On Sunday (Dec. 3), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went to three church services. It wasn’t that he was super excited about the start of Advent, like a religious version of Will Ferrell in Elf. The reason for his season in Iowa is that the first presidential vote occurs in the Hawkeye State next month. Currently running a distant second in polls with less than half the support enjoyed by former President Donald Trump, DeSantis is looking for a Christmas miracle as he seeks evangelical support. So he often interrupts Sunday worship to make a quick campaign pitch.
With the arrival of the holy season to reflect on the birth of Jesus, DeSantis on Sunday made his pitch during two services at Calvary Community Church in Cedar Rapids while flanked by five decorated Christmas trees. Yet, even with the over-the-top aesthetics, he didn’t mention Christmas but instead quickly hit several red-meat talking points about God being good, liberals being bad, and America being Christian. His campaign even released a campaign ad on Tuesday featuring clips from him speaking at the nondenominational church.
Politicking in church services is bad enough (and at A Public Witness we’ve written about the problems of Republicans and Democrats doing this). Such campaign moments violate the IRS’s political campaign activity ban that bars 501(C)(3) nonprofits like houses of worship from using tax-exempt funds and resources to engage in partisan electioneering. Calvary’s pastor had in September joined two dozen other Iowa pastors in announcing their support of DeSantis and prayed on stage at a DeSantis campaign event in October. Standing with DeSantis and the Christmas trees on Sunday, the pastor encouraged people to do their own homework but also made it clear he likes DeSantis.
Such campaign stops in churches are even worse when the candidates just pop in, speak, and then leave. That appears to be what DeSantis did on Sunday as he spoke at the end of Calvary’s first service and the beginning of the second service before heading to an “independent fundamental” KJV-only Baptist church. Such in-and-out stops make it clear the politician isn’t there to worship but just to campaign. Which shouldn’t be surprising in the case of DeSantis as a recent report revealed that he had to order a Bible on Amazon just to have one for his first gubernatorial swearing-in ceremony.
But even after watching a number of such partisan pulpit moments over the years, the DeSantis ones on Sunday stand out (along with a service featuring Donald Trump just before Christmas a couple years ago). And not just because of the campaign ad or what DeSantis said. It was the Christmas trees as their leaves so unchanging preached a reminder about the season’s meaning. So this issue of A Public Witness goes to church with DeSantis to contrast his “sermon” with how the stories of the first Christmas deal with politicians.
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