On Preaching Politics

From Cristina Corbin:

Have you been hearing about this? Will you be defying the IRS?

More than 1,000 pastors are planning to challenge the IRS next month by deliberately preaching politics ahead of the presidential election despite a federal ban on endorsements from the pulpit.

The defiant move, they hope, will prompt the IRS to enforce a 1954 tax code amendment that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from making political endorsements. Alliance Defending Freedom, which is holding the October summit, said it wants the IRS to press the matter so it can be decided in court. The group believes the law violates the First Amendment by “muzzling” preachers.

“The purpose is to make sure that the pastor — and not the IRS — decides what is said from the pulpit,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the group, told FoxNews.com. “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”

Stanley said pastors attending the Oct. 7 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will “preach sermons that will talk about the candidates running for office” and then “make a specific recommendation.” The sermons will be recorded and sent to the IRS.

“We’re hoping the IRS will respond by doing what they have threatened,” he said. “We have to wait for it to be applied to a particular church or pastor so that we can challenge it in court. We don’t think it’s going to take long for a judge to strike this down as unconstitutional.”

An amendment was made to the IRS tax code in 1954, stating that tax-exempt 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.”

“Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax,” the IRS says in its online guide for churches and religious organizations seeking tax exemption.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • T

    This seems unfortunate to me. Wise as serpents? Let’s hope. Innocent as doves? Harder case to make. I hope they are right, at least, about what the courts will do.

    The reasoning for the rule, of course, is to prevent tax deductible contributions from being used to further a particular candidate. If the churches get the court decision they want, watch out for claims of corruption, both legitimate and not, to be made against the churches with large budgets who make pushes for particular candidates. It will be very tempting for churches and/or pastors to become advocates for particular candidates (or prophets against others), funded with deductible contributions of political groups and individuals, at least during election times.

  • T

    FWIW, churches can already talk about particular issues, they just can’t endorse candidates.

  • Jon G

    This sounds like a VERY bad idea to me…VERY BAD.

  • Terry

    Thanks T! I won’t be defying the IRS, but it’s by default rather than by design. I just can’t imagine taking what little precious time I have to be an activist of this nature. So, by default because I preach and teach the good news of the Kingdom; I hardly think my endorsement of a candidate (especially to make a political point) is the good news. I am free to preach the good news!

    Hmmm… so maybe that is by design.

  • Ann

    Here in Minnesota, the Catholic church is advocating for the Marriage Amendment on our ballot this fall from the pulpit. I was wondering if that was legal? Sounds like it isn’t.

  • Pat

    I say let ‘em do it. For those pastors with an ax to grind or an agenda, they may face some unexpected consequences in the form of flack from their congregations. Not everyone in conservative churches vote conservatively and I daresay the same for liberal churches. Also, some parishioners do not want to hear politics from the pulpit.

  • Joe Canner

    I agree that this doesn’t sound like a good idea, and I can’t imagine it will get very far (at least in the desired direction). The US government has a long history of attaching strings to financial benefits.

    I could just as easily see this backfiring and resulting in more stringent enforcement, more restrictions on churches, and perhaps even more restrictions on deductions. Tax deductions for charitable giving are not a God-given right and there are plenty of people who think deductions for church contributions violate the Establishment Clause.

  • Jim

    Wonder how eager some pastors would be to jump on board if it meant their personal housing deduction would be stripped from them?

  • http://tspringersl@gmail.com Tony Springer

    If corporations are people, why can’t churches be people too?!?!?
    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  • Greg D

    Many churches have been preaching politics from the pulpit for decades. As Evangelicalism continues to become more aligned with politics (of the right wing variety) rather than a religious group, perhaps it’s high time they begin paying taxes after all. And, I believe these 1,000 pastors may just help get them there.

  • http://www.kingdomseeking.com K. Rex Butts

    With so little time to speak the word of God into the hearts and minds of believers who are inundated every day with distractive issues, is this really what is important to Christianity? Just another reason why American Christianity is in decline. We are fighting the wrong enemy while our real enemy is relaxing in amusement.

  • http://intothehills.org Kullervo

    If this goes to court, these churches will lose: the prohibition on endorsing candidates is not specific to churches, but to all tax-exempt charitable organizations, because, as a matter of public policy, stumping for a candidate is not a charitable purpose. The reason that the tax code favors donations to charities is because we want to encourage donations for charitable purposes.

    The problem is not adddressing political issues, or even endorsing political positions or political action (many/most/all charitable causes have a politicval dimension). The ban is on endorsing candidates (all candidates), and it applies to all charitable organizations, not jsut to churches.

    Nobody is telling your church what your pastor can and can’t say. But your church’s tax exempt status is there because your church is, by law, a charitable organization. Like all charitable organizations, your church ceases to be a charitable organization if it engages in activities that are not charitable in nature.

  • Rob Henderson

    I will not be preaching for any candidate. My belief is that as a spiritual shepherd called by God to do kingdom work my preaching is to rise above the politics. Yes, I have my personal feelings and will vote accordingly. However, we are a tax-exempt organization for a reason. If my pulpit could be swayed to expound for a particular candidate then what keeps unscrupulous folks from “buying” the pulpit with their gifts? What, then, keeps a pastor above even the suggestion of wrong-doing?

    I preach for the kingdom of God and I preach for you to choose one Man- Jesus Christ and him crucified.

  • T

    Ann,

    It is legal; see my comment in #2. Or look here for in-depth guidance from the IRS:

    http://apps2.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=154712,00.html

  • Bill

    I had no idea making political speeches from the pulpit was considered preaching. “Speechfying” is what I’d call it.

    Skip it. I want to hear about Jesus. Tell your pastors to knock off the blabbing and get down to business.

  • Ben

    I preach and I’m cool with the law prohibiting the endorsement of candidates. If we’re going to take the text breaks they offer churches, we have to play by their rules. If you want to endorse political candidates from the pulpit, don’t expect to “have your cake and eat it too” with tax breaks.

  • FDR

    I hope James Meeks and Al Sharpton read this..

  • Deets

    There are 3 possible responses to this requirement as I see it.

    1) A church that wants to maintain their 501(c)3 status can abide by the rules.

    2) A church that wants to preach politics can give up their 501(c)3 status according to the rules, and exist as an organization that doesn’t have the tax protection.

    3) A church that doesn’t want the government to interfere with their business can avoid incorporating legally and exist as a partnership of people with a common goal. Of course, the church could not own property or have employees. Nor could they have tax write offs for their offerings.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    Here’s an idea for doing the exact opposite of what these pastors are doing that few people have picked up so far. Why not rally Christians together around a focus on evangelistic discipline? That’s what we’ve been trying to do with our “Jesus Is My Candidate” campaign. https://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/staying-on-message-for-jesus/

    It’s not about being apolitical but remembering that our identity is not partisan and that we vote by loving our neighbor. Caesar has become entirely too relevant to the point of obsession for left and right alike. My prayer has been, “Let their fruit be made plain.” I hope that indeed the fruit of the pigs is made plain this fall, so that they can charge down the cliff and leave the exorcised Gerasene demoniac that is American evangelicalism lucid and ready for new life. https://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/pigs-to-the-water/

  • Randy

    Did these pastors tell their people at the beginning of the year that they were going to put their tax-deduction in jeopardy. Because the church doesn’t have to give any money back or lose anything of value. It’s contributors that are hurt. If I gave to one of these churches expecting a deduction I’d be pretty upset (might even sue). Bet they didn’t think of that.

  • jamie

    Even if I wanted to do this (which I don’t and don’t think its right) I couldn’t endorse any that we have to choose from….

  • Sue G

    Terrible idea- they are going to cause trouble for other churches, and for small churches it could be just one more straw that could break the back. I agree that the time I have to preach belongs to the preaching of the kingdom of God, not “preaching” about any political candidate and I agree that most people really don’t want to hear that from the pulpit, so the preacher is only driving away his/her flock.

  • http://www.dennisredwards.com Dennis

    I agree with Sue G. It is disturbing how many churches/pastors get entangled in politics. We have so much work to do as Christians, so many lives to touch, this doesn’t seem to help.

  • Peter

    “Be sure to join us at coffee hour, where the donuts have been graciously provided by the ________ National Committee and Citizens for ___________ PAC.”

  • http://www.laleocafe.com Jan Puterbaugh

    I believe that this will be the beginning of the end to churches being tax exempt organizations. There is no “Biblical” basis for churches to be tax exempt. They are playing with fire. We cannot blaim the government if this backfires. We can only blaim these pastors. As a pastor, I have my political views, however, I must preach the Gospel, not politics. NEITHER party is Christian. BOTH parties espouse some Christian values and ignore/stretch others.

    To me……it’s a sad day.

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    I wonder if anyone will use Romans 13:1-8 as the text for their sermon?

  • Home On The Range

    My husband and I left a left wing denomination because there was only politics preached from the pulpit. We heard that all week – didn’t want to hear it on Sunday! This is a terrible idea…does anyone remember Obamacare at the Supreme Court?? So blatantly unconstitutional and look how that one came down!!

    Seriously, what makes these people think their case won’t receive the same treatment??

    Bad idea!! Very bad idea!!!!!

  • Mike Chaille

    If we don’t get involved in the politics of a nation, how can we disciple that nation as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20? The Ekklesia needs to arise to it’s place of shutting doors no man can open and opening doors no man can shut (see Isaiah 22:22). We have lost our voice and are reaping the results.

  • P.

    Getting involved in politics (Falwell, Robertson, etc.) has already badly hurt American Christianity’s credibility. These churches should just stick to the preaching the gospel. Actually, that makes me want to get on my soapbox of how the church doesn’t focus on Christ enough!

  • http://intothehills.org Kullervo

    Again, nobody says that churches can’t or shouldn’t be involved in politics. In fact, I would argue that by preaching the Gospel, churches are already involved in politics anyway, right off the bat. What they can’t do, if they want to qualify as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is participate in political campaigns for or against a candidate for public office.

    Do you really think that fulfilling the Great Commission means stumping for candidates?

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    You may not be aware but black churches do this already. Not everyone of them, of course. Saying that, I do think we need to be vigilant and inform folks to register to vote, and to check out candidates by reviewing how they vote on gay marriage, abortion, and partial birth abortions or any issue that affects us as citizens. Gathering information helps you to know how to vote. Which candidate would be in a position to appoint a supreme court justice for life– one who most shares your values–one who affirms life and other values of the faith, or do you care? You can not do nothing. You can not endorse a particular candidate ( nor should you). But you do have sheep to care and protect.

  • Ken

    As a Canadian watching this I would encourage more of my sisters and brothers in the U.S. to read Rob Boyd book, “The Myth of a Christian Nation.” Although written to address U.S. churches; I read it shortly before a Canadian Federal election and it helped me further formulate some views I had been reflecting upon for some time. Views that focus on rendering to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and the God what is God’s.

    In the political arena of the U.S. far too often followers of Jesus and pastors view it as a way to restore kingdom values to the U.S. nation. Jesus, in the Gospel narrative, makes it clear that the time of nationally identifiable kingdom building is over. To use the sermon to endorse, and or, tell followers of King Jesus who to vote for will provide many outside of the community of faith with another reason to avoid the prompting of the Spirit. To see churches and church leaders in yet another negative sterotypical way. The Church of Jesus does not need this kind of publicity friends, I encourage you be the voice of Jesus to those within the church who would want to pursue politics for gain or power.

  • RM

    I think it would be a blessing in disguise. The evangelical church, as we know it, needs a good kick in the you-know-what. So much of what we call preaching is actually entertainment, and what isn’t, provides very little actual learning. We flit from one movement to the next with no real sense of what we are about.

    Maybe losing our tax exempt status will be enough to relieve us of our addiction to large buildings, professional staffs and bloated egos.

    Ken, that would be Gregory Boyd. Excellent book though.

  • AndyM

    If one candidate holds a position closer to the christian ideal, why shouldn’t the pulpit be used to compare, contrast and draw conclusions? Is it preferable to remain silent when evil is being called good simply for the sake of tax status?

    There is also Grudem’s book on the bible and politics where issue by issue he examines what the bible says on things. YMMV on various issues he examines, but I thought I’d throw it into the mix FWIW.

  • Patrick

    This is not a freedom issue. The preachers can say what they want, they just can’t expect tax exempt status and preach politics.

    Any preacher that does preach politics is a sick pup anyway, IMO. I’d leave my church if the preacher started that skubila.

  • Steelwheels

    How much of this is a result of most “churches” not being scriptually designed?

  • Steve Sherwood

    I agree with the sentiment suggested a few times above that churches that do this are fine, as long as they are also fine with giving up their tax exempt status. I assume they’re all fine with that. They wouldn’t want to only follow laws that benefit them and ignore those they don’t like, right?

  • Jawbone

    If you believe that taxation is a form of theft and against the ten commandments (as I have seen put forth) then defying the government on this issue is arguably biblical. I’m sure the preschers who plan to openly become lobbyists feel they have all sorts of scripture to back them.

  • Patrick

    Morgan,

    I wish more believers saw it your way. I do. IF Jesus is the legitimate ruling King of the universe by virtue of His victory on the cross and I believe the evidence is He is, it makes good logic we believers should appeal to HIM and not these flawed human leaders who rule at His whims.

    Sort of like “seek first the kingdom of God and it’s righteousness and God will add all these other things to you”. To me, that has the horse before the cart, whereas political action has it backwards for a believer.

    Many of our forerunners died because they would not agree Caesar was the legitimate king and I agree with them. He wasn’t, not after the cross.

  • steve

    The voice of the prophet is very political. Preaching the whole counsel of God means preaching the prophets. Yes, the pastor needs to be political in the sense of prophetic preaching (stepping on toes to make a point). Should they endorse any one candidate? No.


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