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WTBN speaker urges pastors to bring politics into pulpits

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:34 AM
TAMPA -

They came for a free meal, a bag of goodies and a chance for fellowship with other clergy.

But the crowd of more than 600 at Tuesday's WTBN ninth annual Pastors Appreciation Lunch also got a strong message from the keynote speaker: Get political.

"I believe the preservation of America depends on pastors," said Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas. "This is no time for God's men to be passive. It's time to stand up and push back against all the evil in our country.

"Tell your people that they have a choice: to cast a vote for righteousness or vote for unrighteousness."

Jeffress urged the capacity crowd at the A La Carte Event Pavilion in Tampa to use their pulpit time Sunday to stress the importance of voting for the candidate who supports the "biblical values" of the sanctity of marriage, sanctity of life and religious freedom.

Stay silent, he warned them, and you're no different than German Lutheran pastors who didn't speak out against Hitler's growing influence in the late 1930s. That lack of action led to the Holocaust, he said.

Jeffress, who has a national radio and television show, stopped short of endorsing Republican candidate Mitt Romney, but he said in an interview afterward that "people can connect the dots. It's clear which candidate shares our views."

That doesn't mean Jeffress has changed his public stand on Romney's Mormon religion.

"It's absolutely a cult," he said. "Mormonism is not part of Christianity. We clearly differ on theology, but we embrace the same values."

Another high-profile Christian is going in another direction. Last month, after a meeting between Billy Graham and Romney, the evangelist pledged his support for the candidate. And the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed "Mormonism" from its list of cults on the group's website.

Salem Communications, the country's largest Christian radio company, with about 100 stations, including five in the Tampa area, will begin broadcasting endorsements for Romney today.

"We've only done it once before, in 2004," said Chris Gould, vice president of national program development. "But we can't ignore the fact that sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman matter. It's such a crucial election, and we felt it was important to use our platform to take this position."

Not all of the clergy were comfortable with the speaker's message. Asia Roberts, of Largo, who drives to Miami weekly to lead Church El Olam, said she is conflicted about whom to support. She likes what President Barack Obama is doing with health insurance and the economy; she agrees with Romney on his stand against abortion and same-sex marriage.

"Pastors need to seek Gospel wisdom in making that decision," she said. "Be influenced by God, not man, in making that choice."

Tommy Kyllonen, pastor at Crossover Church in Tampa, said he will not be taking any political stands in the sanctuary.

"He made some good points," he said of Jeffress. "But most of the younger generation is discouraged by both sides of politics. They believe if change is going to come, it will be led by the people, not by who we put in office."

Other clergy, however, have no qualms about using their influence. Elbert Nasworthy, pastor of Myrtle Lake Baptist Church in Land O' Lakes and a WTBN radio host, said he's laying the groundwork with his Sunday night class on "The Christian and Politics."

Though he takes no public position on candidates or issues, he believes it's his role as a spiritual leader to inform his congregation on the importance of making a choice based on biblical values.

"They can draw their own conclusions after that," he said. "You better believe I'll be making a case on Sunday."


mbearden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7613

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