Minister's Consider Their Options In Response To Obama's Attack On Marriage

By: Tia Johnson 0 Comments   5/25/2012

Recently President Obama and Vice President Biden boldly affirmed their support of homosexual marriages. Some pastors have responded to this political move at the pulpit.

Other pastors support the president (that's for another article). Still, other pastors have felt their hands tied and have not said anything at all.  Pastors who have felt their hands tied may be afraid of losing their church's tax exempt status-- and paying those taxes would be a very costly tag for the church.

Yet, according to Jerry Newcombe of the Christian Post, pastors can say more than they fear they can't. "I think part of the reason we don't hear much from pastors these days is because of a misunderstanding of the law. Some fear---wrongly---that if they say anything viewed as a political statement, then they might lose their tax exempt status," Newcombe wrote.

He said the church should not abandon the political process, and lawfully, they don't have to. "Many of the controversial issues of our day, such as abortion and marriage, have become political, but they are simply moral issues that have changed into political ones," he wrote.

He referred to historical cases when pastors were expected to speak out bravely. In fact, they served somewhat as a watchtower over the government, leading the way in societal reforms when government proved itself insufficient. For example, two-thirds of the 1835 abolition society were ministers.

And the Underground Railroad, which helped southern slaves escape to the safety of the north, was greatly supported by churches, Newcombe wrote.

He described how the Civil Rights movement was born in the basement of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1955 and was led by a reverend: Martin Luther King, Jr. "Watch raw tapes of the civil rights marches, and you'll see many different Christian groups participating," he wrote.

He referred to pastors in the New England territory who, before the United States had become a nation, preached "election day sermons"-- "not necessarily endorsing particular candidates, but explaining biblical civic duties. "When did this all take a turn for silence? When did it become expected that churches and religious morals should not intermix with politics? 

In a 2008 posting by the Los Angeles Times, Erik Stanley of the Alliance Defense Fund addressed this issue. Stanley referred to the "1954 federal Johnson Amendment" which "prohibits a pastor from talking about candidates from the pulpit in light of Scripture." According to the IRS, this law prohibits tax-exempt charities from engaging in political campaigns.

The IRS says that churches can "advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena" and "engage in a limited amount of lobbying. "Stanley, though, raises a flag of caution regarding the government's regulations:" ...based on what a pastor says about an election from the pulpit, the tax code allows the government to tax a church.

Consider that in light of the Internal Revenue Service's increasingly vague regulations, and you have a recipe for the censorship of religion. The IRS, through those vague regulations, reserves for itself tremendous discretion and power to decide which churches to punish for violations of the Johnson Amendment and which not to punish. Barry, I know you've seen this because you report a lot of churches to the IRS for alleged violations, but the IRS only acts on a minuscule portion of your complaints. What standard does it use? Who knows why it chooses to go after some churches and not others? When does a pastor's sermon somehow cross the line?" Stanley wrote.

However, Stanley also referred to a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case (Walz vs. Tax Commission of the City of New York) which said that "the power to tax involves the power to destroy," and awarding a tax-exempt status "restricts the fiscal relationship between church and state, and tends to complement and reinforce the desired separation insulating each from the other.

"Some churches have felt that making themselves tax-exempt is like putting duct tape over their mouths. They'd rather pay the taxes and speak freely regarding politics then be strapped in their speech. But according to Stanley, tax exemption provides a healthy bar between church and state.

It appears that churches who are under tax-exempt status need to wade these waters carefully, recognizing the law they have agreed to, yet freely exercising the free speech this nation has aspired to.

I admire groups like Focus on the Family who have found themselves compelled to be engaged in the political happenings of the day and have discussed these events in their broadcasts-- all within the bounds of their tax-exemption laws.

They have even branched out a legally separate non-tax-exempt organization- Citizen Link- which can more freely speak on these politics. After all, a ministry in the business of helping families cannot ignore the political repercussions on the family from the Capitol.

Newcombe also addressed the importance of churches continuing to have a voice in politics: "For years, my pastor was the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, who noted, 'Someone said to me, "Do you think Christians should be involved in politics?

That's dirty business." I said, "Of course not, you should leave it to the atheists; otherwise, you wouldn't have anything to complain about." Well, we have got plenty to complain about today, because that is exactly what we've done.'" 

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