something different about giving a sermon than giving a speech.” And she believes religious understanding “must be respected.”

“When you think about sermons in particular, that’s different to me than a speech you might give to a one-time audience or an article you’ve written,” she explained. “The idea of ​​being a pastor of a church is, you know, you’re called to that position. So, over a long period of time, you develop a relationship with the people in the church. You are leading the church in a certain spiritual direction. And so to remove even a single sermon – let alone a line from a sermon – from this larger relationship in the context of a pastor and his church can be very misleading.

“And not thinking about that context, I think, can lead us in a direction that really threatens religious freedom,” she added, “and even threatens this concept of religious testing. This concept of somehow imposing a religious test for public office, of saying that a religious opinion you hold would somehow disqualify you for public office – like some people have actually said that in regards to Reverend Warnock and his ability to be a United States Senator.”

Kaylor also reported on their key discussion of the racial context surrounding the situation:

“We have an African American Baptist minister in Atlanta, Georgia at Ebenezer Baptist Church. And you take excerpts from sermons of this nobody to use against him politically. I think part of it goes over the line in terms of how they go and the dog hisses behind. [Watson] mentioned. “That’s the deeper problem.”

“The attacks now unfolding against Dr. Warnock over his religious statements are some of the same attacks against Martin Luther King, Jr. We say the same words. We call someone radical, we call someone communist, we call someone anti-American. Now, 60 years after Dr. King’s death, it’s hard to find anyone who will speak ill of Dr. King, Jr.,” Watson said.

“And I just want us to learn from our past,” he added.

Just as Supreme Court Justice Amy Comey Barrett’s religious views are irrelevant to her ability to serve on the Court (as Tyler points out in this article for Good Faith Media), Warnock’s religious views – and certainly her sermons – do no more or less of him. less qualified for public service. Whether it is a judicial confirmation hearing or an election campaign, opponents must respect this essential line, drawn by the Constitution.

As Tyler added in a follow up Tweeter“No religious test means no religious test. Period.”

Watch the whole conversation on BJC’s Facebook page.

At the end, they announced that the 2021 Religious Freedom Scholarship Competition is asking high school juniors and seniors to write about this topic. Visit BJConline.org/contest for details.

Ruth R. Culp