Last week, President Trump said during the National Prayer Breakfast that he would “totally destroy the Johnson Amendment“.
“Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and let our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it’s also a right under threat all around us. And the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways, ” – President Trump as quoted in U.S. News & World Report
President Trump’s argument for destroying the Johnson Amendment is a red herring, especially for the church.
The Johnson Amendment, added to IRS tax code of 1954, states that no organization that has 501(c)(3), or tax exempt, status may engage in political campaign activities or any activity that would influence a public election.
President Trump and supporters of repealing the Johnson Amendment are saying that the amendment restricts freedom of speech in churches, universities and other organizations. They state that the IRS has no authority of what should be allowed to be spoken in those places. They state that the Johnson Amendment was only written into law because President Johnson, whom the amendment is named after, was only protecting Democratic seats in the Senate and his own reelection. (American Center for Law & Justice)
There is confusion as to what is and isn’t allowed under the Johnson Amendment. To clear matters up, in 2007 the IRS published document rr-07-41. In this document, 21 different situations are presented and defined as to what is and isn’t allowed.
I won’t go through each and every situation, but the sum of those situations is this:
- The Johnson Amendment does not say that churches, universities or organizations who have tax-exempt status cannot talk about political topics. It does not say that they cannot participate in the political process.
- It only says that a tax-exempt organization cannot endorse a political candidate with speech or money, and that they must remain politically neutral.
But President Trump’s speeches about the Johnson Amendment would have you believe that tax-exempt organizations, especially churches, are being denied their freedoms under the act.
“The first thing we have to do is give our churches their voice back. It’s been taken away. The Johnson Amendment has blocked our pastors and ministers and others from speaking their minds from their own pulpits. If they want to talk about Christianity; if they want to preach; if they want to talk about politics, they’re unable to do so. If they want to do it, they take a tremendous risk that they lose their tax-exempt status.”
He goes on to say that all religious leaders should be able to freely express their thoughts and opinions on “religious matters.”
As a Christian who goes to church regularly, I do not find any truth in President Trump’s argument for repealing the Johnson Amendment.
I also know plenty of pastors who freely speak their political opinions. It’s just that they cannot do it from the pulpit.
He is making false statements based upon fear tactics in order to trick people into believing that the church in America is under attack from the government and is at risk of losing their freedoms. He blames President Johnson and Democrats for wanting to take these freedoms away from churches.
But here’s why I believe that President Trump does not have the American church’s best interest in repealing the Johnson Amendment from a biblical viewpoint.
Consider these scriptural truths:
- As God’s people, we are not supposed to use his house of worship to further our own agendas (2 Chronicles 7:1-6; Exodus 36:8- 39:43).
- Our tithes and offerings are to be used for all aspects of God’s ministry and mission, to further His glory and gospel, as well as to take care of the physical needs of God’s people, pastors and the poor in society. (Leviticus 27; Acts 5:32-37).
- As Christians, we are supposed to live in peace with one another, united in faith of Jesus Christ; of one mind (1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:11-13).
Now consider what could happen within the Christian community if the Johnson Act is repealed.
- Money given to the church could go to endorse a political candidate. You may not have any say in the matter. Money intended to go to God’s mission and ministry, for his glory, would be funneled into supporting political candidates. Churches with the most members would have greater say than smaller churches.
- Because not every church has the same political opinions, we could have churches fighting with one another within the same communities instead of working together for God’s mission. In-fighting within the same denominations could occur, as well interdenominational fighting. Arguments between members of the same church would exist. All this fighting would detract from healthy and united Christian fellowship and relationships. It would also not be a good witness for Christ to unbelievers. But, most importantly it would detract from worshiping God.
- Churches could lose their tax-exempt status. If that happens, then your tithes and offerings would be taxed and would not be tax-deductible.
- God’s house of worship, ministry and mission could become beholden to those who hold political offices. Instead of preaching messages of hope in Christ alone, we would be hearing how man could solve our problems. Pastors and church leaders could skew scripture in order to push a political agenda.
I have prayed about this. I have searched scripture to see if there was something in God’s word that encourages us to bring politics into our worship and churches. I cannot find one to support this thought.
Brothers and sisters, we are not under attack as President Trump would have you believe. We are not persecuted like other Christians around the world.
We are free in America to worship God in our homes and churches each and every day. Our pastors and ministers . . . all of us . . . are free to speak about Christianity, “religious matters”, and our faith every day. As individuals, we can also speak freely about our political views every day.
The only thing that the Johnson Amendment limits is that our church leaders cannot financially contribute to a political candidate in the name of the church, nor endorse one candidate over another within the church and from the pulpit.
Under the Johnson Amendment, the church must remain politically neutral, which supports a biblical view of the church and politics.
President Trump says that President Johnson’s amendment was only created for political reasons. I argue that he is only pushing for repeal for the very same reasons – to fulfill his own political agenda. He is not concerned with the possible consequences for the church, only his own personal and financial gain.
It’s in the best interest of the American church to want to keep the Johnson Amendment. It’s for our own spiritual benefit.