October 2, 2008
I tend to agree this is a political stunt. But I have a couple other thoughts. Coming at this from a non-profit place not a church place. I really think disallowing non-profits from political discussion is wrong. Many non-profits should have the ability to discuss politics because politics really does affect the way they do their work (of course they shouldn't use government dollars to do it.)<br><br>Two, this really can divide a church and I think that is where the pastors really need to practice discernment. I used to regularly go to a men's bible study at a large southern church. When I started going I had recently moved from a very small urban church in Chicago. I was disturbed at the men's bible study at the very partisan language and prayer requests. I have always prayed with people of a variety of political perspectives, but there was no difference in perspective here. It was all very conservative republican. And the issues that were most brought up were not moral issues like abortion and homosexuality but issues around illegal immigration, crime, fiscal policy, etc. During the two years of occasional attendance Ann Coulter was held up as a paradigm of Christian virtue (just days after she had used some very vile language describing a political opponent), the leader suggested that everyone read Bill O'Riley's "Culture Warrior" as an example of how we need to interact with society. There were many other examples but these were two very egregious ones. <br><br>Frankly I had a hard time praying with many of these men. One because we rarely go to actual prayer, which was the real reason that I stopped going, but also because the political discussion was so distracting to my ability to pray. I know that I have some responsibility in this situation and I also support the right of these men to have their own opinions. But there was very little Christian charity toward people of different opinions.
This is something that I have been long thinking about due to my education in the nonprofit world. But before there can really be a discussion about this, there needs to be some education about the nonprofit world. <br><br>churches and other religious organizations have a 501(c)3 designation from the IRS. in the IRS code there are 28 501(c) designations... all are considered to be nonprofits and receive some type of tax exempt status. the 501(c)3 specifically allows corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals to not pay federal income tax. ALL of the organizations that fall into the above categories are restricted in what they can do politically... not just churches.<br><br>with that said... why are some, and this is the argument that I have read, feeling that churches are being persecuted because they are not allowed to endorse a political candidate in a public forum. the bigger argument is that this is a violation of free speech. <br>if the pastors who are exercising their "free speech" by endorsing a candidate from their pulpit, then they should have no problems with their church paying federal income tax, like everyone else who endorses a candidate publicly. and the truth of the matter is that, according to the Alliance Defense Fund, the impact of a church loosing its "tax-exempt" status would most likely have little affect on the church because most of the money that churches have is donated, which means it was gifted and therefore is not income. <br><br>I often wonder about the repercussions for the Kingdom of God will be when all the dust settles. Will ADF have stirred the pot so much that the government begins looking more and more at organized religious organizations? And what impact will this have on our freedom of religion?
I don't "preach politics" from the pulpit. Not because I'm afraid of my tax exempt status but because as I read the Gospels and explore how Jesus dealt with the political realities of his day his only "endorsement" was for the Kingdom of Heaven.<br><br>This is the problem with "preaching politics," all it does is set up one human form of power as being better than another - whereas Jesus placed every contemporary understanding of power on notice as not matching up to his Kingdom.<br><br>So, we can act and preach prophetically, which does deal with political realities, but this is WAY short of political endorsements from the pulpit. As it should be.<br><br>At the risk of being completely self-serving, I'm actually preaching a series on the political implications of Jesus' preaching as they might have been experienced in the first century. Here's a link to the write up (and a you tube video...).<br><br><a href="http://www.centralbaptistpalmyra.org/content/view/107/65/" rel="nofollow">http://www.centralbaptistpalmy...</a>
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan. Pvbs 29:2<br>...Love your neighbor as yourself. Matt 22:37-39<br><br>Helping people to see through the fluff of the political banter is part of loving your neighbor.<br><br>The conservative churches getting out of politics is partly to blame for this country's maladies, The liberal churches never did get out and still do not stay out of politics. You see the result of the lack of accountability and being called to righteousness in our political communities.<br><br>This has only been against IRS rules since the 1950's due to LBJ not liking a preacher stand against him.<br><br>Church family is not a refuge to hide away in -- that is a barn where wheat is gathered AFTER the harvest. The family is there to encourage you and embolden you to live vigorously and bear fruit among the tares -- within the clamor of life, not apart from it. Use your own closet to hide
What exactly does a church's "tax exempt status" mean? Churches don't make income, or if they do, a profit-making subsidiary is taxed. It primarily means that tithes and offerings are tax deductible for those who give them. If I donate to a political candidate, that is not tax deductible. If I choose to donate to a church which acts as a political advocacy organization for a candidate, why should that be deductible? The real problem is that so many organizations, not just churches, have become psychologically and financially dependent on tax deductions. If you apply to the IRS for tax exempt status, you open yourselves up to whatever criteria the IRS establishes. The real solution, for anyone who wishes to be truly independent, is not to accept government approval in the first place. We all have a constitutional right to freedom of association, which does not require government approval, and does not come with government benefits.<br><br>I believe that pastors who say "you can't be a good Christian if you vote for..." are wrong, but they have a right to be wrong. Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills church in Minnesota, did a great series on "The Myth of a Christian Nation," pointing out that everyone should be guided by their faith in voting for good laws in the kingdom of this world, but don't mistake it for the Kingdom of Heaven. Where I would draw a line is when the pastors of any church attempt to coerce the vote of either a public official or a church member, e.g. asking in some form of confession "How did you vote?" and threatening to withhold sacraments or threaten some form of excommunication. That should be prosecuted as a felony, just like threatening to fire someone who votes the wrong way, or threatening to firebomb their house or kidnap their children.
Abby, thanks for the clarification about 501(c)3 organizations! That's helpful to know as we discuss this.
Some have touched on this, but part of the problem is those who equate preaching on moral issues (e.g. abortion, homosexual behavior) as "political" meddling.<br><br>I agree that "stunts" are not cool, but there has been a double standard for some time. Why have we not read about revocation of tax-exempt status of churches who have political candidates speaking in their worship services (or is that not seen as "endorsement"?)<br><br>I do think the best approach is to simply preach the Word and urge application of biblical principles to all aspects of life. But even that principle has the potential (and, in some countries, the reality) of being "illegal."
If you endorse a certain person, then you are saying that you believe his or her beliefs are the same as yours, or why would you endorse them? For a pastor to endorse someone in private with his or her family is what they should do. Just because they are pastors doesn't mean they don't have certain wants or beliefs. It's the pastors that endorse someone and if you don't then you're wrong are the ones who need to find something else to do. Everyone should vote for the person who they believe will help them as an individual and a family and as a community. To force your beliefs on me just makes me want to turn away and go someplace else. I don't care about your tax exemptions. In God's Grace John
I have one other point to add. Just because pastors have a role as pastor doesn't mean they really have a grasp on politics. This is true with pastors on both the right and the left. Yes there are some issues that pastors may have some expertise on, but I am not sure why I would trust their opinion any more than any other. <br><br>After reading through comments in Christianity Today, talking to people in Georgia about the gas shortage, and reading other blogs I am pretty sure that the education crisis in the US has affected more than just our children.
I do not see the need to "pick sides", but should you do so, submit to the consequences. Pay the taxes and post you are no longer tax exempt, allowing your parishioners the knowledge that they cannot deduct tithes and contributions without tax consequences as well. Why risk subjecting all with in the body of the church to breaking the tax laws? In fairness, all should be told of the loss of tax exemption so they can plan their charitable giving accordingly.
There's been some very good discussion here. I agree that specifically endorsing political candidates from the pulpit crosses the line. Political stunts like these preachers are pulling are foolish and unnecessary. They have a right to preach on the issues that inform their congregation's political choices and if the IRS clamps down on them for that, they have a strong case. But to deliberately cross the line to make a point only invites an embarrassing legal confrontation from which nothing positive can be gained. Liberal churches have been skating close enough to the line to make it obvious what their preferred candidates should be for decades. Conservative churches can do the same. Explicit endorsement add nothing to their influence and only betray a lack of confidence in the members of the congregation to make up their own minds.<br><br>Aside from this, the idea that the tax exempt status of churches constitutes a government subsidy, implied by statements made in the NPR story cited here, bothers me. In this case tax exemptions prevent too much entanglement between church and state which is a good thing for both sides. The nature of the two institutions requires that they should balance one another, not that one or the other dominate. Religious institutions should not be taxed because the government has no justification for doing so; just as religious institutions have none for the direct support of the government. This is the only sensible way to uphold both the anti-establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.
Having a candidate speak in church may or may not be an endorsement. I have read of ministers who introduced candidates with the familiar quote "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Lots of people are in churches on Sunday, and politicians go wherever there is a crowd. Hosting one candidate, and turning another down for the immorality of some campaign position they have taken, would be a different matter. But as one Roman Catholic priest observed in 2004, its really not moral to have people battling over which candidate to vote for when we have gathered to pray.
Exempting church property from tax prevents entanglement between church and state. Exempting tithes and offerings is providing an indirect subsidy and government stamp of approval. That creates entanglement. Incidentally, most state during the 19th century had laws strictly limiting the acreage a church could hold, and/or the value of exempt property, a simple means of keeping the tax exemption within its limited purpose, not allowing the obscene displays of wealth by some "churches" and "pastors" to be cloaked in tax exemptions. A place or worship, and whatever accoutrements a church requires to fulfill its obligations, should not be taxed by the state. Anything beyond that the state has no duty to turn a blind eye to.
I don't want to offend anyone, but I completely disagree. I think its about time the christians in this country stand up for their Lord. Politics and judicial tyranny is what has this country in the shape it is in now. abortion, same sex marriage, and the like are fundamentals of our faith and must be protected. The only way to do this is through the law, and that means getting involved in the political processes that get these judges and presidents elected. The tax-exempt status of our churches is not all that is at stake here...It is the future of our nation!!<br>And you missed one very important scripture when money(tax-exemption) is concerned...."My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches in Glory"<br><br>Johnny West
Johnny, you need to find yourself another country, or else, you need to study the foundations of the one you were born into. You have every right to believe that abortion should be suppressed by criminal laws. You have every right to vote for it. You have every right to believe that the government should only license marriages that are between one man and one woman. But this nation was founded on the principle that the law is NOT governed by any church doctrine. What makes you think that "the Christians" have ever NOT stood up for their Lord? What makes you think the kingdom of this world, which every government is, will ever conform to the Kingdom of God? Is your faith so weak that it needs protection from what James Madison called "the profane hand of the civil magistrate"? Do you imagine that enforcement by spiritual thought police will produce genuine, sincere conversion to Christianity? Let YOUR light shine, don't try to set others on fire with it. Demonstrate your abhorrence of abortion by standing outside a clinic with papers in hand, agreeing to adopt the child if the woman coming up to the door carries her pregnancy to term. Greg Boyd's sermon series, "The Myth of a Christian Nation," includes a moving account of how a woman named Dorothy walked a neighbor's teen daughter through deciding how to handle an unplanned pregnancy, eventually leading to a full-term birth; he closed "Dorothy voted pro-choice, and I submit to you that Dorothy is more pro-life than I am." There is an excellent novel by Robert Heinlein which shows the end result of the road you advocate: its called "If This Goes On..." and any church leadership who became political rulers would end up just as corrupt and venal and immoral as Heinlein suggests. It is separation of church and state that keeps the church somewhat purer than it has been when the two were united in unholy matrimony.
When I go to church I expect discussion on how to show Christ to the world around me. I don't recall any record of Christ making political endosements. If a pastor wants to volunteer in a political campaign as a private person he is welcome to do so but I don't think his opinions should be aired in his capacity as pastor.<br><br>By the same token when I go to a concert I don't expect a political diatribe from the artist I paid to hear sing. Those people are exercising their right to free speech on my nickel. I think I have a right not to hear them.<br><br>I never like to be subjected to someone else's politics at any event when the focus of that event is not political.
As a former pastor, I did "chafe beneath the government's restrictions" on political speech. And I talked more than once in sermons about how we should do more than simply "risk" tax-exempt status, we should refuse it altogether. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am now a "former" pastor, as mine is not a very popular view. However, I believe that in far too many cases tax-exempt status has become almost idolatrous, and causes many pulpits to fall silent when there should be prophetic speech against ungodly behavior. It almost amounts to the church taking a favor from the government and then not wanting to obey the conditions of that favor. There are strings attached to the tax-exempt status, and I believe these strings can and are binding the church. I believe that the church in America may soon find herself forced to choose between a tax-exempt favor and preaching the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Better to give it up now than have it used against you later.
I've yet to meet a Christian who describes the fundamentals of their faith as a political stance against abortion and same sex marriage. <br><br>If I were to meet someone whose fundamentals were those items I think I'd begin talking about Jesus, Sin, redemption, and having a relationship with God, etc... and we can discuss the present concerns of politics at a later date.
Thank you for sharing those words!
AMEN! I would probably disagree with you about what prophetic speech should come from the pulpit, and which behavior is ungodly, but ALL viewpoints within the body of Christ should be INDEPENDENT of government largesse and influence. My caveat is, generally the prophetic speech should not identify with any political party, nor any political candidate, because that too is idolatrous. (Disclosure: my list of candidates I would be willing to vote for at the beginning of this year were Edwards, Obama or Huckabee.) By all means encourage church members to take EVERY moral teaching and APPLY it ALL when choosing which imperfect candidate to vote for, which imperfectly worded referendum to vote for or against. Then leave each individual citizen to make up their own minds.
Talk about a loaded subject!! There is an ever present danger of our own perspective seeping into things political. We may not like the party and therefore be biased towards any representative of that party because of it's party line. This may seem reasonable but may also be judgemental. I believe we must be urged to be alert and informed before we select someone to lead our country. In Australia we legally, all have to vote and this is a good idea, an important one because it means that we each have to take a concern in the countrys leadership. However this doesn't automatically mean that we are informed, as emotions come into it or more realistically and more often, we vote how our parents voted. So to that end as I said, our pastors must urge us to be informed as to the candidates true beliefs. Just going to church is not good enough. We have a Prime Minister who goes to church but will not reply when asked if he believes Jesus is Lord, just skips around the subject. <br>Laws that involve things like abortion, overseas policys that interfere with the financial welfare of other nations, slavery, drugs, crime, all christians MUST have some say in this and MUST be urged to stand up and speak.<br>Jesus said "render unto Ceaser ..." so should churches be tax-exempt? Maybe means tested. Imagine the tax on the catholic church, woo hoo!!<br>We don't have the issue of seperating church and state thank God because we see that as a way of cutting off the tongue of a powerful voice. You have your constitution which was not necessarily written by godly men and you adhere to it like glue this is not necessarily a good thing as it appears to tie the hands in so many areas.Guns being the poster girl for the constitution. Our religious institutions often stand up and let their voice be heard. The catholic church has recently threatened to shut down hospitals and other health organisations over the abortion debate we have going on at the moment if the government tries to legalise abortions at 24 weeks.<br>Perhaps your laws need to change so churches can have a say but thats just an outsiders point of view. Certainly everybody should be legally made to vote and allowed to openly discuss issues however, should they have a large place in the pulpit? I guess that depends on the times and the seasons of ones country.
What gives the state this kind of authority over the church? If non-taxable donations are a form of government subsidy, then it seems that any money the government lets us keep is a subsidy. The unfounded assumption is that the government has a right to tax such things. The power to tax can be very coercive, forgetting that our government is supposed to operate at the consent of the governed. Who defines what the tax rate will be or its "limited purpose" or defines the churches' "obligations?" Abuses happen. But it is up to informed citizens who make such donations to stop them, not the heavy hand of the government.
The legal status of abortion on demand is a problem because by it abortion is promoted as a solution to unwanted pregnancy. Unfortunately abortion is a choice that undermines all others because it "eliminates" (kills) the problem at its "source" (unwanted fetal humans). If we legalized euthanasia for the poor, where would be the incentive to alleviate poverty? If human lives are only worth protecting if someone "wants" them, we are in serious moral decay. Not long ago I saw a teenage mother on the TV news being sentenced to 10 years in prison for shaking and severely injuring her 7 week old daughter. Why such a severe punishment when a few months earlier she could have aborted the girl with no questions asked? The question of where we draw the line here is a serious one because it is a line between life and death. While legal means are not the whole answer, or even the primary one--we must primarily provide support for life choices--the legality of killing the unborn severely undermines other choices. It also undermines child support, parental involvement, and protection from sexual abuse (because abortion is the easiest way to hide the unwanted consequences of such problems). The list goes on...
Yes, we have a constitution, which was written by men who were communicants of a variety of religious denominations, who deliberately chose to omit any mention of God or Jesus from that document. It is the foundation of government, and it clearly recognizes that government is not, and should not be, intrusive into all areas of life. It is intended to tie the hands of government, so that it stays within its authorized jurisdiction, and does not invade others, or assume powers it was not given. It is a very good thing. We have liberties that neither the president nor congress may touch. Freedom of religion is one of them. Congress shall pass NO LAW infringing the free exercise of religion. Our religious institutions let their voice be heard in many ways, but they have no dominion over other citizens through the instrument of government. Thank God.
The state has NO authority over the church, particularly in matters of faith and doctrine. A church would have to practice human sacrifice, rape, or assault and battery before the state had jurisdiction. If the government presumed to tax what comes into the offering plate, your objections would be right on target; that would be infringement on the free exercise of religion. But the only "tax exemption" churches receive from the feds is that the tithes and offerings of members are deductible from individual taxable income. That is, in a limited sense, a subsidy from other taxpayers, although if a majority of us give to some church, it all evens out. Some years ago, the city of Berkeley, CA, decided to license non-profits, in the same manner as it licenses businesses, to raise revenue, and some poor fool in the revenue department tried to apply that to churches. A befuddled liberal at a local law school pontificated (the pun is intentional) that if the city taxes all non-profits, it would be unconstitutional NOT to apply it to churches. The city council simply backed off because the move was so controversial. The law professor was wrong: to license a church is an establishment of religion, to shut down a church for non-payment of license fees is an infringement of free exercise. Both ways, the city would have had to back off eventually.
I'm talking about the authority to tax the income that the church receives from it's donors. I don' t see how it makes a difference where or when the money given to churches is taxed. Why does it make a difference which pocket the tax money comes from? Taxing it in either way is restrictive and an infringement on the churches source of income which may certainly have an adverse effect on how well they operate or whether they can even operate at all. There is no compelling reason to view non-taxable income as as subsidy unless you assume that the government or other taxpayers have a right to the tax on those funds. What supports that assumption? No matter what your beliefs, there are non-taxable ways to contribute money to organizations that support or express those beliefs. So there is equal opportunity for it to "all even out" as you say. All people have a choice what to do with the discretionary income they have. They can spend it in taxable ways or donate it.
The difference is very simple. My income is taxable, except any amounts that are exempt for some reason. The fact that I give it to a church might be one such exemption, but there is no reason it has to be. Government doesn't have to do favors for the church, it has to leave the church alone in matters of faith and doctrine. Money donated to a church is not "income" in the same sense, and therefore is not taxable.
In what sense is money donated to the church not income for the church? We may be splitting hairs here, but my point would be that the government does no favors for the church by not taxing its income. To think of it that way simply reasserts without justification the assumption that the government rightfully has this financial power over the church. The whole idea that the government, or taxpayers other than those who donate the money, have any claim on that tax money is what I question. I see no basis for that claim. What gives government primacy over the church in this way?
If I have a job or own a business, I make money through offering services or products for sale, which is my income. A church produces nothing of commercial value. It depends on individuals who make money, commercially, donating (not investing) some of their money, to be used for a common purpose. The same is true of most voluntary associations and incorporated non-profits. If the church owns and operates a business, income from that business is taxable, and the remainder can then be applied to church purposes.
Thanks for the clarification. This definition of income has practical value for defining what the government will tax and what it won't. That definition serves the government's purposes. But <i>functionally</i>, donations to any organization are (unearned you might say) income on which the organization depends for its operation. Taxing those donations could easily hinder, or even prohibit the operation of of a church. Since the church is a religious institution, I think the First Amendment defines a relation ship to it that prohibits the state from taxing the its means of support. To do so would prohibit the "<i>free</i> exercise" of religion. The state is also prohibited from establishing its own religion to the exclusion of others. Neither church or state has primacy over the other. This may be a delicate balance to maintain, but i think it's vital to do so.
Every now and then, vigorous debate on this site ends in recognition that fundamentally we agree. I believe you have stated the proper relationship between church and state very well, as well as the danger that, as Justice Marshall once said "The power to tax is the power to destroy." The same is true of any voluntary association -- if the government can tax voluntary donations as income, then it can abolish freedom of association.
SiarlysJenkins perhaps your constitution needs to be changed after all even you admit it was written by men and while I have not read it extensively the fact as you mentioned, they "Chose" to omit any mention of God or Jesus gives me great cause for concern. Jesus is central to our lives and this MUST be maintained especially where the leaders of our country are concerned. Without Godly leadership ones country will falter as yours currently is. (The financial damage done to so many lives globally is horrendous). The past 100 years in America has shown just how dangerous leaving God out is. I know this is contentious but it is not meant to be insulting merely a perspective for you to consider from someone outside your own country and I am just one of many observers. I realise that to Americans something like the Constitution is sacrosanct however it may need to be revisited to see if it is indeed a document worthy of controlling ones life after all by your own words, it was written only by men and considering the times and turmoil during which it was written, exactly what was their intent and were there individual personal agendas involved that did not consider future times?
Chris, I do not take your words as insulting, I merely believe that the perspective you offer is wrong. When it comes from Americans, it is also dangerous, because when people who fervently identify with "my country" don't bother to learn the foundations of the nation they claim, they could drive it off a cliff. From you, I take it in a more detached spirit, since you are half way around the world and don't vote here.<br><br>James Madison, one of our founding fathers, objected to a motion in the state of Virginia to make reference to Jesus in a proposed law. He observed "The better part of respect for that holy name would be not to insert it into a legislative enactment." He also observed that religion needed to be protected from "the profane hand of the civil magistrate." In short, it is an act of humility not to wrap a mere secular civil governing document in the holy Name of God. One of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, pointed out that both sides in our Civil War prayed to the same God, and the prayers of both could not be answered -- in fact, God might not choose to answer the prayers of either one. Afterward, he observed that his speech would not be popular, because men do not like to be reminded that the Almighty has purposes other than their own. Jesus is indeed central to OUR LIVES as Christians, but no government provides Godly leadership, ever, because that is not in the nature of government. It perverts faith in God when we grant government pretensions to holiness. Our constitution was indeed written by men: has your country received a constitution directly from the hands of the Almighty? I didn't think so. We can amend it, and have 27 times, including the 13th Amendment which banned slavery. But because it is the instrument which LIMITS the powers of government, it was made difficult to amend -- that requires 2/3 of both houses of congress and a majority in 3/4 of the state legislatures. We wouldn't want our politicians changing the constitution every time it got in their way -- it is designed and intended to get in their way, and for that I thank God.
SiarlysJenkins (long name) Perhaps if governments were made to include the church (so to speak) then a constitution that insisted that the country be run according to Gods scriptural laws may be a solution. Yes I do know that man can always misinterpret/manipulate God's word to create control over others, one such traditional churches history comes to mind, but we could use King David as an example. Or Solomon, (perhaps) at least until he lost the plot.<br>I don't know about James Madison, I'll have to do some homework to see the context and purpose behind all of that.<br>Better Go. Have a fabulous day.
There is a model of government that includes the church. It was built by the Bishops of Rome in medieval Europe. It is still advocated, although not always in public, by the more conservative sort of Roman theologians today. When brave voices suggested that the Popes and Bishops and Priests might be wrong, that ordinary people should read the Bible for themselves, the model of governments that included the church gave us the Thirty Years War, the Spanish Inquisition, various tortures, beheadings, burnings at the stake. (Jan Hus for example, and Michael Servetius). No nation can be "run according to God's scriptural laws." The participants of this discussion could not agree on exactly what those laws are. Please, learn some history before throwing out such thoughtless and already tried and failed notions. Or look at the foremost advocates in the world today of governments run according to God's laws: al Qaeda and the Taliban. Christians who tried to exercise such secular powers in the name of God would be just as terrifying, bloody and repulsive.
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