More than 1,000 pastors across the U.S. are expected to speak out about the biblical model for marriage this weekend as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
Pastors will address the topic as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares this month to rule on two cases that could result in the redefinition of legal marriage. Pulpit Freedom Sunday organizers want pastors to call for a commitment to the strengthening of individual marriages and of marriage as an institution. They also hope pastors will praise elected officials who are committed to the biblical definition of marriage and correct those who are not.
"The Bible has not changed," a recent blog post about the event says. "God's Word remains true that homosexual behavior is wrong and that marriage is as God Himself defined it in the beginning pages of Scripture – between one man and one woman only. Public opinion cannot change Truth. But Truth must be proclaimed to be believed and adopted."
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an Alliance Defending Freedom project that began in 2008 as a way to challenge the Johnson Amendment, a part of the U.S. tax code which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from either endorsing or opposing political candidates. Last October, in the days leading up to a national election, about 1,600 pastors participated in the event nationwide.
"Pulpit Freedom Sunday was started with the purpose of making sure that pastors are free to speak from their pulpit on the moral and biblical issues of the day without fearing any kind of government censorship or intimidation," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley in an interview with The Christian Post.
During previous events, pastors would preach sermons evaluating political candidates and their positions in light of the Bible's teachings. They would record these sermons and send them to the IRS "in the hopes of sparking a litigation challenge to the Johnson Amendment," said Stanley.
But there are no national elections in 2013, so the focus this year is on what Stanley calls "the most pressing issue of our day."
"One of the things we've been saying to pastors is that even though this is a non-election year, it's not a non-engagement year for pastors," he said. "Pastors have a lot of work to do to educate even the church about what marriage is and why it should remain as God created it and intended for it to be. So we want pastors to feel free to do that, to know that they have support when they do so, to not fear any kind of government censorship or intimidation when they speak on those biblical issues that confront our culture."
Stanley says nearly 1,100 ministers had signed up to participate in this weekend's event as of Thursday. Event registration will be left open for several weeks for those who want to participate but are unable to do so this Sunday.
Michael Hirsch, senior pastor of Calvary Christian Church in Fredericksburg, Virg., has participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday three times and says the event is a show of "solidarity" among pastors.
"I believe that there are issues that are in society that are needing direction from a biblical worldview," Hirsch told The Christian Post. "Public policy affects every aspect of our culture and society. God ordained institutions like marriage right now, family, gender specificity, things that are very clear in the scripture, and so we need to speak out on them."
Virginia is preparing for a gubernatorial and other statewide elections later this year. So, in addition to speaking out against gay marriage, Hirsch will also share from the pulpit why he personally plans to vote for certain candidates, though he emphasized his church will not endorse a particular candidate or party.
As was the case in years past, Hirsch's message will be recorded and sent to the IRS.
A Wisconsin-based atheist organization sued the IRS after last year's Pulpit Freedom Sunday, claiming the government agency violated the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause and Equal Protection Clause when it failed to enforce the tax code. The organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, contends the IRS gave churches preferential treatment over secular organizations.
A study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans now believe the legal recognition of same-sex marriage is "inevitable," compared to 59 percent who believed the same to be true in 2004. Of those who oppose the legalization of gay marriage, 59 percent say it is inevitable.
"We don't know what the future is, and what the future holds," said Stanley of the study's findings. "And regardless of what the Supreme Court's opinion is on marriage when it gets handed down at the end of June, that doesn't change biblical truth. That doesn't change what marriage actually is."