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Trump’s Executive Order Easing Restrictions On Church Political Activity Is No Blessing

Christian voters turned out big for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, helping to push him over the finish line, based on several campaign promises.

By Susan Wright

One of those promises involved appointing conservative judges to the Supreme Court. And while we don’t really know how Neil Gorsuch will come down on issues that matter to Christians yet, we’re hopeful.

Other promises were based in the idea that there would be a new age of “religious freedom” for Christians.

It was a welcome prospect, as eight years under Barack Obama has certainly made things more uncomfortable for American Christians.

News out Wednesday revealed that President Trump is set to sign an executive order on Thursday morning that would make it easier for churches and other tax-exempt organizations to become politically involved, without fear of losing their tax-exempt status, per the Johnson Amendment..

From The Hill:

Easing restrictions on church political activity has been a longtime priority for Trump, social conservatives and a number of congressional Republicans. They argue the Johnson amendment stifles churches’ First Amendment rights.

The executive order would direct the IRS to exercise “maximum enforcement discretion” on the Johnson Amendment, according to a senior administration official.

To be clear, this doesn’t eliminate the Johnson Amendment. That is something that Trump and several GOP lawmakers have expressed a desire to tackle in the next tax reform bill.

I don’t know that they’ll get it.

I don’t know that they should.

For starters, we need to understand what the Johnson Amendment does and does not prohibit.

What it does not do is prevent priests or pastors from teaching or preaching the Word of God. If a pastor wants to stand against abortion by preaching from Psalm 139:16 (NLT) — “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” — he can.

If a priest wants to give a lesson on traditional marriage, per Mark 10:6-9 (NKJV) — “6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” — he can.

Further, churches can set up voter registration booths within their church walls and can even hand out voter guides, to show where candidates stand on the issues, as long as the guides remain nonpartisan.

What churches and other 501 (c)(3) charities cannot do is become political stops, allowing for politicians to campaign from the pulpit.

They can have guest speakers, of course. They just can’t openly favor one candidate over another.

The House Oversight Committee is set to hold a hearing on the Johnson Amendment on Thursday, which also happens to be the National Day of Prayer.

I hope they pray before starting the meeting, actually.

Democrat lawmakers and even some charities and religious organizations are asking that the Johnson Amendment not be repealed, for fear of introducing “dark money” into elections, as well as the politicization of those non-profits.

What a bizarre, upside down period in history we are in, when I find I have more in common with Democrats, at least by what they say, than I do with Republicans, as it pertains to the Johnson Amendment.

The pulpit is no place to prop up candidates.

If we’ve learned nothing else over the years, it should be that people will let you down, and politicians are as deeply flaws as we all are.

Democratic Senators Ron Wyden (Ore.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), and Bill Nelson (Fla.) co-authored a letter to members on the committee, urging them to think of the consequences.

“Proposals to weaken the prohibition on political campaign activity by charities will effectively lead to the elimination of our nation’s campaign finance laws,” they said.

The Democrats also argued that “nonpartisanship is the cornerstone of Americans’ trust in the charitable sector,” and that if charities started in engage in political activities, it would undermine their credibility. Additionally, the senators argued that the Johnson Amendment ensures that federal grants to charities “are free from political conflicts of interest.”

That sounds perfectly logical.

I would also propose the pulpit is the last place for a politician to be, for any other reason than to introduce himself and/or possibly give his or her testimony.

The fear I have with easing or lifting the Johnson Amendment, a vain piece of legislation that never should have come about, is a drifting from reliance on God’s Word and way, to some watered-down Gospel that allows for men to share the same platform that should be reserved for God, alone.

I’m reminded of the scene from John 2, when Jesus came upon the temple being used as a marketplace.

It was the only time in the Bible that we see Jesus lose his cool, as he turned over tables and drove out the moneychangers.

We also heard him say to the priests of the temple, “Stop making my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

How much more angered would he be to see his churches turned into campaign headquarters?

Let the worldly things remain in the world and let the church remain holy, a place of reflection, worship, and praise.

President Trump has said that the Johnson Amendment prevents Christians from worshiping freely.

That’s just not so. I do believe, however, that if the world is allowed to invade the pulpit and focus is taken off of God, in order to do the work of the world, we will see the American church fall.

Unfortunately, someone (then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson) saw a need to write the Johnson Amendment into the tax code, which means men were perverting the purpose of the church as far back as the 1950s, and certainly beyond.

While I welcome some changes that would allow for more religious freedoms, ending the Johnson Amendment should not be a high priority.

In fact, I fear men left to their own devices, would corrupt the purpose of the church with politics.

Ideally, let the pastors and priests teach the principles of our faith, and then let them encourage their congregations to put those values and principles into action in all areas of their life, including viewing politics through the prism of their morals and beliefs.

We don’t need to hear politics from the pulpit. That is a place and time reserved for God, alone.


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