Pulpit politics | Arkansas Blog

Pulpit politics

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Bishop Robert E. Smith  (pictured)
of Little Rock's Word of Outreach Christian Church just returned a phone call we made awhile back to confirm that he is indeed one of the signers of The Pulpit Initiative.  Sponsored by the conservative Alliance Defense Fund and signed by 32 religious leaders across the country, The Pulpit Initiative seeks to challenge a 1954 IRS rule that keeps pastors and other religious leaders from officially endorsing political candidates. Smith is apparently the only pastor in Arkansas who is part of the initiative. At stake: the tax-exempt status of churches whose leaders participate.

Last Sunday, more than 30 pastors who signed the Pulpit Initiative reportedly made political endorsements in church. Smith was not one of them, however. He said that a delay in air travel kept him from getting back to Little Rock in time to participate, but added that he will be endorsing presidential candidate John McCain this Sunday.

While supporters of the initiative say they're simply standing up for free speech, critics say the IRS rules are proper. Churches may freely endorse candidates, just so long as they give up a government subsidy of  their politics by forgoing tax deductibility of contributions. From the sidelines, some are taking it as an opportunity to puzzle once more over the always fascinating collision of faith and politics.

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