Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has introduced legislation that would change the IRS tax code, allowing church leaders to speak specifically about politics from the pulpit. Critics say it gives tax-free churches the go-ahead to campaign for candidates and causes, but this particular legislation prohibits churches’ tax-exempt money from being used toward campaign messages.
WorldNetDaily’s own Bill Press published a rather inflammatory column yesterday against this legislation, writing, “If Jones had ever read his history, he would know that the last thing the Framers wanted, for themselves or fellow Americans, was to go to church and hear preachers talk politics.” Unfortunately, Press concludes it is not the responsibility of the church community to resolve this issue, but rather the role of the federal government to encourage churches to act a certain way.
Press may say I’m a fool or “dumb as a fencepost,” but the point is it’s none of the government’s business what should or should not be the topic of a sermon. The current law is essentially a bribe to churches: In exchange for tax-free status, don’t get politically involved. It’s wrong on various levels, but a big reason for repealing the stipulation is that the government attempt at culture shaping is completely out of line. While critics like Bill Press say this is needed to keep the Jerry Falwells of the world in check, I’d rather err on the side of personal responsibility instead of a regulation that manipulates speech.
For the community of evangelicals in America, the attempt to manipulate churches has manifested some pathetic behavior. As outlined in a previous column many months ago, organizations have been started in Kansas and Virginia that work to organize activists to spy on known liberal and conservative preachers and catch them preaching too heavily on politics. Then, armed with evidence, they file reports to the IRS hoping to silence congregations of differing ideologies. This childish behavior very much epitomizes the current situation where churches are essentially begging at the feet of government for their tax break. And, like handing crumbs to a starving man, the agenda-driven tax code forces churches to behave in a manner that is acceptable to politicians in Congress.
On the other end, when it comes to the determination and conviction of active churches, the spirit of the law is being broken every week by politically active preachers around the country who do speak about political ideologies from the pulpit. If you turn on religious television at the right time, there’s a good chance you might find the Rev. D. James Kennedy preaching about colonial America ideals.
Not that such behavior is even fitting for the institution of the church. I’m glad my pastor doesn’t tell me how to think politically. Our church has socialists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and everyone in between. Partisan politics in the church goes against the spirit of unity that all believers should have. But again I ask, is it the role of government to tell Americans how to talk about religion and politics? No, it is not.
There are, I think, only two solutions to this mess: Remove the tax break for churches, or remove the speech language in the tax code. Rep. Jones says churches have a “special place” in America, so he wants to keep the tax-exemptions. While it would certainly make things harder for churches, taxing churches wouldn’t be the end of the world. As tension grows between differing political ideologies, it comes down to this: The federal government must stop manipulating the expression of America’s religious institutions with bribes.