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Will liberals succeed at silencing pastors and prevent Christian mobilization?
Since the founding of the country, there were no restrictions on churches with respect to endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit. Churches came under attack only after the Southern Democrat LBJ ran and won his U.S. Senate seat. In 1954, Johnson was opposed by a nonprofit organization; after he won his seat he proposed legislation to amend the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit nonprofit organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The IRS Code was amended in 1954 without any debate regarding the impact of the bill and the LBJ political payback has tied the hands of pastors ever since. The IRS now prohibits churches from directly endorsing or opposing political candidates or participating in partisan politics by threatening the revocation of tax-exempt status.
Not all pastors care about the IRS restriction because not all pastors are socially or theologically conservative. Alternatively, not all pastors are political like those that led the nation in passing civil rights legislation in the 60’s. However, some are political and have pushed back against the IRS restriction since the code does not limit a pastor from having a personal opinion. Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority Coalition and Liberty University, was “the religious Right,” a vocal proponent of Republican candidates. His movement was credited for electing Ronald Reagan in 1980. Liberals have not forgotten the impact Falwell had on elections. He died in 2007. The influence of Falwell was a powerful example of what a unified religious community can do to promote a biblical worldview; that influence also threatens national unity for liberals on social issues like same-sex marriage; it is a threat liberals take very seriously.
Because of that threat, a new and aggressive standard is now emerging against the church. Houston is ground zero. A Houston city ordinance passed in May that “bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.” With an openly lesbian mayor leading the charge, five pastors were subpoenaed for their sermons in a lawsuit against the city not as litigants but because they stood in their pulpits and publicly supported an effort to repeal the ordinance that, among other things, extended rights to the transgender community to file suit over access to bathrooms.
In response to the national outcry, Mayor Parker rescinded the sermon subpoenas yesterday. However, the city’s effort must not be ignored. This is only the beginning of the assault on churches and ultimately their tax-exemption (a meaningful factor in the charitable contributions churches receive).
As reported by the Blaze, in July 2014 the IRS settled a lawsuit brought by an atheist activist group, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and reportedly agreed to adopt standards for determining and investigating whether churches and religious organizations have violated restrictions on political activity. The atheist cannot win the argument, so they intend to end the discussion in corroboration with the federal government.
Whether you are a Christian or not the attack on churches is real and must not be ignored. Think on this: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” (Martin Niemöller)
Photo credit: By Tim Wilson – Flickr: Little country church, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
Marc Little is the author of The Prodigal Republican: Faith and Politics. His web site is The Prodigal Republican.