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Preachers Challenge IRS by Endorsing Candidates

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, September 29, 2008

Yesterday, preachers throughout the country specifically endorsed candidates for President, thus challenging the IRS ruling that prohibits churches from such endorsements if they want to preserve their nonprofit status. (See, for example, this article from the Los Angeles Times.) The preachers were participating in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” which was initiated by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group based in Arizona.

I have many concerns about this effort, some of which I have already written about in this blog. If you’re interested, you can check out my series on Churches, Elections, and the IRS. The most pertinent material begins with Part 7 of the series, “On Preachers and Politics, Section 1.”

In a few days I’ll have more to say about preachers endorsing candidates. But first, I must finish up my seemingly interminable series on the PC(USA).

Topics: Church Life |

13 Responses to “Preachers Challenge IRS by Endorsing Candidates”

  1. J. Falconer Says:
    September 29th, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Rev. Mark Roberts, Thanks for the interesting highlight concerning national politics. Also, thank you so much for continuing your pc series. These issues affect a lot of people in sometimes trying and/or challenging times. Keep up the great work!! Another, Thanks from all your readers!

  2. Evan Says:
    September 29th, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    This is a fight that ought not to need to be made, but I can understand the motivation for picking the fight.

    It seems to me that there are ways of communicating the Biblical truths to a congregation that would be pertinent to an election and making informational voter guides available with the candidates’ positions, which does not require overt endorsement, but that has come under attack as well. I would prefer not to see “Vote For Candidate X” pronounced from the pulpit.

    There is no doubt religous speech is often suppressed, which is simply wrong since Free Exercise of Religion is the very first right guaranteed in the First Amendment. But it is constantly under attack.

    The rules are skewed against the authentic Christians who speak in public. “Neutrality” now means forbidding any mention of God in public. This is seen as “fair,” as opposed to “promoting atheism.”

    “Free Speech” now means dropping the F-bomb, nude dancing and flag burning, because Free Speech is the most precious right we have. So say what you want in public, unless it is a prayer, which is ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN. And don’t be mentioning Jesus, unless it is in an unflattering or blasphemous light, ie, “Of course everyone knows that Jesus was a transvestite,” in which case it is then precious “Free Speech” and thus okay.

    The Postmodern Courts have set the rules, and I can see why some folks have decided to challenge them. I am not optimistic about the results.

  3. ZZMike Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’m in Southern California, so it’s no surprise that Mr Drake is looking for votes.

    I don’t know the background of tying tax exemption to avoiding political involvement. Can you give a short summary?

    It seems to me, though, that churches have traded their right to politicize, for an exemption from taxation.

    This certainly lets large mega-churches like Trinity build multi-million dollar campuses, buy television networks, &c. It also lets the impostors in - L. Ron Hubbard told an early gathering that if you want to make real money, start a church.

    Is the idea of trading taxes for politicizing a fair one? Is it comparing apples to apples?

    It seems a simple matter to say that churches are now free to campaign for any ballot item, but they are now in the same tax camp as everyone else. Revenue - expenses = taxable income.

    Then there’s the larger question of how much involvement in secular affairs is proper for churches. Some would argue, “a lot”; others would say, “none”. Some would say, “we bring you to Christ, then you have to use your understanding of the Gospel to affect your votes. Others would say, “here’s how Jesus would vote, now go do the same”. That view often comes from communities who seek to impose their own social agendas on the rest of us.

  4. Don Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    ZZMike, you have hit the issue on the nose. This has nothing to do with the free speech of churches. It has everything to do with tax laws and nonprofit organizations. The IRS must prohibit all nonprofits–whether churches or otherwise–from making political statements, lest every lobbying organization in the coutry reorganize to become a tax-exempt nonprofit. If the IRS changed its rules to allow only nonprofit churches to make political statements and remain tax-exempt, then you’d have a First Amendment and Equal Protection issue.

  5. Mark Roberts Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for the comments. ZZMike: Don is right. Besides, can you imagine the mess we’d be in if churches could endorse candidates and receive tax exempt donations. Yikes! Every Political Action Committee would become a “church.” The net result, I think, would be that all churches would lose their tax exempt status.

  6. Thomas Buck Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    The constitutional issue is already breached when a church’s right to speak as it sees fit is abridged by threat of taxation.

    Churches should be able to say what they want, even if we don’t agree with it, without being threatened with a monetary penalty.

    Churches are better places when they stay away from endorsing candidates. Sticking to discussion of the topics of the day from a Biblical perspective is more likely to bear fruit than support of a particular candidate or party. But I think the churches that want to make that mistake should be free to do so. Otherwise, I see this country ending up like Canada, where publicly reading parts of the Bible or espousing its principals might be construed as “hate speech.”

    The L. Ron Hubbards of this world will always be here, and some actually use Christ in their preaching.

  7. RevK Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    The challenge of living in two kingdoms!

    While our faith is not private, nor the implications of it, we must acknowledge that human government is a “minister” of God. However, there is a higher law and good — to take every thought captive and make them obedient to Christ the King.

    Christ centered preaching has a corresponding application. I wonder if it would be, “Therefore, vote for candidate X!” Since all political parties stand under the judgment of God’s word in some respect, I find this application to be rather simplistic. AND YET, certain agendas promoted by the political process ARE damaging to the soul of society. I would hope that Biblical preaching would speak prophetically about where society is wavering from God’s eternal truths…

    The challenge of living in two kingdoms is acknowledging that Christ is Lord over every kingdom, while at the same time acknowledging that the Lord has installed civil magistrates to keep the peace in society.

  8. Evan Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    RevK, you have nicely summed it up. As I said, I do not like pulpit endorsements of Candidate X. Let the Word be preached, make sure the candidates’ positions are known and let folks do their own math. If Jesus wants to endorse somebody, I am sure He could fire up the Flaming Hand and let us all know.

  9. Evan Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Hey, my last wry remark was supposed to have a G in brackets, indicating a Grin, but the software must have eaten it. So here is an extra :) to put there in its place. :)

  10. RevK Says:
    October 1st, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Thanks for teaching me how to [G] or (G)…? I might also add that we are called to pray for those in authority before we excoriate them too…:)

  11. KWK Says:
    October 1st, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    I fail to see how paying taxes is a monetary “penalty”. The default situation is that every organization that takes in money pays taxes; it is only in certain narrowly-defined special situations where the requirement to pay taxes is waived.

    If a church or a pastor truly feels they are called to engage the culture and/or the state over an issue that prevents them from being tax-exempt, so be it. Churches have always>/em> had the right to speak freely on any issue they wish; what they do not have, however, is an unfettered right to exemption from taxes.

  12. Evan Says:
    October 2nd, 2008 at 8:06 am

    KWK, strictly as a matter of policy, you are correct, assuming that there is agreement on what constitutes “political speech.” If by that we mean proclaiming, “Vote for Candidate X!” from the pulpit or raising funds for a particular candidate, then the choice you lay out makes sense.

    The trend, however, is heading toward what happens in other countries, where a pastor notes that the Bible enjoins particular conduct, only to find that since a particular political party endorses such conduct that this is “political speech” and penalties ensue. Another political strong-arm being used against churches and/or home-based Bible studies are zoning laws. Now, I am not trying to lay out all the details or suggest that Nero will be throwing us to the lions next week, but the Postmodern courts fudge the commonly-accepted meanings of words in order to get what they want out of statutes and even the Constitution. That is my concern.

    If the choice is to not endorse candidates or lose tax exemption, as you say, that has clear boundries. When a pastor can land in hot water for merely preaching from the Bible, that is wrong. Concern, alas, is warranted.

  13. real live preacher Says:
    October 7th, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    This is going to be a slippery slope argument, not matter how you slice it. Our church is a worshiping body. Has been for 20 years. We are clearly a church. Now if a part of our theology called for me to endorse a candidate, what business is that of the government? As an extreme example, should churches be able to speak out against a tyrannical dictator like Hitler?

    Clearly, if our honest theology means making political statements, that’s my right. Just as a Native American religion which honestly uses peyote should be allowed to, in my opinion.

    The problem is in finding the phonies. And the question is, how much religious liberty will we trample in our quest to make sure no one is a political group posing as a church?

    fyi, I do not make political endorsements. So this opinion comes from a minister with no dog in this fight.


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