This is today's cartoon from Kansas City Star political cartoonist Lee Judge. Touche, Monsieur Judge.
I wrote a while back about the email memo Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline sent out to his staff, headed "church efforts." In the memo, Kline described the importance of securing preaching gigs at supportive churches, followed by off-site money-raising rallies. The memo specifically instructed staff to have the pastor invite five "money people whom he knows can help."
The choice of pronoun is a good indicator of what sorts of churches Kline has been visiting during this election season. The whole memo is an indication of what is seriously wrong with churches becoming too involved in election politics.
Yesterday the Kansas City Star reported that the former Attorney General of Kansas, Bob Stephan, had resigned from his advisory post within the Kline campaign, citing the memo and Kline's visit to The Light of the World Christian Church. Kline preached there in July. After he preached, the church made a donation of $1339 to SWT Communications, a company which "produces radio programs and church events and retreats." SWT Communications is operated by Deborah Kline, who happens to be married to Phill Kline. A month before Kline preached at The Light of the World, SWT made a donation of $1,181 to the Phill Kline campaign.
You can't really call it money laundering, though the money seems rather unclean to me. You can't call it illegal, since you'd have to prove that the church intended for the money to go to the Kline campaign, and SWT's donation was made beforehand.
Phill Kline defends these actions by admitting he's "been speaking to churches for years." He considers the money an offering for the service he provides to the churches.
My church pays an $80 honorarium to guest preachers. Admittedly, we're probably on the low end of the spectrum. I know some churches pay more. I don't know of any who offer amounts in excess of a thousand dollars. That seems a little high. And a little dumb, if you know the money is going to replenish the stocks of a company contributing to a political campaign. Just because you can't prove that it's illegal doesn't mean it isn't grossly unethical.
I know we're supposed to expect this of our elected politicians. I know we're supposed to just shake our heads, and wonder what they'll do next. But I'm sad. I'm sad that a politician can expect people to just shake their heads and move on when he uses houses of God in this manner.
And I am deeply sad that houses of God allow themselves to be used in this manner. It's one thing for our politicians to have a credibility problem. I'm not saying it's okay, because it's not. We ought to expect more. We ought to demand more.
But when our churches have a credibility problem, we're in deep trouble. Churches have to be above reproach. They just do. The mission of the church is to preach the gospel to the whole world. That work is difficult enough in times when our churches are thought of well. The work is severely compromised when churches become ATM machines for politicians, and thoughtful people are tempted to shake their heads at us, and wonder what will happen next.