Sunday, October 02, 2011

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

I heard on the radio that today is "Pulpit Freedom Sunday". I looked it up, and this is part of the Alliance Defense Fund's Pulpit Initiative started in 2008. Its stated goal is the repeal of the 1954 "Johnson amendment" to the tax code. Johnson was a crafty fellow who snuck this in to keep certain charitable organizations from supporting his opponent. The idea behind the amendment is that organizations granted tax exemption should not intervene in political campaigns: "all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." This applies to all 501(c)(3) organizations, whether or not they are churches.

The "Johnson amendment" is supported by organizations such as the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who in turn oppose "Pulpit Freedom Sunday".

The ADF hopes that by pastors violating the tax code, it will lead to a lawsuit/lawsuits which we eventually overturn the "Johnson amendment" as unconstitutional. Interestingly, the group supporting preachers not being told by the government what to preach tells preachers what to preach on "Pulpit Freedom Sunday"! This is, of course, necessary for them to get in a proper violation in order to get sued. On the other hand, Americans United for the Separation of Church & State are trolling for violations so they can report to the IRS and get those perpetrators' tax exemptions revoked. Yes, they apparently "think a lot" of each church's religious freedoms!?

The way I see it, there is a lot of misinformation all around. First, some churches and preachers have misunderstood that the discussion of moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality are prohibited. Thus far, the violation of this tax code has only been applied to indorsing candidates and parties, and not to taking sides on moral issues. Herein is the rub. Some churches believe that taking a stand against a certain candidate IS a moral issue.

Two things I see:

1. The legal side. Freedom of speech is clearly constitutional. But is it a constitutional freedom to be exempt from taxes? I'm no constitutional scholar and can't answer that question. Apparently for the first 175 years or so, our country thought it was or had not thought about it at all. In 1954 that changed, largely due to a clever politician. My take is that any preacher and church who feels strongly enough about this should do what they feel is right, and if they lose the tax exemption do what they believe is right regardless.

2. The biblical side. What are we called to do? Are we called to preach the gospel or get into politics? Will politics and government change our world for the better, or will Jesus Christ, the gospel and the Word of God? We are called to preach -- which includes moral issues -- but often we exchange our birthright of preaching for a mess of political porridge.

From the legal/constitutional angle, I favor preachers and churches being free from the tax code and free to preach what they believe, even where it intersects politics and even where I disagree with them.

From the biblical angle, we have plenty to preach and teach from the Word of God to keep us busy for the rest of lives without entering the political arena of parties and candidates. If we faithfully preach this we will have touched on every angle of every issue, for the Word of God throughly furnishes us unto all good works.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I have to agree with this view of yours. I think too many preachers took politics into the pulpit and we are all suffering as a result. When John the Baptist told Herod he was sinning, it had nothing to do with politics even though Herod was a political figure.Folks ought to remember that. However, the leftists will ALWAYS mix politics and preaching because they are Marxists at heart. To them the pulpit is a soap box and nothing more.