Freedom of Preach

It was a small group, but they made a big noise.

The last Sunday in September was dubbed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" by the Alliance Defense Fund. Thirty-three pastors around the country took part in the event, in which each of them preached a sermon specifically about the presidential election, and each took a stand on a candidate. ADF has promised to provide legal representation for any of the churches that become targets of an IRS investigation.

At the heart of the matter is the provision in the tax code that states that non-profit groups who claim tax-exemption may not engage in activities that directly endorse a political candidate. What few people don't know, is that this little rule came about not because the Framers of the Constitution wrote it, but because in 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Baines (Don't mess with Texas!) Johnson pulled some political strings to keep some non-profit groups from criticizing him. Like many things governmental, this little rule grew out of control. The Johnson Amendment was passed by the Potomac Old Boy's Club without debate or study.

Let's be clear - churches are not tax-exempt because of some grace by the IRS or the Congress. They are tax-exempt because the government has no constitutional authority to tax them in the first place. However, the government's pockets are deep, and their reach is long, and many churches simply do not have the resources to fight off an unconstitutional attack by the IRS. So for the most part, pastors keep their heads down, their opinions to themselves, and pick other battles. Meanwhile, millions of the faithful of all denominations go into the polls without any kind of spiritual guidance on the issues.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying every pastor should get up on a Sunday morning and say "Vote for my guy or else!" Not by a long shot. Many pastors feel in their hearts that a political election has no place in their pulpits, for reasons that have nothing to do with tax-exempt status. And that's a fine thing. But there are many prechers who, given leave to, would like to go one by one through the issues, reflect on them from a Scriptural point of view, and point out where each candidate stands on those issues.

There are issues that have deep meaning to Christians in this election. Abortion is at the top of that list. So is defense of marriage. Each of the major candidates have taken a stand on those issues - do not our shepherds have the right to make sure the faithful at least understand the issues? Shouldn't they be able to point out that a certain candidate stands for the same things they do?
I like Roy Donkin. (One reason is that he hasn't blocked me from commenting on his blog yet.) Roy and I see eye to eye on almost nothing but Christ. But he did say something I agree with: that the state cannot (and should not) act in the name of Christ. He's right. The state has no business doing that. But, (and here's where we diverge) elections are people acting individually. There is nothing wrong with a pastor telling his flock what the scriptural points of an issue are, and pointing out action that is in accordance with that, if he so chooses.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of these thirty-three churches. I'm not sure that the IRS can afford not to act, if for no other reason than (as Voltaire put it) "...pour encourager les autres." If the IRS does not act, they may feel they will lose the ability to act. But we must be sure on this: the government, no mater how noble the supposed cause, cannot be allowed to dictate what comes from the pulpit. For those who would argue otherwise, I will leave you with the words of the United States Supreme Court, from a 1943 descision, written by the great Justice Robert Jackson:

"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. ”


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