Senior Pastor Bob Merritt at the Lino Lakes campus of Eagle Brook Church near St. Paul, Minn., in 2012. Photo courtesy Eagle Brook Church

Politicize our charities and churches? No, thanks

WASHINGTON (RNS) America’s charities, including houses of worship, receive special tax treatment, given their unique and historical role in our society to serve the public interest.

In return for that most-favored tax status, all 501(c)(3) organizations must follow certain rules. Among them, nonprofits are prohibited from engaging in partisan campaigns. President Trump’s pledge to “get rid of and totally destroy” this rule attacks the integrity of both our charitable groups and campaign finance system, with potential for great harm for houses of worship.

Changing the law is not about protecting free speech.


ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW: Free pastors from the Johnson Amendment


Preachers can and do speak out, including from the pulpit, on any issue, and houses of worship may advocate for moral and ethical positions. Pastors and other church leaders, as individuals, can participate in the electoral process as much as they wish, as long as tax-exempt church resources are not used and it is clear the pastor is acting in his individual capacity. And, if a church really wants to wade into the political morass by intervening in an election, it can give up its charitable tax designation.

But beware, for as soon as the church joins at the hip with a particular candidate or party, its prophetic witness — its ability to speak truth to power and not risk being co-opted by the government — is hindered. The credibility and integrity of congregations would suffer with bad decisions of candidates they endorsed.

Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research.

Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

There has been no outcry from the grass roots for a change in the law. To the contrary, overwhelming majorities of Americans are opposed to pastors endorsing or opposing candidates from pulpits. In a survey released by the evangelical LifeWay Research last year, 8 in 10 people said it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church. Clergy members as a group are even more against the idea, with nearly 9 in 10 opposed when LifeWay Research asked previously.

Why is this idea so unpopular? Inviting churches to intervene in campaigns with tax-deductible offerings would fundamentally change our houses of worship. There is no incentive for a pastor to alienate any of her parishioners with candidate endorsements. For people in the pews, their reasons for going to church most likely do not include the need to hear another political campaign ad.

Churches are not immune to the well-documented trend of self-sorting over political views, but turning churches into arms of a political party — having a “First Democratic Baptist Church” and a “First Republican Baptist Church” — would have a detrimental impact on our houses of worship and civil discourse.

It is not yet clear how President Trump plans to eviscerate this protection in the law. Presumably, he will need to rely on Congress. One bill recently introduced would not “totally destroy” the statute but change it in troubling ways, permitting charitable organizations to campaign in the ordinary course of activities and in furtherance of their purpose if incurring minimal costs. For those concerned with government regulation, these standards should raise red flags — they invite IRS scrutiny to determine whether the speech is in line with a group’s purpose and to examine financial accounts to calculate a percentage of funds spent on politics.

The church has proved itself to be an agent of change without acting like a PAC. During debate in the House of Representatives on this issue nearly 15 years ago, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia — who stood alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement — gave a powerful testimony. “The church was the heart and soul of our efforts because ministers had the moral authority and respect to stand against immoral and indefensible laws,” he said. “At no time did we envision or even contemplate the need for our houses of worship to become partisan pulpits.”

Politicizing churches is not a solution to a problem — it is a problem in search of a problem. Churches are not political committees, nor should they be.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

(Amanda Tyler is executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty)

Comments

  1. “There has been no outcry from the grass roots for a change in the law.
    To the contrary, overwhelming majorities of Americans are opposed to
    pastors endorsing or opposing candidates from pulpits. In a survey
    released by the evangelical LifeWay Research last year, 8 in 10 people
    said it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church.
    Clergy members as a group are even more against the idea, with nearly
    9 in 10 opposed when LifeWay Research asked previously.”

    You know the proposal is complete nonsense even among Evangelical Christians when a Lifeway Research survey finds most people reject the premise. Lifeway Research being a propaganda arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. So even the majority of the largest conservative christian sect/political action committee does not want to see churches turned into cheap PACs.

  2. “Politicize our charities and churches? No, thanks”

    Churches are supposed to propagandize virtue by explaining virtue’s requirements, and if a candidate for office violates the tenants for virtue, then the church has a duty to point fingers…

    “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. ” — Benjamin Franklin

    “The requirement for the existence of a civilized society is in nobility of actions towards others and oneself, not the craven impulses of animals. Anything less than reaching for greater heights in nobility of behavior sends humans on a downward spiral in the opposite direction towards barbarism due to the gravitational pull that the animal passions have on humans; the refusal to seek greater noble heights in human behavior is the expression of contempt for nobility, since a noble people have no choice in action but to climb to the next plane of noble behavior. Marxists naturally gloat when they witness the spiral depths of depravity they’ve set in motion in the West the last 168 years.” – Dean Michael Jackson (2016)

  3. Politically minded conservative Christians at this point can pretty much STFU about the moral qualities of political candidates at this point. They have thrown enthusiastic support of a political leader who has demonstrated nothing resembling moral fiber or values. All in exchange for political power. And guess what? They have always done this.

    We can cut the BS that churches are exercising moral and spiritual authority when they engage in electioneering.

    Any pretension that political choices are somehow based in morals and values is a long standing fiction. It is based on interests.

    If you want your church to act like a political action committee then it should be treated like one. All you do is cheapen the authority of your church and religion. Turning it into something far more petty than intended.

  4. “Politically minded conservative Christians at this point can pretty much
    STFU about the moral qualities of political candidates at this point.
    They have thrown enthusiastic support of a political leader who has
    demonstrated nothing resembling moral fiber or values. All in exchange
    for political power. And guess what? They have always done this.”

    You didn’t ‘get’ my comment! Trump, and the Republican leadership ranks, is Marxist, as of course are the Democratic leadership ranks: When did any political party in the West VERIFY the ‘collapse’ of the USSR, the West’s survival depending on verification should the ‘collapse’ be a ruse, and a ruse it was known to be where Moscow was lying about the ‘massive’ bleeding of Soviet Communist Party membership…

    “In 1990 membership was reported to have fallen by some 14 percent, with
    disillusionment with the results of the party Congress being a
    significant element here; in the Russian Republic, 1,280,000 were said
    to have left the party organization. According to a report from the CC
    Secretariat in May 1991, 1,800,000 people had left the party in 1990,
    whereas in the first quarter of 1991 587,000 had left. Even gloomier
    figures were given by Gorbachev at the July 1991 plenum: he said that
    the party had fallen by 4.2 million people in the eighteen months from
    the beginning of January 1990, a reduction of 21.8 percent.”

    In fact by the time of the ‘collapse’ of the USSR party membership had INCREASED to well over 20 million members, not declined to approximately 14,300,000 members, if we use Gorbachev’s lie.

    When did any denomination alert the globe to the Soviet ruse and the Marxist co-opted West’s enabling of the ruse? That informs us that denominations were long ago co-opted by Marxists, hence the moral decay of the West.

  5. “The church was the heart and soul of our efforts because ministers had the moral authority and respect to stand against immoral and indefensible laws,”

    How arrogant to make this claim of moral authority.

  6. “Marxists naturally gloat when they witness the spiral depths of depravity they’ve set in motion in the West the last 168 years.”
    King Leopold was a Marxist, obviously. How many Africans died because of his Marxist pursuit of cheap sugar and free money?
    Nazi Germany was Marxist, obviously. How many millions of people died– well were MURDERED– because of their Marxist pursuit of word domination?
    The US was Marxist, obviously, when it invaded Iraq under false pretenses. How many people died or were forced to flee their homes because of Marxism?
    Ted Haggard was clearly a Marxist, diddling Marxist prostitutes while inhaling Marxist meth.
    I have a suspicion that the Marx you are referring to is Groucho.

  7. Never! I go to church to worship God and at the same time denounce politics as a man-made denial of HIs holy omnipotent will. England’s Queen is head of their State and no one goes to church. I don’t blame them. The corruption of politics has no place in the holy place of worship. Politics, just as this suggestion states, is interpreted, “My will instead of God’s be done.” Instead of, “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Luke 11:2) No politician has ever taken that oath.

  8. “King Leopold was a Marxist, obviously. How many Africans died because of his Marxist pursuit of cheap sugar and free money?”

    What better way to sabotage the spread of Christianity in Africa, per Marx’s order to destroy religions? The supposedly ‘Catholic’ dominated civil government in Belgium did nothing, proving the co-option of the Vatican too. The Congo was truly a living Hell on Earth, which all but destroyed the ‘civilizing’ policy of the West.

    “Nazi Germany was Marxist, obviously. How many millions of people died–
    well were MURDERED– because of their Marxist pursuit of word
    domination?”

    One-third of SA and later Gestapo were ‘former’ Marxists…

    “Adolf Hitler himself was the first to admit that National Socialism and
    Communism had much in common. ‘There is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it,’ he once said in a revealing conversation, ‘There is, above all, revolutionary feeling…I have always made allowances for this circumstance, and given orders that former
    Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois
    Social Democrat and the trade-union boss will never be a National
    Socialist, but the Communist always will.’ Hitler, in this case at
    least, was true to his word. After he seized power, he saw to it that
    thousands of Communists were enrolled in the NSDAP. They were
    particularly effective in the Gestapo and in the SA, where they formed
    perhaps a third of the total membership. Indeed,
    there were so many of them that they were given a special name. They
    were known popularly as the “Beefsteak Nazi” – Brown on the outside, Red
    on the inside.”5

    During the course of World War II Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Chief of the Abwehr (German military intelligence), and General Reinhard Gehlen, Chief of the German General Staff’s intelligence unit for the Soviet Union and East European countries,Foreign Armies East (FHO), independently discovered that a group supervised by Deputy Führer Martin Bormann,6 second in command of Germany, was transmitting unsupervised coded radio messages to Moscow:

    “Our suspicions were largely confirmed when, independently of one another, we found out that Bormann and his group were operating an unsupervised radio transmitter network and using it to send coded messages to Moscow. WhenOKW monitors reported this, Canaris demanded an investigation; but wordcame back that Hitler himself had emphatically forbidden any intervention: he had been informed in advance by Bormann of these Funkspiele, or fake radio messages, he said, and he had approved them.”7

    The only way to ensure that fake radio messages were being sent to Moscow, and not the latest Wehrmacht movements in the Eastern theater of operations, is to have such radio messages supervised by intelligence officers vetted for counterintelligence operations. It’s one thing for Hitler to approve fake radio messages, but there’s no excuse to not have the fake radio messages supervised by experienced counterintelligence officers. To
    refuse to implement this critical standard operating supervisory
    procedure cries out treason, since even Bormann himself should have
    wanted to ensure none of his subordinates were transmitting sensitive
    information to Moscow. The fact that Hitler refused such elementary
    precautions informs us that Hitler & Company were Marxist agents,
    sabotaging the German war effort from Berlin. In fact, it was the winter
    of 1941-42 that Gehlen and fellow generals had assessed that the Soviet
    campaign was a hopeless enterprise “…not
    because it could not be militarily or politically won, but because of
    Hitler’s continued interference, which resulted in such elementary
    blunders that defeat was inevitable.”8

    Gehlen details Hitler’s sabotage of Germany’s Soviet campaign:

    (1) The General Staff wanted to concentrate resources on capturing Moscow, since Moscow was the Command & Control location for Soviet forces. Hitler insisted on dissipating the effort on three fronts.

    (2) The General Staff saw that the Soviets were going to entrap the Sixth
    Army at Stalingrad, and demanded a strategic withdrawal. Hitler vetoed
    this and 200,000 of Germany’s best troops were lost, including the loss
    of irreplaceable weaponry.

    (3) To replace these losses, the General Staff wanted to recruit millions
    of willing volunteers from anti-Communist ranks, i.e. Russians,
    Ukrainians, Lithuanians etc., “After twenty years of arbitrary injustice and terror, the reestablishment of elementary human rights such as the dignity of man, liberty, justice, and the sanctity of property united every inhabitant of the Soviet empire (insofar as he was not directly working for the Moscow system) in a common readiness to support the Germans. What could be more natural for us than to exploit this readiness?”9 Hitler’s
    policy of treating Slavs as sub-human sabotaged any meaningful attempt
    in turning captured Soviet soldiers into German allies.

    Both world wars severely weakened the security of the West by the deaths of non-Marxist military officers, who were replaced with Marxist officers.
    The Korean War continued this supplanting of Marxist officers for
    non-Marxist officers, and in the case of the United States was further
    exasperated by the Vietnam War, where over 50% of North Vietnamese
    soldiers (NVA) were Chinese PLA soldiers attired in NVA uniforms. As the globe turned ever redder after the November 1917 Marxist coup in Russia, the Marxist co-opted West naturally never liberated one Communist nation, and in early 1992 refused to perform a verification of the collapse of the USSR, thought the survival of the West depends on such verification.

    “The US was Marxist, obviously, when it invaded Iraq under false
    pretenses. How many people died or were forced to flee their homes
    because of Marxism?”

    When did the West VERIFY the ‘collapse’ of the USSR, the West’s survival depending on verification should the ‘collapse’ be a ruse, and a ruse it was known to be because contrary to the lies Moscow was putting out regarding the critical bleeding of Soviet Communist Party membership, party membership was actually INCREASING from 1985-1991, from 18.3 million to well over 20 million by December 26, 1991, the day the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union officially ‘dissolved’ the USSR.

  9. To TaylorDade: Thanks for your clear explanation of the need to keep our church life centered on spirituality and not adulterated by partisan politics. God is One Whole Entity, whereas politics is fractured into two and sometimes several pieces that exaggerate everything to the point of mendacity in the effort to highlight one position and obscure all the other.
    Christ had a great solution for us today: “Render unto Caesar the things that belongs to Caesar, and to God the things that belongs to God.”

  10. The amendment should be passed. Since when does the House of God need a politician to ‘ensure’ that we, the worshipers, will worship God without having a Godly input into the political life of our country?

  11. Perhaps if we truly believe in free speech, then churches and so forth should be able to make up their own minds.

    There are too many who wish to silence discourse, mostly coming from the left, but also from the right.

    Free speech baby. Its awesome.

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