Houston mayor Annise Parker has called for a “Census Sabbath” this weekend, asking religious leaders to proclaim her message of the necessity of filling out census forms.
As a pastor, when I teach about church/state relations, I affirm our obligation to be good citizens, to give Caesar the things that belong to him. Obeying the law and filling out a census form would be among those things.
But the pulpit is for proclaiming the word of God. It is not a place for us to give civic notices, or to do the government’s job of persuading people on points of public policy. A pastor is not a functionary of the state. A church is not a bureau of the state. I believe the mayor, and those religious leaders cooperating with her, have crossed the line. It is no more my responsibility to assist her with this than it is for her to proclaim the Gospel or to give opinions on the Bible’s teachings on human sexuality.
I am offended by the way they took texts from the Bible and the sacred writings of other religions to support their plea for participation in the census (I notice they left out the passages where taking of a census led to a plague (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21)).
I am offended by her use of the term “Sabbath” for her work of advertising the census. The Sabbath is the day of the Lord; he set it apart and sanctified it and blessed it as a day of rest, a day of communion with him. It is not a three day period. It is not a name to be associated with secular affairs.
So, no, mayor, I won’t participate. I’ll fill out my census form, as a citizen. But in the pulpit I’ll preach the Word of God, and only that (and I don’t need your help in selecting my sermon text).