Colbert on Fresh Air

Stephen Colbert was on Fresh Air this past Thursday (as himself) to talk about his character's new book. The whole interview is worth a listen, but I found his comments on tomorrow's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" to be the most interesting. Colbert had Pastor Jim Garlow on his show this week to talk about the initiative. It is aimed primarily at Evangelical pastors and encourages them to videotape themselves endorsing candidates, political platforms, and initiatives from the pulpit in violation of their own tax exempt status, which bars tax-exempt religious institutions from direct political speech to avoid being unwillingly subsidized by non-adhering tax-payers. This movement, which is also being framed as an act of civil disobedience, reminded me of the USCCB's "Fortnight for Freedom" as well as the LCWR's bus tour this summer. I thought Colbert's comments on the dangers of churches getting involved in the distracting and fractious world of politics, regardless of their perceived right to do so, were right on:

I think they should be able to endorse from the pulpit. Now whether or not they should get tax-exempt status is another thing, because that is the rest of us subsidizing their political speech. ... I think they should be able to do it, but I also think that it's a very dangerous thing to do not just for our politics, but it's also dangerous for the faith of people who are exercising that right. Because they seem to think that it's a one-way membrane that they'll get religion into our politics. But they're ignoring the fact that politics will come right back through that gate onto our religion. And if you actually have a political party that is this religion, or a political party that is that religion, I think that's a short road to the kind of religious civil war whether or not it's actually an armed war but religious civil war that we fled in Europe. America has avoided that. And I think our politics are so horrible these days. ... Why anyone would want that horrible tar on something as fragile as faith is beyond me.

Alternatively, I think the pivot away from politics and toward the New Evangelization, which Peter posts on below, is the right move. It would be nice to see our religious leaders talking about the joy of the Gospel rather than wasting all of their energy playing power politics---because, there really is no other kind.

Eric Bugyis teaches Religious Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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