The Sign We Were Told to Take Down

Pray to End Abortion 2

Our congregation has been a polling station for several years now.  It is a good thing to encourage citizens to vote and to support our government and its regular processes.  One of the many blessings of our nation is the relatively peaceful process by which we handle elections.  Community and civic centers around the country serve as polling stations.  Our congregation is one of those stations.

Last week I asked my “sign guy,” Mr. Bill Dissen to put the above sign up in front of our church.  I wanted a sign that clearly was conscious of the upcoming election, but that exhorted parishioners (and others) to do something that was not endorsing a candidate or party.  Thus the sign: “Want change? Pray to end abortion.”

This morning our city clerk informed us that the sign needed to be taken down or it would be covered.  Apparently it might influence voters on how to vote.

We took the sign down.

But it has raised some very interesting questions for me as a pastor.  We are given an opportunity to confess the faith in the midst of an unbelieving world.  We can do so in a way that is not bitter or vitriolic.  But is it moral for a Church to agree to be used for what is a good, left-hand kingdom purpose (polling station) if it then limits the ability of that same church to be a prophetic voice in the world?

I am supportive of our government and its system.  I’m not sure about the wisdom of churches as polling stations, because it may limit the ability of the church to be church in the world.

What do you think?  Was the city clerk right or wrong?  Should churches agree to be polling stations, if they are told they cannot say certain things?

29 thoughts on “The Sign We Were Told to Take Down

  1. How is this sign not an endorsement of the anti-abortion position? Especially when combined w/ the obvious Obama reference?

  2. There’s of course nothing wrong with this sign except it offend the left, therefore it must be banned.

    Churches should be involved in politics and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

    The left is fine with Democrats making speeches in churches, they are fine with anything as long as it benefits them.

    Churches should refuse tax-exempt status and return to a muscular, religious perspective to our nation. The popular culture that the left pushes is nothing but filth and by ceding the ground to the left, the churches have allowed American culture to be defiled by the secular left.

  3. I have no problem with this sign. Its the church’s right to be a prophetic voice against something like abortion which is found unlawful in Holy Scripture. “Want change?” is something that Obama used, but the sign does not say anything about Obama or even McCain who used the word “change” in a lot of his speeches and debates as well. Since when is “change” a trademark of Obama? I believe if the State is wanting to use churches as polling places then they shouldn’t be suprised to see things like this. How many candidates have put their signs out in front of Messiah’s yard? I know down here their are signs all over the church yards that are polling places. Does this mean all of a suddent that the church subscribes to those candidates? Some of the candidates were even at the polling places speaking with people? Does this mean that Messiah subscribes to a politicians political views? Should Pastor Peperkorn go out and speak with a politician that is pro-choice who may show up at his church to campaign? Does this mean that Pastor Peperkorn needs to take down any Lutherans for Life pamphlets that may be out in the open in the church? This is a limitation to the church’s 1st ammendment rights. I am beginning to question the whole idea of churches doing this as well. Frankly, I respect Pastor Peperkorn’s decision, but I also would want to see what exactly what would have happened if the sign stayed up. Maybe he should change it to “Want Change that keeps the unborn in our Country First?” If there is a law against such measures its not fair because all of these campaigns place their signs, which represent a wide variety of views on church properties. I think the state should stay out of the churches with their polling if they are going to act like this. What happens if they put up a sign after the election that says “Pray for our Country” Does this mean that they are against whomever has won the election, or just following Paul’s instructions to Timothy to pray for our leaders. This just dumb.

  4. I think if they want to use church buildings as polling places then they need to allow the church to say what it wants. If the church can’t say what it wants or needs to say, then the city can take their polling place to a public facility like a school.

  5. If I understand, your argument comes down to: the church didn’t explicitly mention the parties or the candidates (though it did quote one of the candidates’ slogans explicitly) therefore it should be allowed to play politics with voters as they go in to pick a man to head the state. Would you approve of a church-polling-station that said “Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and lots about the corrupting influence of wealth” (Please note, I’m only putting forth a line about sexuality that I suspect you disagree with; the point isn’t whether you actually agree or disagree with that message. It’s whether you think polling stations should say such things)

  6. Aaron wrote: How is this sign not an endorsement of the anti-abortion position? Especially when combined w/ the obvious Obama reference?

    There is not Obama reference. Both presidential candidates are running on change. Anti-Abortion is non-partisan.

  7. I’d have to say that I think that the right thing to have done would have been to decline to be used as a polling place. Your freedom of speech and your freedom to spread your moral message is more important than your participation in the political system. The government will find some other place to conduct the voting, that’s fine. You don’t want God to have to find another place to spread the Word.

  8. I’d be surprised if the clerk had the authority to do what he did.

    But the poli-sci literature is pretty clear that having voting in a church does affect the voting, in what I think you would find to be a positive way. Being in a church reminds people of moral issues (and apparently voting in a school reminds people of the value of funding education). So push back on the clerk next time, but don’t give up hosting a polling place.

  9. I’m completely sympathetic to your sign, and wished you could have kept it.

    However, like Christ’s exhortation to pay one’s taxes, one must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. The election is a political event, and your question:

    But is it moral for a Church to agree to be used for what is a good, left-hand kingdom purpose (polling station) if it then limits the ability of that same church to be a prophetic voice in the world?

    Must be answered in the following way. If you can’t perform a voluntary civic function without betraying your ideals, then you shouldn’t do it.

    I never like the idea of regulating religious speech. Hell, I’ve sued the government for interfering with religious speech that touches on political topics (501(c)(3)/IRS matters). But if you’re going to be a polling place, then you have to expect some “rendering” to Caesar. And it’s rarely the kinds of sacrifice one would want to make.

  10. I don’t think there is a problem with the church taking a prophetic role in speaking against abortion, nor do I think it is wrong for a church to be a polling station. But the question is, how do these interact in this unique situation? I am inclined to say that, if a church is taking on this explicitly civil role, it should stick with this civil role and leave the prophetic office out of it (at least at that time).

    Also, I really don’t think there is any question in the minds of those who would read the sign as to which position the church is taking. Whether this was the intent of the church or not, if the church was informed that people saw this as partisan, they should respect the complaint that they might be taking liberties with their role.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to walk into a polling station that was posting signs that I thought were favoring one candidate over another, whether these signs were intended to do this or not. Obviously, some saw this to be the case in this instance, therefore we should respect this.

  11. You should find out what the legal requirements are for campaign signs and distances from the entrance to a polling place. If your sign is far enough from the entrance then you have every right to keep it up and a potential First Amendment violation on your hands.

    But then again, that may not be the hill to die on.

  12. We had a similar issue at our church, which was a polling place for years. There was a gentleman holding a sign on the sidewalk outside our church, several elections ago, that clearly supported a ballot initiative that many of us in our church (Alive in Christ Lutheran – Columbia MO) did not support. In Christian love, our youth director took the young man a drink and talked with him a bit, and then told him that he couldn’t hold that sign on our property. He complained to the elections supervisor, who told him that the church was within its rights to request that he leave. He then threatened to sue and brought in a big special interest group with deep pockets to repeat the threat to sue. Our church decided to give up being a polling place rather than compromise on that one, so we’re no longer a polling place.

  13. Thank you Pastor for you posting a message about abortion. This is first and foremost a moral issue. It’s an issue that the Church has with God. As Pastor, you are a voice to that reality. The Church has lost her prophetic voice because of her fear of man and fear of becoming political. The Church needs a fear of the Lord because we have the blood of 45 million babies our hands, during our watch. If the city wants to relocate polling to a public facility, if you lose some of your congregants or eventually your 501-3c status, you will know you’ve been true and faithful to the Lord and can stand before Him. This is the change coming to America. It’s a new day for the Church. A new and glorious day.

  14. I recently read Uwe Siemen-Netto’s article about collective shame regarding the Nazis, the holocaust and the economy in Messiah’s November newsletter. I think it absolutely ties in with this predicament. The church’s purpose in the left hand kingdom, the here and now, is to share the Law and the Gospel, the message of salvation, the scriptures. The kingdoms are separate, but they interact. I think it stinks that the city clerk made the demand to take down the sign. I think you did the right thing in taking it down, relative to the 4th commandment. And I think Messiah should refuse to be a polling place in the future. Just my $0.02 worth.

  15. Sarah,

    I also read that same article and could not agree with you more. There really is no option on election day but to comply and take down the sign– But I am in favor of putting it back up and as far as i am concerned the city should find a new polling place for future elections.

  16. Josh O. has the right take. This time the situation is over – everything is said and done and I don’t think it should be pursued.

    However, I would have a politically and legally minded parishoner find out every possible detail they can about the legal limitations of signs at polling places for next time and determine if your church’s sign meets those requirements. If it doesn’t, perhaps consider moving it (I know, not cheap or easy). Have a lawyer review the material (perhaps the ACLJ would do the review pro-bono if you asked – or perhaps you have a lawyer in your congregation).

    Next time, plan a message ahead of time and, if possible, consider having the congregation actually vote on it. Make sure it’s theological and not political (although, as in this case, sometimes theological statements have logical consequences politically). Then, if a situation occurs again in the future, you have the facts on your side as well as the backing of the congregation.

    My 2 cents.

  17. Thanks for telling me about this, Todd. (Sorry I didn’t return the chat. It was on without my knowing it, and then I had problems with it.) I posted about it on my Cranach blog, which sparked some interesting discussion.

  18. I asked my “sign guy,” Mr. Bill Dissen to put the above sign up in front of our church. I wanted a sign that clearly was conscious of the upcoming election, but that exhorted parishioners (and others) to do something that was not endorsing a candidate or party.

    Rev. Cwirla, since the church sign was obviously going to be seen by voters coming to your church to vote, did you consult earlier with your congregation’s Board of Trustees, the Board of Elders, the Church Council, or the Voters’ Assembly regarding the sign and its statement, which spanned the congregation-approved (?) use of the church facilities for religious and secular purposes?

    Was there a plan established by you or any of these congregational groups to deal with any potential confrontation by election officials, or political party supporters? Did your congregation consult with its lawyer about its legal rights or restrictions when the building was being used as a polling place?

    Was the congregation’s President, Council, affected boards, or legal counsel consulted before removing your church sign after being told to do so? Was the District President infomed of the incident?

    And, finally, how is your decision to remove the sign congruent with the following statement from the Missouri Synod’s “Render unto Caesar… and unto God” (pp. 86-87):

    “One of the few social issues concerning which the Synod has been willing to take a (more or less) “activist” role is abortion. While presumably recognizing the risks and dangers of such an approach, the Synod has nevertheless concluded that the question of abortion is addressed so clearly by Scripture, that it is such an extraordinary social problem, and that this problem is so fundamentally tied up with what Scripture says about the God-given duty of the state, that failure to speak and under certain circumstances to act would be tantamount to the failure of the German church under Hitler.” [Emphasis added]

  19. Even though I love the sign and agree with it, I think most people in America would see it as an anti-Obama sign. If you’d had “Pray for an End to Abortion” without the “Want Change?” I don’t think the clerk would’ve had a leg to stand on.

  20. I don’t believe a church should ever be a polling place.
    Sign or no sign, I think that some voters would feel uncomfortable casting their vote where their ideals or who they voted for might be questioned and or condemed.
    It certianly can happen.
    I recall reading about a Catholic parish whose pastor was refusing communion to anyone who voted for Obama.
    Honestly it is not the churchs right to ask it’s members whom they voted for.

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