Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My formal letter to the Office of General Counsel-Federal Election Commission

Dear Office of General Counsel,

          Greetings, this is Chris Halverson, Pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran in South Plainfield, NJ. On October 22nd I received a letter from Steven Baer (see triplicates included) offering between $1,000-10,000 dollars in “donation” to St. Stephen if I pass out a voters guide to my congregation before Tuesday, November 4th. From the clergy chatter on facebook we were not the only congregation to receive a letter like this.

          This seems dodgy to the extreme.
          It suggests religious officials can be bribed, which undermines the authority of the clergy, as well as the message of the Gospel we proclaim—which ultimately is the Good News about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, not some political agenda.
          Additionally, Mr. Baer’s letter is a temptation to forsake my ordination vows, in which I promised to “live a life above reproach”… which I would imagine includes not taking bribes.
          Not only that, this kind of injection of politics, and ultimately the State, into the Church and vice versa, goes against the division between church and state found both in my faith tradition (Luther’s “Two Kingdoms Theory”) and my country’s tradition (Jefferson’s “Separation of Church and State”).
          Finally, and likely more importantly for you all, I can’t imagine this kind of thing is kosher from an election law standpoint.

          So, that’s my formal complaint. Steve Baer’s attempt to buy church backing of a political agenda: undermines my authority and stifles the Gospel, threatens my ordination vows, goes against the traditions of my faith and country, and probably violates some campaign finance/election laws.

In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Chris Halverson

If your church would like to lodge a similar complaint send Mr. Baer's letter in triplicates along with a notarized letter of complaint to:

The Office of General Counsel

Federal Election Commission

999 E Street, NW

Washington, DC 20463


John Flanagan said...

You have a right to your views, while other Christian Pastors and church members also have a right to their views on the relationship between politics and religion. If a candidate for office holds shared values of our faith, for example, affirms traditional marriage between one man and one woman, holds the pro-life position that we must protect the unborn from casual and barbaric abortions, and if said candidates support freedom of religion in the land....,then we must support such candidates and a voters guide is appropriate for a Pastor to share with his church members. To avoid taking a position is a cowards way out.

Christopher said...

Again, in my tradition Two Kingdoms Theory applied to a Democratic system such as ours, encourages non-uniformity in the political arena, allowing for multiple faithful ways to live out a vocation of citizenship... essentially we trust our congregants to vote their conscience--and recognize it might not be the same as the Pastor's--there is always Sin in politics, so all we can hope for is a faithful best guess.
For example, Mr. Baer encourages an end to abortion and boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Is that the ONLY faithful position for a Christian to take? I think part of the responsibility of citizenship is recognizing you’ll always have at least a little blood on your hands if you participate (and a lot of blood on your hands if you don’t participate).
That said, if I were you I would not want my Pastor to be encouraging me to vote a certain way because a super-PAC bribed him. If I had to choose between a “cowardly” Pastor and a corrupt one, I’d go with the coward.

John Flanagan said...

I cannot comment on the merits of your own specific case and plead ignorance of the facts, but on the general idea of the two kingdoms, I will address it. Christians living in a pluralistic society should still be people of conscience and conviction, never passive or tolerant of evil for the sake of being perceived as neutral. Some churches of long ago probably used your two kingdom argument to remain neutral about slavery in America, and some churches today are silent about abortion, wherein 50 million unborn children have been killed in the womb..93 percent of cases since Roe vs Wade for convenience alone, with the fraction of 7 percent destroyed for reasons of the health of the mother, rape, or incest. Late term abortion was practiced and now has been reduced, but not ended. A professing Christian should be advised not to vote for a political candidate who openly supports abortion, and if a Christian does anyway, then what is the strength of his or her moral witness? Secondly, regarding the support of traditional marriage between one man and one woman, now being perverted to include two men or two women! How can a Christian cast a vote in support of wicked politicians who hold immoral stated positions? We can argue much of the differences in some social issues and political and economic approaches to government outside of the church....but those issues which affect the moral foundations of the society in which we live cannot be left without debate. I pray you will someday see that religion and politics cannot be easily separated as you would like, and your Christian faith cannot be put on the shelf using the false argument of neutrality of conviction.

Christopher said...

So, a couple things.
Firstly, I get tons of voter guides sent to the church during election season. The reason I contacted the FEC about this particular one was because it offered me a bribe. I don’t think moneyed interests should be dictating the freeing Word of God spoken from the pulpit and transforming it into just another political talking point.
Secondly, I’m NOT saying church-folk should be passive or neutral, I’m saying every vote a politician takes has consequences, so dressing up one candidate as “Christian” and the other as not is a bad idea—it baptizes whole agendas for the sake of one or two particular issues. For example here are some positions from other voter guides I’ve tossed, “Stop abortion, bomb Syria” or “End Gay Marriage and the Federal Reserve” and “X is Christian, he’ll make sure the Coal Industry will get special tax breaks.” To me they all seem like politicians want to use me, and Christianity as a way to get other agenda items passed. I’m no shill and the Gospel is more than a political platform.
Thirdly, my denomination does consider congregations to be a place for moral discernment, and we have passed social messages and social statements, and in fact the New Jersey Synod has came out in favor of bail reform (still, I will not be preaching that from the Pulpit… because it’s not a freeing Word of God), which is on the ballot… but that’s a discrete issue with solid boundaries. We would not support a candidate in favor of bail reform, even though it aligns with our values, because candidates are messy, they vote on multiple things. If we were to support a particular candidate we would be baptizing their whole agenda.
Finally, I might as well tip my hand, the non-theological reason for thinking the way I do. During the formative years of my generation (I was out west, maybe things were different here), we were told “Don’t worry, the Christians are in government, everything will go OK.”
Almost every man I went to elementary school with went to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. “Everything will be okay,” we were told, “because the Christians are in charge,” they said.
My generation did tour after tour of Iraq without adequate personal armor or adequate vehicle armor—they had nothing but a prayer.
And over there many of my contemporaries stopped believing in God—they saw Islamic Fundamentalism on one hand, and politicians yammering non-stop how Christians they were over here, and they saw how ineffective and unsympathetic… and often times corrupt and hypocritical, those “Christian” politicians were—and they decided the Gospel was false and religion more broadly was both utterly corrupting and utterly corrupted.
And it wasn’t just my Army and Marine contemporaries, more broadly the very faith of, and in, Jesus Christ has become a byword in this nation for sloppy thinking and selling out to anyone, especially politicians, who says “Lord, Lord.”
I’ll get off my soap box now.
Please understand this: I refuse to be bribed, I believe if the church baptizes a politician as a “Christian” we own them and all their positions and the consequences of their governance whole cloth, individual discrete issues are less of a problem (but even those are not Gospel), and at least for the Millennial Generation what happened in this country from 2000-2008 has discredited “Christian” politicians and unfortunately the Christian faith itself.
PS If you read sermons from the Civil War era the pro-slavery folk tend to link Christian faith to white supremacy and slave ownership and the abolitionists link it with abolition and also sometimes read the massive death count of the Civil War as God’s punishment for the institution of slavery. I don’t know if a Two Kingdoms position (allowing for individual conscience) would have been better than 1/2 the churches advocating white supremacy from the pulpit and the other 1/2 advocating abolition from the pulpit.

Christopher said...

I wrote that in the heat of the moment, I just want to be clear when I wrote "my Army and Marine contemporaries" I mean people of my generation who were in the Army and Marines.
I did not serve in the armed forces.