On Electioneering With Satan’s Name

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Bill Keller is a publicity-savvy televangelist with a penchant for politics who works out of the back room of a used car lot. Last year, he caused some controversy by announcing that “A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan” on his nationwide email list, called LivePrayer.com, which has more than two million recipients. His claim was based on a rather narrow reading of the requirements for Christian salvation, which excludes members of Romney’s Mormon faith. More recently, Keller has been targeting Barack Obama, whom he similarly claims is not a true Christian. (Keller’s critique focuses on Obama’s rather mainstream contention that there are “many paths” to salvation. Keller, who represents a minority view even among evangelicals, believes in only a single path, which requires rather specific views on gay marriage, abortion, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other things.)

So why bring up Keller’s rather obscure ministry, or his relatively fringe views? Is it because James Dobson, the much more influential conservative Christian leader, recently leaked a statement critiquing Obama’s faith views to the Associated Press, yielding a big ‘ol Drudge headline? Nope.

It’s because the New York Times is reporting that Keller has said he is under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for possibly violating his non-profit tax status by advocating the election or defeat of a political candidate. Keller maintains that he is just sharing the gospel, and would never advocate the election or defeat of a candidate. But his rather blunt style would make quite a show if the charges ever come down. The question before the court: Is it electioneering if a pastor preaches that a politician is working on the side of Satan?