Advancing Religious Liberty
9/7/11 at 01:43 PM 0 Comments

When Biblical Becomes Political

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Author: ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley

The realm of the Church is being invaded by the realm of the political today.  This might seem like a strange statement, but consider this example:  Thirty years ago, a pastor could preach a sermon from Scripture that marriage was between one man and one woman and no one would have been concerned or would have even thought to complain to the IRS that the Church was violating the Johnson Amendment in the tax code by speaking politically.  Yet today, if a pastor were to stand in the pulpit and preach a sermon that says marriage is between one man and one woman, that sermon would be instantly deemed “political,” and somehow church-goers, and the culture at large, would assume that the Church was wrong and should stay out of “politics.”

Some of this is, of course, a function of the culture war over fundamental issues such as the definition of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious freedom.  As these issues are fought in the public square, they frequently become politicized by a culture that increasingly turns to government to demand answers to these most fundamental of questions.  Yet a pervasively darker consequence of these fundamental cultural conflicts is that the Church is frequently told that when culture deems an issue “political,” it somehow becomes off-limits for the Church to address without someone screaming that the Church has violated the Johnson Amendment and is endangering its tax-exempt status.

Consider these examples:  In Maine, after the governor signed a same-sex “marriage” bill into law, the Catholic Church began to gather signatures for a voter referendum on the law.  A homosexual advocacy group  complained to the IRS that the Church was violating the tax code by gathering signatures even though the Church is allowed to conduct limited lobbying like this under the Internal Revenue Code.  A spokesperson for the group stated, “By their individuals going on television, stating what they were doing, they’re engaging in lobbying activities which is prohibited by the IRS for tax exempt purposes.”

Or consider a starker example: Pastor Gus Booth from Warroad Community Church in Minnesota preached a sermon in 2008 to his congregation where he spoke about what Scripture says regarding abortion and same-sex “marriage.”  He then compared the candidates running for office in light of their positions on those issues and made a specific recommendation as to who the congregation should vote for and against based solely on how the candidates aligned themselves with Scripture’s teaching.  Americans United for Separation of Church and State immediately complained to the IRS that pastor Booth’s sermon violated the Johnson Amendment.  The IRS launched an investigation of the Church for what pastor Booth said during his sermon.  Stop for just a moment – did you read what I just wrote?  The IRS investigated a pastor for something he said during a sermon!

These examples, and many others that I don’t have space to list, demonstrate the growing conflict between the biblical and the political.  As  issues addressed in the Bible are deemed “political” by today’s culture, churches will be pressured to remain silent on these topics or risk facing the ire of radical groups, or an investigation by the IRS.  Think back to the example at the beginning of this article.  Should a pastor preach a sermon where he proclaims the Biblical truth that marriage is between one man and one woman only or should he remain silent because that issue has been deemed political?

It seems to me that today’s pastors have a choice to make?  To preach faithfully the counsel of God’s Word on all issues addressed by Scripture, or to self-censor and remain silent simply because some issues have been deemed “political” and therefore off limits as a sermon topic.  Dr. David Jeremiah put the issue succinctly when he recently stated, “There are so many issues that are so part of the foundation of Christianity, and not to stand for those things is to be unfaithful.  If we’re only faithful for the things that aren’t being tested, and not faithful for the things that are being tested, then we are not faithful….We can no longer be silent.  If we don’t speak up, nobody is going to speak up.”  Dr. Jeremiah went on to highlight just how deeply theological this issue is when he stated, “Your mandate can never come from the culture.  It must come from the Word of God.”

Or consider how Bishop Harry Jackson put it:

In the next decade or so what America will be for the next hundred years, I believe will be decided.  Would you want to be someone who stood by and did nothing and had no voice in changing America for good, that lives through years of  regret that you did nothing when you could have spoken out?  Or will you be someone, no matter how small your congregation is or how large your congregation is, who will take up the challenge to follow Christ and endure momentary discomfort with trying to figure out how to articulate the message?  That is a little price to pay for the benefit that we could bring to the entire culture.”

The choice before America’s pastors is clear.  The only question is, pastor, what choice will you make?

The stark choice confronting America’s pastors is why ADF created the Pulpit Initiative.  For too long pastors have lived in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation as the Johnson Amendment has been used as a weapon of censorship against the Church.  It is beyond time to remove this restriction and to restore a pastor’s right to preach freely without fear of any government censorship, intimidation, or reprisal.  The Pulpit Initiative is a plan to launch a litigation challenge against the Johnson Amendment to have it declared unconstitutional as it applies to a pastor’s sermon.  Because the unassailable fact is that no government official, high or petty, has any right to censor a pastor’s sermon, or threaten a pastor with any kind of punishment for something that is said from the pulpit during a sermon.

Pastor, visit our website to learn more about the Pulpit Initiative, and sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year on October 2.  Make your choice and stand with hundreds of other pastors across the country who are being faithful by speaking out on the things that are being tested.

This post originally appeared here.

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