September 24, 2010
I Can See November from My Pew
Sarah Palin can see November from her house. Somewhere between 87,000 and a few hundred thousand, on August 28, could see November from the Washington Monument.
I can see November from my pew. What I hear about November from the pulpit is another story.
According to the Alliance Defense Fund ("ADF"), restrictions on what my church can say began in 1954 with the "Johnson Amendment:"
The 1954 amendment, offered by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, stated that non-profit tax-exempt entities could not "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." Since the amendment passed, the IRS has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches about candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption.
Alan Sears, president and CEO of ADF, comments:
It's hard for Americans to grasp what a seismic shift the Johnson Amendment marked in our national life...prior to that regulation, preaching on the major candidates and issues was a given...Pastors understood it as their duty to shine the light of biblical wisdom on the political questions that so directly impacted the daily lives of their flock. The moral wisdom conveyed in those sermons shifted national attitudes about slavery, child labor, civil rights, racial segregation-even independence itself.
Erik Stanley, ADF senior legal counsel, noted that the amendment, "without any analysis of its possible ramifications and no committee consideration...adopted on a voice vote...overturning 200 years of American history," is unconstitutional.
In 2008, the ADF began "a strategic legal effort designed to push back the overbearing intrusion of IRS agents into the internal affairs of America's churches." The ADF describes this "Pulpit Initiative" not about "endorsing or opposing candidates" but rather as an effort to "restore the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit...on any number of cultural and societal issues from a biblical perspective." Churches are provided with materials and information on the initiative on the ADF website and "SpeakUpMovement.Org" resource.
The Initiative's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" is set this year for September 26. Over 100 pastors plan to participate by preaching a sermon "discussing the intersection of the political realm with Scriptural truth."
David Barton of Wallbuilders, as a recent guest of Glenn Beck, described Freedom Sunday as an opportunity for churches to say: "IRS, come after me. I dare you." According to ADF's Stanley, since the Initiative first began, the IRS has challenged only one participating church, eleven months later canceling the audit "with no action taken."
The ADF, as it seeks to provoke a constitutional challenge, notes the irony that the opposition has "yet to make one constitutionally-derived argument against it...they laud the ‘separation of church and state'...yet are asking for continued government control and censorship of a pastor's sermon."
Churches must assert their role in arming members for the war against moral relativism and encourage believers to engage in the world of politics. Christians must continue to battle social issues even while conservative politicians surrender with calls for a "truce." As one pastor who took part in last year's Freedom Sunday explained: "You can't legislate morality, but every law put into effect is a function of someone's morality."
Some have noted that this administration's recent use of the phrase "freedom of worship" in place of "freedom of religion" may forewarn "politically correct" restrictions on religious thought, limiting it to the physical confines of church. The ADF is working to rid the IRS censorship of "freedom of speech" within those confines, and to reveal the hypocrisy of restrictions, which instead of separating the church from the state, actually give the state control over our churches.
Watch for updates from your pew. Better yet, join the mission to ensure that freedom of religion remains your right, and vote in November.