Gay Rights, the IRS and the Church

There is a growing movement among conservative Pastors to speak out about Gay Rights, the state of the economy and the President in our country and they are breaking the law. They are breaking the law because their sermons can be considers political campaigning.

This is a movement of pastors encouraging other pastors to talk politics in the pulpit.  Last year 536 pastors across the country participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”  This year even more are being encouraged and pressured to join. Pulpit Fredom Sunday is where Pastors climb into their pulpits on the first Sunday of October (10:7:12), a few weeks before the presidential election, to teach on abortion, homosexuality, the government and who their congregations should vote for.

Doing this is a voilation of the 1954 Internal Revenue Code 501(c)3. Regardless of the legitimacy of this law (the Johnson Amendment), it is still a law which states,

“In addition, it (a 501(c)3 organization) may not be an action
organization
, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a
substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any
campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

Those who flaunt this law, Jim Garlow of Skyline Weslyen Church in San Diego, CA, Mac Hammond of the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, MN, Voddie Bauchman the Pastor of Preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, TX, along with others other run the risk of losing this 501(c)3 tax exempt status. But, it appears these pastors do not care about that.  Some have even gone so far as to send DVDs of their messages to the IRS looking for fight.

However, there are some who are not engaging in Political Sermon Sunday. Most notably John Piper of Bethel Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN.  Piper who is willing to preach a theology where homosexuality is sin and against the design and purpose of God, is not willing to jump into the political fray of this conversation.  His spokesperson, Daivd Mathis, is quoted in the Star Tribune saying,

“Basically our position is, we’re not taking one as a church. And by addressing this in June rather than October or early November, there’s no effort here for political expediency, trying to get certain votes out of people.”

Piper himself said in a sermon,

“Don’t press the organization of the church or
her pastors into political activism.” 

Those who disagree with the idea of politics in the pulpit, like Piper and Leith Anderson, are said to be afraid of the big bad IRS taking away their churches 501(c)3 statues. This would most certainly have catastrophic financial implication for any church. Even though Pipe, et.el. say their motivation is not the tax breaks.

Could there be another reason for not supporting Pulpit Freedom Sunday? For not engaging in political sermonizing? For not poking the IRS with a stick, daring them to come after you?  I think so and it has more to do with theology than politics.

I find it odd that all pastors will tell you they want to see the people in the churches they serve to be growing, developing and spiritually mature Crrist followers.  But Pulpit Freedom Sunday or telling people how they should vote on issues or who they should vote into office is the very opposite of this desire.

Telling people who to vote for or how to vote on issues creates an environment where people come to the pastor for direction, marching orders and for his knowledge.  The pastor moves from shepherd to King at best. At worst he moves from shepherd to Pope, being the only person holding the knowledge of God’s desires for the people and the country.

Events and attitudes like Pulpit Freedom Sunday stops people from seeking after God and his will. “If my pastors knows who I should vote for and he is a spiritual man who is close to God, then maybe I should vote for who he votes for,” some will reason.

On the other hand, I have always taken the position to never preach or tell people who or how to vote and this has nothing to do with my political views. I just tell people to vote.  I encourage them to:

  1. Read Scripture
  2. Study the ballot
  3. Pray
  4. Vote

Doing this reminds people that God can speak to them and through them.  That they are free from needing any mediator between God and themselves other than Christ. It removes from me the need to push my agenda and it forces me to rely on the Spirit of God to guide his people according to his will and plan.

Even though some in the evangelical world may not see eye to eye on whether the pulpit is the place for politics or not, we can all agree that God is sovereign and in control not matter who sits in the Oval Office.

 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.
For there is no authority except from God, and those that
exist have been instituted by God.” Romans 13:1

 

Resources:
Alliance Defense Fund
Star Tribune article on John Piper
IRS code
MSN article on Jim Garlow
Pulpit Freedom Sunday website

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