Written by Don Byrd
In a new op-ed for Religion News Service, Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director Amanda Tyler explains why the proposal to remove the IRS ban on electioneering by 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, is a bad idea. The column is a welcome and helpful counterpoint to Tony Perkins’ RNS op-ed supporting a change in the so-called “Johnson Amendment.”
Contrary to Perkins’ insistence otherwise, Tyler emphasizes that the rule does not erase the free speech rights of houses of worship or their clergy. Pastors and churches are free to speak out on the issues of the day, and church leaders are free, on their own, to endorse and assist candidates, “as long as tax-exempt church resources are not used and it is clear the pastor is acting in his individual capacity.”
I hope everyone engaged in this debate also focuses on another key point she makes: Lifting this rule risks turning our churches into Political Action Committees for parties and candidates.
Here is an excerpt from her column:
Changing the law is not about protecting free speech.
Preachers can and do speak out, including from the pulpit, on any issue, and houses of worship may advocate for moral and ethical positions. Pastors and other church leaders, as individuals, can participate in the electoral process as much as they wish, as long as tax-exempt church resources are not used and it is clear the pastor is acting in his individual capacity. And, if a church really wants to wade into the political morass by intervening in an election, it can give up its charitable tax designation.
But beware, for as soon as the church joins at the hip with a particular candidate or party, its prophetic witness — its ability to speak truth to power and not risk being co-opted by the government — is hindered. The credibility and integrity of congregations would suffer with bad decisions of candidates they endorsed.
On this topic, I also highly recommend two other pieces — one by a Baptist pastor, and the other by a professor.
- In a column for Huffington Post, Baptist pastor and BJC Board member Andrew Daugherty notes that abandoning the rule would be “to the peril of both our nation’s political process and the prophetic witness of our nation’s great religions.”
- In a Baptist News Global column, Wake Forest Professor Bill Leonard writes that changing the law would have the effect of “splitting churches left and right.” And he closes with this thought:
Conscience and gospel oblige us all to respond to the injustices we perceive in the nation and the world. But Christian conscience underwritten by tax favors from the state may dilute our witness and devalue the gospel we claim to represent.