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Constantine the Great


Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

The other day an Indiana pastor named Ron Johnson told Politico, “When you find leaders promoting policies that in go in direct opposition to God’s law, that’s where it’s the job of the Church to speak out.”

Fine. I have no principled objection to preachers of any persuasion opposing or endorsing candidates for public office. This is America, and under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, religious leaders should be able to say who they’re voting for and encourage others to do likewise.

The question is whether, when a preacher electioneers from the pulpit, that House of God has a right to keep its tax exemption.

Tax exemptions for religion go back to the Roman emperor Constantine, a Christian convert who around the year 320 handed down a law saying that clergy and their families didn’t have to pay taxes in order to enhance church attendance and because the money they made would be used to help the poor — pauperibus profuturos. (Note to Vatican Synod on the Family: Fourth-century Christian clergy were assumed to be married and have children.)

Ever since, Western civilization has followed Constantine’s lead.

So where does the limit on politics come from? A 1954 law known as the Johnson Amendment (after its sponsor, then Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas), which prohibits all non-profits from involving themselves directly or indirectly in political campaigns. To date, the Supreme Court has not found this to be a violation of the free exercise right of those non-profits that happen to be religious.

One of these days, of course, the Court could do so. That’s what the folks supporting Pulpit Freedom Sunday would like. Theirs is a litigation strategy intended to goad the IRS into lifting the tax exemption of a politicking pulpiteer’s church and creating a legal case. Thus far, the IRS has declined to take the bait, allowing preachers to electioneer pretty much at will.

For my part, I’m thinking about Constantine’s precedent. He gave Christian clergy tax exemptions because he wanted the churches to be filled and the poor to be taken care of. The liberty to politick had nothing to do with it.

  • wesmorgan1

    Are you asking the proper question?

    You wrote, “The question is whether, when a preacher electioneers from the pulpit, that House of God has a right to keep its tax exemption.” I would suggest that the more important question is “is it theologically or doctrinally appropriate for pastors/churches to engage in secular political activities?”

    In some cases, I do not believe that such a doctrinal imperative exists. The Politico article to which you linked mentioned several Southern Baptists churches/pastors – but the Southern Baptist statement of faith, “The Baptist Faith and Message”, specifically states both:

    “The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.”


    “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”

    I have yet to hear any Southern Baptist theologian explain how secular politicking from the pulpit squares with those two tenets of our faith. For that matter, I have yet to hear ANYONE give a sound Biblical defense of such politicking.

    In closing, consider that the Bible teaches that many expected a political Messiah – but we got something entirely different, didn’t we? Anyone wishing to argue for “political pulpits” is arguing against the example of Christ…aren’t they?

  • Joan

    Please keep religion out of politics. Putting the two together is kind of like combining snake oil with vinegar. Both the components are slippery and the result would have an unpleasant odor, but at least vinegar has some good uses when it isn’t contaminated.

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  • Larry

    If your organization wants to act like a Political Action Commitee, it shoud e treated as one. Which meas adhering to the rules that apply to them. Using churches for political ends is a subversion of both. You end up with tax free entities funneling money towards political representation they are not entitled to plus you cheapen religious faith into political partisan nonsense.

    There is nothing more tasteless and anti democratic than saying “God wants X for governor”. It reduces religious belief into petty tribalism.

  • rob

    MARK SILK .. its not the governments business to discipline the church!

    ! unless of course you want to see the church discipline the government..

    separation of church and state remember practice what you preach!

  • rob

    THOSE WHO WANT TO SEE the government discipline the church when it steps out of bounds better understand than the church has the right to discipline the government when it steps out of bounds ..

    since the Christian church’s laws were way way before this government .. THE CHURCH’S law’s would take precedence..

    and it should then have the right by the DEADLY force of its 2 billion members to discipline the united states government ..



  • rob

    @ larry JUST MORE bla bla bla bla bla from you
    the Atheist
    Christians don’t care what you think democracy should be like .if we decisions up to Atheists like you this country would not have lasted 2 years.

  • samuel Johnston

    Constantine was no holy man. He merely allied himself with the Church to destroy their mutual competitors. Before the end of the Fourth Century, it was illegal for a Roman citizen to practice any other religion, including the religions traditionally championed by the Roman state (Judaism, being linked to Christianity, was a special case). Other religions were systematically destroyed by officially sanctioned violence, aided by edicts.
    “….because the money they made would be used to help the poor.” Yea, just like today, the clergy lived frugally and spent all their income on the poor – right!

  • No, he wasn’t a holy man but allying himself with the church in the wake of the persecution of Diocletian was complex. More to the point, while he favored the Christians (and he and his family were of the Arian variety), he presided over a regime of religious tolerance. He was long gone when imperial policy banned the practice of paganism and most other religions (not Judaism).

  • samuel Johnston

    “In various cities, the entrances to their temples were left open to the weather, being stripped of their doors at his (Constantine’s ) command; the tiling of others was removed and their roofs thus destroyed. From others again the the aged bronze statues….were exposed to public view in public places in Constantinople..
    bronzes…which the victims of superstition had long honored as gods ……their own emperor held up the very objects of their worship to ridicule and scorn…..the inmost shrines of temples were trapped under the soldiers feet….”
    Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea 260/265 – 339/340 AD

  • samuel Johnston

    “Christians don’t care what you think”
    Christian fundamentalists are authoritarians, not democrats.
    The Bible contains no reference to the latter, but is packed with examples of the former.

  • Larry

    Christians don’t care what anyone thinks. That is why they are some of the rudest, most offensive and anti-democratic types around.

    Our country was founded and lives by the principles of never being compelled to give a crap what people think about God or religion. A nation which asked the question, “If a nation is under God, whose God is it?”

  • Larry

    “since the Christian church’s laws were way way before this government .. THE CHURCH’S law’s would take ”

    Which Christian church are you talking about? Our founders could never answer that question. That is why they said, “none of the above”.

    “and it should then have the right by the DEADLY force of its 2 billion members to discipline the united states government ”

    “Might makes right” dispels any notion that you have a moral position. Its the kind of view that people in the Taliban or ISIS typically take.

  • Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski

    The simple answer is to do what has been done for decades, inform your congregants what the church’s doctrine is on certain matters, and inform where the candidates positions are, and allow the congregants to make inferences on their own.

    Another possibility is to have a separate PAC from the community but separate from the church, which is a practice in some religious communities. Any publications would not come from the Church but from the community PAC, which is treated as a PAC tax-wise, and is usually a relatively small operation.

  • Larry

    “separation of church and state remember practice what you preach!”

    “since the Christian church’s laws were way way before this government .. THE CHURCH’S law’s would take precedence.”

    Cognitive dissonance in its purest form.

  • Eusebius’ Life, a panegyric written by a Christian bishop, has to be taken with more than one grain of salt.

  • It’s quite simple. When you take the emperor’s coin, you’re the emperor’s employee. The emperor can tell you how to do your job. If you want full freedom, don’t take the coin. The emperor will still squash you, but at least you’ll have a moral basis to squeal while you’re being squashed.

  • S. Keegan

    There is no realm of political discussion which is devoid of spiritual significance, and it is therefore well within the rights of a religious minister to endorse or condemn specific policies and worldviews as being contrary to the tenets of that religion’s teachings, including the parties and politicians which support those policies.

  • Jim Shorts


    What does that even mean? If it’s not the government’s business to decide if they are text exempt or not because that violates the separation of church and state, what gives any church the right to try to tell their flock that they should vote for such and such candidate when he is supposed to be teaching about God’s Kingdom. If anything these churches are violating the separation of church and state by actively involving themselves with politics.

    It’s no wonder that God’s inspired word has this to say: “man has dominated man to his harm” (Eccl 8:9) If God supported a particular political party, why would he say that his kingdom will “crush and put an end to ALL of these other kingdoms?” (Daniel 2:44)

    If you want to be a true Christian, shouldn’t you be supporting God’s Kingdom instead of a Kingdom that he is going to destroy? A little food for though…

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Mark,
    Why certainly he is not unbiased: “which the victims of superstition had long honored as gods”. We could swap ancient and modern authorities till the cows come home, I simply contest the notion that “he presided over a regime of religious tolerance.” Christians are not, nor have they ever been tolerant in the modern sense of the word. Like the Jews, they claim all other gods are false. Christians are imperialistic as well as evangelistic.

  • The regime I referred to is the Edict of Milan (313), which state toleration in pretty darn modern terms. It was not until the 380s (See the Altar of Victor controversy) that emperors officially began bringing the hammer down on non-Christian religious practices. Here’s how the Edict of Milan begins:

    “When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus d fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought -, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases ; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.”

  • samuel Johnston

    Yes, but appealing to the all powerful usurper for the enforcement of a mere document of convenience, would be like appealing to Stalin for enforcement of the Soviet Union’s Constitution. A decade later (320-30) Constantine was in no mood to brook any opposition, especially from the Romans. He definitely looted their temples, treasury, and public works, much like Hitler looted Europe. He then tried to take Christianity in hand at the Council of Nicaea (325) (with mixed results). No ambitious Roman could mistake his bias.

  • Larry

    That’s nice, but nobody says you have to do it on a tax free basis. Using a church’s tax exemption as leverage when engaging in electioneering is an abuse of the status.

    When clergy start acting like politicians, they have to be treated like politicians.

  • S. Keegan

    Clergy are not acting like politicians; part of their care for their flock’s spiritual well-being includes providing instruction on matters of faith which also intersect with political issues. In addressing these, the clergy are acting properly in their roles as religious ministers. For the government to threaten their tax-exempt status because the establishment dislikes the political ramifications of religious instruction is nothing more than a blatant attempt to censor free speech and curb freedom of religion.

  • samuel Johnston

    “There is no realm of political discussion which is devoid of spiritual significance”
    This is the religious version of the butterfly effect. In any case, it is extreme. Any religious community must accept that they are only a small part of the body politic. No right is absolute, not free speech, not the right to bear arms. It is always a matter of context.
    A tax waiver is a privilege, (a concession) granted by the government, not a constitutional right. Bing a libertarian myself, I oppose all such discriminations.

  • S. Keegan

    “No right is absolute…” As always the rallying cry of those looking to infringe upon someone’s rights to their own benefit.
    And any libertarian worthy of the name would be ashamed to publicly oppose any tax waiver.

  • samuel Johnston

    Your waiver increases another’s tax bill. Seems pretty Libertarian to me to oppose all waivers for special interests

  • Chaplain Martin

    S. Keegan,
    Please realize that ordained ministers are not exempt from paying taxes.
    Yes, there is the matter of a housing allowance which under proper documentation can be exempt from income taxes. A big however, an ordained minister must pay the entire Social Security Tax on his/her salary and the worth of the housing allowance, it cannot be paid by the church. A secular business their require percentage which greatly reduces the percentage paid by there employees.

  • S. Keegan

    No, tax men increase others’ tax bills. The waivers given to the clergy reduce the taxes taken in – that is, reduce the illegitimate confiscation of property by the government.
    It takes a special kind of verbal yoga to justify blaming those who have been spared from injustice for the injustice perpetrated upon others by their oppressors. It is the antithesis of the libertarian stance.

  • samuel Johnston

    C. Martin,
    We lawyers, and other self employed professionals, also pay both halves. The numbers look like this: 13% Social Security, 14/28%, Fed tax on income, 5% State income tax, plus license fees, and misc. local taxes, annual city assessments on office equipment and fixtures (no joke!), so the tax rate starts at 1/3 and rapidly escalates to 46% and realistically can be estimated at about half of taxable income. That is why we are always looking for deductions. It really just makes schemers of us all. Not a healthy system promoting patriotism in my view.

  • Larry

    Endorsing political candidates and political parties is by its very nature acting like politicians. You can use as many flowery religious euphemisms you want. But at the end of the day when a clergy member tells their flock, “Vote for …”, they have become politicians. Calling that “religious instruction” is dishonest and abusive of the influence of the church. When they have entangled themselves in the political process and must follow the rules that entails.

  • Larry

    The tax exemption is also to keep religion from being entangled with government. The separation of church and state works in both directions.

    Taxation requires representation. An entity which is not taxed does not have the same level of importance to the political process than one which does.

  • wesmorgan1

    Rob, you need to read your history – and our Constitution. I’m a Christian–an ordained Southern Baptist, in fact–and I’ll be the first to say that the Founders envisioned a purely secular government.

    There are only 3 mentions of God or religion in the Constitution. One is purely ceremonial–the use of “the year of our Lord” in the document’s closing–and the other is in Article VI, where they explicitly prohibit the use of religious tests for “offices of trust” (which covers everything from the Presidency to military officers and their counterparts at state and local levels; basically, if you swear an oath or make an affirmation, it’s an “office of trust.”). Well, that wasn’t enough for the colonists, who basically demanded the Bill of Rights…and the very first item in the Bill of Rights says that the government cannot use laws to establish a religion or to prohibit its free exercise among the people.

    Now, if the Founders wanted a “Christian nation” (as so many folks today seem to insist they did), why did they go so far in the OPPOSITE direction when writing/ratifying the Constitution and Bill of Rights? Seriously, they could have pushed through anything they wanted – they were starting from scratch, right? – but they specifically chose to limit the intersection of religion and government.

    That should tell us something, whether we be atheists or believers.

    I’d also appreciate your thoughts on the questions I asked in my original comment – by what BIBLICAL mandate can one stake a claim for the integration of religion and government (or, as they say, church and state)?

    A very wise Baptist preacher once spoke from our pulpit and said, “I support the separation of Church and State, because anything else corrupts the Church and weakens the State.” I find myself in greater agreement with him every day.

  • wesmorgan1

    “Clergy are not acting like politicians; part of their care for their flock’s spiritual well-being includes providing instruction on matters of faith which also intersect with political issues.”

    Hmm…that explains why Christ was so involved in the politics of His day…oh, wait, what? He said what? “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”? He really made them separate like that?

    Oh, well, I’ll be that Paul set things straight when he wrote to teach the early churches…eh? What’s that? “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God”? He WROTE that?! But….he was writing about Roman DICTATORSHIP…he COULDN’T have meant that Rome’s rule was ordained of God! Really?

    Yeah, OK, I’m being sarcastic, but I just don’t see a Biblical mandate for integrating Church and State. I believe that God wants us to vote–we are called to support our governments, as Paul noted–but I’m pretty certain that He doesn’t have a registration card from any particular party. I don’t need a preacher to tell me that God wants me to vote for any particular candidate.


    Is Pope Francis the vicar of Christ? The Roman Catholic Church teaches that to be true. A vicar is someone acting in the place of another.

    Catholic doctrine says the pope is the chief shepherd of the church of Christ.

    The Roman Catholic Church claims that the pope is the head of the church of Christ on earth.

    What does the Bible say?

    1. Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (NKJV)

    Jesus has all authority.

    2. Colossians 1:13-13 …the kingdom of the Son of His love,…..18 And He is the head of the body, the church…(NKJV)

    Jesus is the head of the church.

    3. 1 Peter 5:4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (NKJV)

    Jesus is the Chief Shepherd.


    “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists? Even the atheist. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently. little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe , Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”

    What does the Bible say about unrepentant atheists? 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, (NKJV)

    Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (NKJV)[Jesus understands His gospel.]

    Obeying the gospel is simply believing and being immersed in water. You must know God and obey the gospel of Christ.

    Good works cannot saved anyone, including atheists.

    Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.(NKJV)

    Salvation is a free gift of God. No good works are required. Obey the gospel of Christ by believing and being immersed in water (baptized) obtains that free gift.

    No man can take the place of Jesus Christ on earth or in heaven.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com