Thursday 28 Aug 2014

Not in My Pulpit!" -- Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Up until 1954, churches were considered tax-exempt. The church was never supposed to be part OF government or answerable TO government. Simply put, the government has no jurisdiction over the church. Never did. Ever heard of separation of church and state? But we have allowed the government to enter into our places of worship. Religion cannot be free if it has to pay taxes to exercise it!

Here’s a quick history lesson. Then Senator Lyndon B Johnson was in a fight for his senate-seat-life. Before 1954, the church spoke out on the most critical issues of the day with regularity and boldness. People looked to the churches for moral direction. There were a couple of non-profit groups that were attacking LBJ’s candidacy. In an effort to silence them, he influenced existing 501(c)(3) regulation to include churches and non-profits, adding they could not participate in any political campaign, either in support of or in opposition to a candidate for elective office. In one fell swoop, LBJ effectively eliminated the church’s ability to influence the culture. Because we let him.

We let him! Ever since, by and large, we have stopped using the pulpit to speak to issues relevant to the culture and to our day, in fear of costly retribution that should not exist. Churches have always been “automatically” tax-exempt. And contributions to churches have always been “automatically” tax-deductible. Steve Nestor, former IRS agent, writes

"I am not the only IRS employee who’s wondered why churches go to the government and seek permission to be exempted from a tax they didn’t owe to begin with, and to seek a tax deductible status that they’ve always had anyway. Many of us have marveled at how church leaders want to be regulated and controlled by an agency of government that most Americans have prayed would just get out of their lives. Churches are in an amazingly unique position, but they don’t seem to know or appreciate the implications of what it would mean to be free of government control."

October 2nd was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an initiative started in 2008 by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). Pastors commit to exercising their First Amendment rights to preach on the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office, despite federal tax regulations that claim this action is prohibited by federal tax laws. After the service, pastors send their sermons to the IRS for review. To date, there has been just one investigation, which was dropped after a few months.

Erik Stanley, Senior Legal Counsel of ADF, says, “ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit. Churches can decide for themselves that they either do or don’t want their pastors to speak about electoral candidates. The point of the Pulpit Initiative is very simple: the IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status. We need to get the government out of the pulpit.”

Should we wait an entire year for our next freedom Sunday? Why might you be reticent to address certain issues? Are you purposely not speaking on specific topics simply because it might be seen as political? Or because you might lose a certain tax status? Or because some in your flock might not agree with you? Are we willing to take the hard stance in speaking truth to all areas of life, including those deemed to hot to speak about?

May we be able to agree with Paul, who writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court…It is the Lord who judges me.”

Thomas Jefferson

“God who gave us life, gave us liberty.  And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God.”    

Thomas Jefferson, Third President

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