In the last five years, a trend has risen of pastors deliberately poking the IRS bear. This trend began with Alliance Defending Freedom offering free legal aid to any church threatened by the IRS over their action, so more and more are taking ADF up on the offer. First, perhaps some background.
Going back to the 1950s, the law in the United States establishing income tax regulations and exemptions for non-profits has had a section, called the Johnson Amendment, that requires non-profits to avoid direct political participation. This was intended to prevent religious groups from using their tax-exempt status to politically fundraise without having to deal with election law. It was also authored by a Senator who had just barely won re-election and had been consistently called out for sinful and unethical behavior by churches and pastors in his home state. Lyndon Johnson, upon his return to the Senate, then made sure the tax laws prohibited churches and pastors from directly attacking him again.
Now it’s the established law. Oddly enough, the IRS has had more trouble from the atheist activist groups over non-enforcement of this on churches (and other religious groups) than the IRS has spent effort in enforcing it. That I am aware of, there has only been one application of the Johnson Amendment in recent years, and that was a one-year denial of tax-exemption for a church. It has been a paper tiger—atheist activists want it de-papered. They want churches investigated. Oddly enough, the ADF folks want the same thing.
Both groups want the IRS to come down on churches for political campaign involvement. Atheist groups want to make sure it stops, and the ADF wants a case they can take to the Supreme Court, believing that the IRS, and the Federal Government in general, has no grounds to muzzle the speech of churches and religious organizations. Their position is that a church (or religious group) is tax-exempt by nature and that the First Amendment protects our right to say whatever we want, so the Johnson Amendment needs to go.
The ADF just wants to find pastors who are willing to preach directly on politics and dare the IRS to sanction them. The IRS has not played ball for the past several years, simply letting it slip (apparently, they’ve been busy losing emails and audit-targeting conservatives) and hoping the issue goes away. Atheist activists have noticed, though, and have sued the IRS to force them to enforce the Johnson Amendment.
The IRS has promised to do more about enforcement, even allowing a few activist groups to give them information about where it needs enforced. I triple-dog-dare a few of them to make sure their list includes as many liberal non-churches and Muslim mosques as it does Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. I digress.
Enter the publicity for Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014, slated for October 5. And enter the question: “Doug, are you going to preach on politics this Sunday?” (Yes, real question from several real people.)
I preach on politics every Sunday.
Because I preach the Word of Almighty God. The Word of God transforms us, as Jesus works through His Word in the Bible to conform us. And that should have a major impact on our politics.
Now, am I dodging the question? Will I endorse a candidate from the pulpit?
I will not endorse a candidate while preaching a sermon. Not at all this year, and not likely ever.
I am vehemently pro-life. In fact, if you are reading this blog and considering an abortion, I urge you to reconsider. And to use the contact info to send me an email. We will rearrange this house and you can live with us until you have your child, and if you still don’t want that baby, we’ll take her/him and raise her/him as one of our own. And I preach that—and our church does what we can through groups like the Hope Women’s Center to help out.
I am strongly pro-freedom, including the right to be prepared to defend freedom from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have preached before on the need for righteous treatment of the stranger and alien (one comes from other countries..the other comes from ? ) I have preached and will preach on dozens of other issues.
But to pick a candidate? Let’s examine that:
For Governor of Arkansas, we have the choice between Mike Ross, career politician (by now, honestly) and Asa Hutchinson, career politician. Both have records that include good votes and bad votes, party-line behavior and independent-minded behavior. Because Governor Mike Beebe has behaved in this campaign as if he has the right to anoint Mike Ross his successor, I find Hutchinson less onerous than Ross. As much as a stick in the eye to the sitting politician who thinks dynastically as any other reason.
For Senator from Arkansas, we have the choice between Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton. One has a long record, filled with cronyism and party adherence. The other has a short record that he hasn’t had time to fill with cronyism. Cotton I find less onerous because he’s not the incumbent—and Pryor’s votes to confirm certain people have been pretty awful.
Should I take the message time of a worship gathering of God’s people and proclaim that “Thus sayeth the Lord: vote for this guy who is less onerous than the other one.” ?
I think not. I am not afraid to tell you here who I will vote for, and may develop other reasons to explain them. (Who isn’t my point here.) I am not afraid to say in discussions around church my political leanings.
But the pulpit?
You see, I do not believe I have freedom from the pulpit to proclaim that God has commanded certain candidates. It is not the IRS that I fear when I step up there—I’ll gladly point out that taxation through confusion and compulsion is wicked—it is the Lord God Almighty.
Should I take the opportunity, rare that it is, to speak to the flock about the Word of God and give them something that is not there? True, the fact that many Christians give 1/336 of their week to learning the Word of God is a major discipleship problem, but will I solve that by endorsing Leslie Rutledge for Attorney General of Arkansas?
Will I address someone’s greedy by endorsing a candidate or proclaiming what the Word of the Lord says about wealth? Should I preach for a legal minimum wage hike or for the employers in my hearing to do righteously for their workers because it is right in the eyes of the Lord?
Will I fix broken homes by endorsing candidates? Stop drug problems by recommending legislation?
I believe that the Word of God is the right solution—not the platforms of either major party in this country.
My freedom to preach is limited, but not by the IRS. It is limited to preaching those plain truths of the Word of God, to working to make disciples. Do I think that being a disciple informs how we vote?
Absolutely. But woe be unto me if I tell someone that voting for a candidate makes them a disciple.
For I am constrained to proclaim the Word of God from the pulpit.
I have that freedom in this nation by the grace of God and the sacrifices of millions, and I will not disgrace either by using it for anything less than proclaiming God’s glorious truth.