Not long after then-President George W. Bush launched his invasion of Iraq, an associate priest at the Episcopal church I attend in Carmichael delivered a passionate anti-war sermon in which he compared Bush to Saddam Hussein.
There was an audible gasp in the congregation, but the priest was much beloved and well known as an outspoken peace activist, and, to the church's credit, no one in that mixed congregation and by mixed I mean Democrats and Republicans left in protest.
Even so, the priest felt a bit guilty and asked me later if I thought he had gone too far. "Yes, Jim, I think you did."
Mixing politics with religion from the pulpit is a tricky business, especially when it spills over to outright endorsement of, or opposition to, a particular candidate, as we saw in the November election.
Now, freedom-from-religion groups are pushing the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on churches that practice political advocacy, on the grounds that the federal tax code granting them tax-exempt status does not permit involvement in political campaigns or favoring or opposing candidates for political office.
Not since John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 has religion intruded into politics to the extent that it did this year, with evangelicals and others on the Christian right openly embracing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan.
One minister of a Baptist church in Southern California, for instance, flatly told his congregants: "Don't vote for that man (Barack Obama). He is not for you."
Others are openly thumbing their noses at the IRS in hopes of provoking a court case that would unleash them to say whatever they want about candidates without fear of retribution.
The San Francisco Chronicle quoted the Rev. Chris Clark, minister of a Southern Baptist church in San Diego, as saying that "you're going to see a lot more boldness from the pulpit."
Before the religious right fell in line behind Romney, an evangelical minister in Texas took exception to the candidate's Mormon faith, calling Mormonism a cult and declaring that Romney was "not a born-again follower of Christ."
It soon became obvious; however, that the evangelical obsession with banning abortion and gay marriage, and taking the White House back from the nation's first black president, trumped any fear of undue Mormon influence over government policy.
The irony is that in Kennedy's 1960 race, those same evangelicals, or their descendents, adamantly opposed his candidacy out of a deep-rooted prejudice against Catholics and a fear of undue Catholic influence on the White House.
But the hubbub that has resulted from the evangelical involvement in the Romney race conveniently overlooks the fact that both sides pitch to religious groups and seek ministerial blessings, and they have been doing it for years, in ways both subtle and overt.
A postelection study by the Pew Research Center in Washington found that basic religious contours of the 2012 electorate resembled recent elections. Traditionally Republican groups such as white evangelicals and regular churchgoers voted for Romney, while traditionally Democratic groups such as black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated backed Obama.
Pew also found in an October poll that advocating a political point of view from the pulpit was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
I've sat through more sermons at African American churches than I can count while Democratic candidates I was covering made obligatory visits and won favorable comments from the preachers. Meanwhile, those same Democrats would complain bitterly about conservative televangelists such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell interjecting politics into their sermons.
Hypocrisy, religious and otherwise, has never been a stranger to campaigns or the exclusive province of one party or the other.
Robertson even had a brief fling at a presidential candidacy in 1988 by delivering a message that God wanted him to run and saying he would restore "the greatness of America through moral strength."
Historically, the IRS has been reluctant to tamper with churches, even those as politically outrageous as Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. Only once has the agency stripped a church of its tax-exempt status, and that was in 1992, when a church in Binghamton, N.Y., ran full-page newspaper ads opposing Bill Clinton.
My guess is that most people attend church services for spiritual comfort and to escape their daily grinds, and that includes escape from politics. They may appreciate topical sermons that touch on current events, as I do, but object to outright political advocacy.
That, of course, assumes congregations that are diverse enough and mature enough to have people of differing views sharing the same pews. In the case of the most rabid fundamentalists and others on the religious right, that most likely is not the case.