By Brian Kaylor / Word & Way
This is an abbreviated version of the article. The full story is available on the Word & Way website.
On May 4, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on “promoting free speech and religious liberty.” Using a National Day of Prayer event at the White House for the political act, Trump signed an order he claimed would give “our churches their voices back” and “not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.” Yet, supporters and critics alike note his executive order actually does little, instead outlining a general philosophy. Many Baptists quickly responded to the new executive order. While several Southern Baptist leaders offered their support, other Baptists criticize the action.
ERCL President Russell Moore took to Twitter to offer an endorsement of the action: “Grateful for Executive Order’s affirmation of the need to protect religious freedom. Much, much more needed, especially from Congress.”
Other Baptists, however, see the effort to weaken the “Johnson Amendment” as problematic. Although a president cannot actually repeal the regulation, his act may encourage some churches to engage in partisan politics.
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, called the order “largely a symbolic act” with “nothing to advance it.” She added, however, it offers “further evidence that President Trump wants churches to be vehicles for political campaigns.”
“Americans think changing the tax law to encourage churches to endorse and oppose political candidates with tax-deductible contributions is a terrible idea,” Tyler added. “But some politicians and a few interest groups looking to solidify their political power continue to push it to further their agenda.”
Shortly before Trump signed the executive order, Tyler submitted testimony to a House subcommittee hearing about the “Johnson Amendment.” In April, the BJC spearhead a coalition of 99 faith groups that sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them not to repeal the “Johnson Amendment.” Among the 99 groups signing the letter: Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Churchnet, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Heartland and National Baptist Convention of America.