Bishop Robert Smith is taking a path less-travelled by many pastors during election years. He's endorsing a presidential candidate from the pulpit.
At the end of a recent sermon, Smith told about 50 worshippers at his Word of Outreach Christian Center in Little Rock, Ark.: "I will be voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin."
What is the legal line that pastors are not allowed to cross while in the pulpit? Click play to watch more on this from Jay Sekulow, with the American Center for Law and Justice.
Smith, who is black and whose congregation is predominately black, said people have questioned why he isn't backing Sen. Barack Obama.
"I just tell them it's not about race to me," said Smith, who was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. "It's about principle. I wouldn't care if it's my mother. If she isn't for life or for heterosexual relationships, I wouldn't vote for my momma."
Although his endorsement could stir up some disagreements among his congregants, Smith has a different objective in mind. His sermon was aimed at fighting an Internal Revenue Service policy that bans charities and churches from taking part in political campaigns.
Smith said he intends to send the IRS a recording of the sermon in hopes of sparking an investigation that would lead courts to do away with restrictions on church involvement in politics.
Defying the IRS
In 1954, Congress modified the tax code to state that certain nonprofit groups, including secular charities and places of worship, can lose their tax-exempt status for intervening in political campaigns.
Smith was one of 33 pastors who had planned to use their pulpits to endorse political candidates -- an effort orchestrated by the legal defense group, the Alliance Defense Fund. ADF hopes to lure the IRS into a legal battle over the federal law.
"For the last 54 years, the tax restrictions have been used to silence and intimidate churches on those issues," said Erik Stanley, a senior attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund.
"(The legal battle is) designed to restore the right of pastors to freely speak from the pulpit on Scriptural issues related to candidates and elections, without government censorship or control," Stanley explained.
And pastors like Smith agree that it's necessary to share what they've found in their examination of political candidates.
"In my investigation of the candidates, neither one of them meets the biblical standard 100 percent," Smith said in the sermon sent to the IRS.
"But only one of them has the basic understanding of when life begins. Only that one can be trusted to ensure that life does not end prematurely," he added.
IRS spokeswoman Nancy Mathis would not comment on Smith's sermon but said the agency would monitor any allegations of political activity by churches.
Sources: The Associated Press, The Alliance Defense Fund, CBN News