Skip to comments.Preachers under fire: politics from the pulpit breaks the law, some say [Presbyterian Rebellion Day]
Posted on 07/04/2013 4:53:56 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
God created government.
So preached Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in the days leading up to the presidential election.
Hibbs has joined with nearly 1,600 pastors across the country and about 140 in California in the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort aimed at protecting the free-speech rights of pastors in the pulpit.
Hibbs' sermons in a series called "Politics and Faith" may have been enough to let the church know which candidate he supported.
Or at least who he didn't.
He preached about politics and Israel. And politics and defending the pre-born.
Hibbs was emphatic during an Oct. 10 sermon titled "Politics And Your Faith: Why Traditional Marriage Matters":
"One platform says save babies. The other platform says kill babies. One platform says God. One platform does not say God. One platform says Israel. The other one says no Israel."
Some say Hibbs broke the law. Others say he didn't.
Johnson v. Jesus?
Congress in 1954 passed the Johnson Amendment.
Named after then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, the law was based on the premise that tax-exempt organizations should not publicly endorse or oppose political candidates.
"Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes," the law says.
Those who support the Johnson Amendment say churches like Calvary Chapel Chino Hills should lose their tax-exempt status.
Steven Baines, director of religious outreach at the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United, a group that says it is dedicated to preserving church-state separation, said Hibbs' comments about political platforms were a violation of the IRS law.
"What that minister did was link it to one particular candidate or one office and that's where he crossed the line," Baines said.
Ordained as a Southern Baptist minister and now a part of the Disciples of Christ, Baines said pastors using the pulpit to endorse candidates is bad public policy. And bad for religious freedom in the United States.
"As a minister myself, I can think of nothing worse than turning our pulpits into super (political action committees) for one party or the other," Baines said.
Baines said his group received more than 100 complaints leading up to the election.
"I would say the majority of the complaints did come in from congregations that were opposed to President Obama or emphatically endorsed Mitt Romney," he said.
"What we're asking is that houses of worship should follow the law, (and) the IRS should prosecute them for defying the law," he said.
But some scholars suggest that pastors simply got caught in the cross-hairs of the Johnson Amendment.
They say it wasn't intended to muzzle ministers.
James D. Davidson, emeritus professor of sociology at Purdue University, said Johnson aimed the provision at political opponents trying to get him out of office.
"And the way he found to deal with them was to pull the plug on their tax-exempt status," Davidson said. "It was nothing to do with religion at all. It's one of those unintended consequences."
Freedom to preach
The Pulpit Initiative every year holds Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when pastors focus on political issues.
Backed by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defending Freedom, the event marked its fifth anniversary on Oct. 7.
"Since 1954 and the Johnson Amendment, the IRS has set itself up as the pulpit police," said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance, which has about 2,200 lawyers assisting with the initiative.
Stanley said his group supports the free-speech rights of pastors on both sides of the political aisle.
"Pulpit Freedom Sunday is really all about protecting a pastor's right to speak freely from the pulpit and not be intimidated or censored by the government for doing so," he said.
His group at some point wants to generate a "test case" in hopes of having the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.
Alliance may indeed have a case.
The Supreme Court in 2010 ruled in favor of the nonprofit conservative group Citizens United, which produced a 2008 movie attacking Hillary Clinton and sought to advertise it on broadcast TV.
Opponents say the court eased campaign spending restrictions on corporations and labor unions.
Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy, which has defended the rights of families to hold church services in their homes, said the Citizens United case could be a precursor to the Supreme Court killing the Johnson Amendment.
He said the issue is whether corporations are considered people, because if so, they have First Amendment rights. Most churches form as nonprofit corporations.
"With the current court makeup, my prediction will be if they follow the analysis of the Citizens United case, the Johnson Amendment will be struck down," Broyles said.
He said the other option is that a groundswell of pastors causes lawmakers to take notice and overturn the Johnson Amendment.
American pulpits since the founding of the country have been filled with pastors dedicated to political reform.
Scholars point to the Congregationalist church and Presbyterians in New England as having a profound impact on the shaping of the nation.
"There has been a long history of preaching in this country that was political and quite divisive," said James E. Bradley, the Geoffrey W. Bromiley professor of church history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
"The pulpit was pretty critical to the success in the revolt against England and King George III," Bradley said. "Some referred to the revolution as a Presbyterian rebellion."
Bradley also noted that Baptists and Presbyterians were instrumental in stopping the effort to impose a religious tax paid to Anglican Church ministers in Virginia.
The cord between government and religion in that state was cut when a bill passed in 1785 defeated religious taxes, and Thomas Jefferson in 1786 passed the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.
"Against a lot of contemporary popular opinion, it's the case that some religious groups were quite instrumental in the beginning of religious freedom," Bradley said.
The pulpit also was prominent on both sides of the Civil War, as northern Baptists preached abolition and Southern Baptists supported slavery, he said.
And the civil rights movement saw black preachers and those like Martin Luther King Jr. use the pulpit to rally the nation.
Bradley said the American revolution, the Civil War and the civil rights movement "are just three of the most obvious illustrations of how public and outspoken protestant preachers have been in this country."
'Draw the IRS out'
The IRS has warned several churches about possibly losing their tax-exempt status for endorsing candidates.
In 2004, a presidential election year, the IRS warned 42 churches for "prohibited political campaign intervention."
Raphael Tulino, an IRS spokesman, said "we don't go anywhere near commenting on specific taxpayer cases."
After the 1992 presidential election, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of the Church at Pierce in Vestal, N.Y.
The congregation had published anti-Clinton advertisements in newspapers.
In 2007, the IRS dropped its investigation into All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.
An anti-war sermon had been preached at the liberal church two days before the 2004 presidential election.
The Rev. Susan Russell said the IRS fight was a watershed moment for the church, which has a deep history of preaching on issues such as anti-war policy, poverty, torture and marriage equality.
"Our challenge with the IRS helped us understand how critically important it is for patriotic people of faith to stand firmly on the right side of the line in advocating on issues and taking partisan positions," Russell said.
She said it's important for Alliance Episcopal to preach values while not endorsing a candidate, so that it is free to criticize what it perceives as bad policies from either side of the aisle.
David Hernandez of San Dimas has been regularly attending Calvary Chapel Chino Hills for about three years.
He said Hibbs doesn't tell the flock which way to vote.
"I think sometimes there are people that are uninformed or under-educated about a certain item or proposition, and Pastor Jack brings it up and looks at it from a biblical point of view," Hernandez said.
Hibbs remains steadfast in his commitment to preaching in the face of the Johnson Amendment and IRS auditors.
Hibbs sent a DVD copy of his sermons, along with a letter to the IRS saying "I am confident that you will agree with the church/state protections established by our forefathers that allows pastors to apply Scripture to all issues in life without fear of government censorship."
As for Baines' comment that he crossed the line and broke the law in his sermon series on politics, Hibbs said it made him smile. He welcomes an IRS case because he believes it will help get the Johnson Amendment overturned.
"That's the whole point, to cross the line, to draw fire," Hibbs said. "We want to draw the IRS out."
Bradley also noted that Baptists and Presbyterians were instrumental in stopping the effort to impose a religious tax paid to Anglican Church ministers in Virginia. The cord between government and religion in that state was cut when a bill passed in 1785 defeated religious taxes, and Thomas Jefferson in 1786 passed the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. Against a lot of contemporary popular opinion, it's the case that some religious groups were quite instrumental in the beginning of religious freedom," Bradley said.
The pulpit also was prominent on both sides of the Civil War, as northern Baptists preached abolition and Southern Baptists supported slavery, he said. And the civil rights movement saw black preachers and those like Martin Luther King Jr. use the pulpit to rally the nation. Bradley said the American revolution, the Civil War and the civil rights movement "are just three of the most obvious illustrations of how public and outspoken protestant preachers have been in this country."
government doesn’t get it.....they can’t tell preachers what to preach
Evil government wants to tell preachers what to preach, and will do so if not prevented.
Two words why the government won’t take away tax exemptions - black churches.
Here in Seattle, Mt. Zion Baptist Church has been a black, liberal activist church for 50 years, and its former pastor - Samuel McKinney - is a hero to local liberals, black and white. In all those years, I NEVER heard any liberal criticize him for preaching politics from the pulpit - he was considered a hero for doing it. But when conservative pastors speak on politics, it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, ILLEGAL, and INAPPROPRIATE!!! Or so they say . . .
You beat me to it by 1/2 second.
Nor can the POTUS tell religious people to keep their worship private and their religious opinions to themselves.
See, thats his problem. If he preached liberalism, well then thats ok.
Haven’t these people ever heard of Rev Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement?
Democrat politicians “preach” before elections in Black chjurches. One of the funniest was Hillary speacking in black dialect.
You do understand it is only white ministers preaching traditional virtues that are a problem.
Doesn’t it say in the Bible”he who will not work,neither shall he eat” ?
That alone is anathema to the Welfare crowd.
And then there are those pesky Commandments about murder,stealing,false witness, and coveting.
No, they can’t. They are acting unconstitutionally if they prevent preachers from doing so. It is freedom of speech.
Thanks Alex Murphy.
Best solution: Eliminate the IRS....
Find another way to finance the government after shrinking the federal government to the smallest possible.
DownSize DC! FOREVER
Then preaching from the pulpit cannot be intimidated.
“Congress in 1954 passed the Johnson Amendment.
Named after then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, the law was based on the premise that tax-exempt organizations should not publicly endorse or oppose political candidates.”
Anything piece of legislation connected with LBJ should be repealed, just on principle.
Authoritarian governments have always feared and fought churches. There is a reason autocrats are atheists and work so hard at stamping out religion. That is part of the current effort to turn Christians into second class citizens.
The power to tax is the power to destroy.
In the show “Courage New Hampshire” the British used their own appointed minister to spy on the people of Courage and nudge them away from revolutionary thoughts.
which are the biggest perpetrators of preaching politics from the pulpit and also allowing candidates use of the podium to spew their liberal hatefulness.
The intent of the Johnson Amendment was to intimidate southern preachers into silence.
Nobody has ever been prosecuted for “violating” it, and there is no real penalty.
The 1st Amendment is to KEEP GOVERNMENT OUT OF RELIGION!
NOT TO SILENCE PREACHERS FROM DISCUSSING POLITICS!!!!
Any relation to Lyndon BAINES johnson?
Re: tax exemption for churches.....
WHY? Why ask PERMISSION?
just pay taxes like everyone else and don’t let the govt have a say in what the pastor can say from the pulpit!
Reading your account of Pastor Muhlenberg’s actions gave me goosebumps.....
Time for today’s pastors to do some soul-searchin’
Authoritarian governments suppress Christianity because it presents another path and way of life.
This path and way of life tells the oppressive government that it is NOT the end all and be all of the peoples existence.
In other words, Christianity says there is a Sovereign above ALL OTHER sovereigns..... above the dictators, kings, potentates, and yes, even above PRES__DENTS.
Remember that one of the slogans of the Revolution was “no king but king Jesus “.
We would do well to remember that ....
Save time and just behead him.
God is no respecter of men. I do not think that there is much to be gained in the saving of souls by trying to change anothers politics. The whole premise of repentance and redemption deals with the heart. If one party or the other is not adhering to the tenants of Christ and His teaching it will be self evident to the believer, as is the case with the current administration.
Once a preacher/pastor/priest etc. stoops into the political quagmire he stands a chance of alienating souls that , if he would only preach the gospel , would otherwise be won for the kingdom.
I personally am VERY CONSERVATIVE but I refuse to mishandle God’s word and use it or His church as a baton to rap a potential convert over the head with.
The true calling is to love first. The soul of a person is an eternal entity and thus WAY more important than any political belief, system of govt, or any other principality in this world. I would hate to think that my political beliefs became a stumbling block for one.
We should preach the word, walk the walk, take opportunities to plant the seeds, and as has happened since the day of pentecost God will harvest the willing soul.
To feel it neccesary to bring politics into the pulpit shows a lack of confidence in ones calling. Only one whose faith is weak feels the need to use the principalities of this world to “help” God. If it is his will, my next breath is my last and The United States could be done away with in the blink of an eye and no amount of political discourse, weaponry, or misguided effort could cause a different outcome.
Since I have no fear of Satan taking my immortal soul I am fully prepared for the flaming that I am about to receive at the hands of those that call themselves Christian.
Ping for later
Well, in one sense you’re right. The focus of Christian preaching must always be the Gospel. But which Gospel? The Gospel before Darwin always entailed preaching against public evil, including political evil. Christians were to be salt and light, a testimony to each generation of the high standards of God’s righteousness, and man’s abysmal failure to attain those standards, and thus his urgent need for personal forgiveness and redemption through the blood of the New Covenant shed on the cross by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, on behalf of failed sinners.
After Darwin, and the so-called Enlightenment in general, the intellectual leadership of the churches was besieged with a new and alien worldview, and many responded, even here in America, by simply withdrawing into a safe, pietistic shell, positing a complete dichotomy between spiritual life and public life, a false Gospel that has no prophetic message to sinners at all levels of society, that would probably disapprove of John the Baptist calling out Herod for his adulteries, as a matter of public discourse.
This new half-Gospel opened the door to many significant advances by the essentially atheistic progressive movement, including among many other things the development of tax law which tends to reinforce that false dichotomy, and that certainly is bad enough.
But there are even more dire consequences. Pietism also correlates to the rise of subjectivism, a spiritual beachhead won for atheism by the retreat from public discourse of the preaching of the righteousness of God as a universal standard of moral obligation. Hardly anything could be done to better insulate lost souls from the message they need to hear, than for the preacher to refuse to take on the gross sins of political leadership, no matter the party, as a clear demonstration that every soul, from low to high, must answer to a Holy God.
And there is another dimension, peculiar to the American experience. We do not live under a Roman dictatorship, in which ordinary persons had no particular obligation, other than to obey the law and the whims of their masters, and on occasion to worship Caesar as their god. No, we live in a Republic, in which, at least theoretically, each and every citizen has a duty to participate, at a minimum, through informed voting. Unlike the ancient tyrannies, we hire our public servants. It is our duty before God to be responsible employers, and so we have no choice but to ensure we do not hire those who would avowedly push people into open rebellion against God. A faithful pastor ought not fail to inform his flock of these obligations and how best to fulfill them.
It is our lack of doing this due diligence in which we have failed those who entrusted this Republic to our care, and there will be consequences. Hiding from those consequences by a fresh retreat to pietism will not work, nor will lost souls benefit from a Gospel message that has been watered down to appease an insecure Caesar.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, 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. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.
On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.
Available at: http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/The-Restriction-of-Political-Campaign-Intervention-by-Section-501(c)(3)-Tax-Exempt-Organizations
Note the bolded text. "Voter education" could be any ordinary preaching that says, for just one example, that abortion is murder and you shouldn't vote for any candidate that support it. So, to get tax exempt status under 501c3, you'd have to agree to that, and that would be a bargain with the devil himself.
So why do churches incorporate as non-profits under 501c3 in the first place? Because theoretically, their doners can lower their taxable income by giving a portion of it to a recognized tax-exempt organization. But honestly, many congregations, especially small poor ones, are not going to have a problem with this, because many individual doners will be in an income range where the tax benefit for them is slim to nothing.
For large, wealthy churches, with a stable of large doners, 501c3 status is still too high a spiritual price to pay, and they should be willing, at least theoretically, to pay income taxes as required under the law, because all informed Christians know Jesus and the Apostles taught we should render unto Caesar the coin bearing his mark, and further that when we are obligated to pay, He himself will provide that coin, even from the mouth of a fish when necessary. So we do our obligations to the ordinances of man, and we trust him for the net gain to the church coffers. He owns the cattle on a thousands hills, and he will do a far better job protecting your income than IRS loopholes.
For the above reasons and more, some churches have simply sidestepped the problem. They don't organize as 501c3 entities, their pastors have a secular day job, they have no employees, they have a minimal investment in physical property, and their contributions are oriented to meeting immediate needs in the congregation, as opposed to being made to avoid income tax.
I do agree that we as Christians , are required to adhere (as much as possible considering what we have as choices) to our walk in the voting booth. However the fact still stands that ,for those who are members of Christ’s church, there is no need to politic from the pulpit. Preach the gospel, save souls, and the voting booth is taken care of.
No member of the body of Christ can tolerate abortion,govt. support of the shiftless, the quenching of personal freedom and a myriad other issues afoul of our founding principles. Therefore the universal church (each soul that is bound for glory) would by default vote against the current administration or anyone in support of this administration.
You rightfully state that we are unique in the world. I firmly believe that nations are brought both high and low at the will of God. With this in mind I also feel that our current movement that seems to attack Christian principles at every turn will doom this nation. Not the Christian.
Many thanks for that info!
Wondering what certain denominations and groups have done in order to be able to get around the 501c3 limitations (example, rev Jesse Jackson etc and big denominations such as one that has its HQ in Italy).
Did they split off some “departments” into non 501c3’s?