Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alliance Defense Fund and The Pulpit Initiative

In 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed a piece of legislation in Congress that became known as the 'Johnson Amendment'. This legislation changed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code by prohibiting churches and other non-profit organizations from supporting or opposing a candidate for political office. Since the enactment of this legislation, Pastors and other ministers have been forced to keep silent regarding political speech that could be construed as speaking for or against a candidates - even if the speech is clearly proclamation of scriptural truth. Pastors and churches can be investigated by the IRS and, if found in conflict with the regulation, have their non-profit tax exemption status revoked.

A well known conservative Christian legal advocacy group called the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is taking the IRS to task with respect to this government regulation. This organization and its supporters rightly proclaims that the 'Johnson Amendment' constitutes a form of interference with and prohibition of religious free speech that is unconstitutional in nature. The ADF has designated Sunday September 28, 2008 as 'Pulpit Freedom Sunday' and is recruiting U.S. Pastors to defy the IRS mandate on this day. If this action results in an IRS investigation, the ADF will sue to overturn the federal rules regulating the unconstitutional practices of the IRS.

Is this a good idea?

Should Apostolic ministers consider participating in such an endeavor?

This is a complex and multifaceted issue to be sure. Many Apostolic ministers believe it is generally not a good practice to address political issues from the pulpit for various reasons. The risk of jeopardizing the church's tax exempt status notwithstanding, politically charged speech does have the potential of alienating or offending church members and guests alike who may not entirely share the same political views. There may be those in the congregation who support or oppose a particular candidate due to other reasons that are not connected with the presenting issues of the minister. Some also feel that emphasis on political matters can potentially steal the focus away from the priority of spreading the Gospel and saving the lost.

On the other hand, the issue at stake is not whether or not it is always the best practice for a minister to voice his view on a particular matter that intersects with politics. The issue at stake is that ministers and churches have the constitutional right to preach from the pulpit a sermon that addresses candidates for government office in light of the truth of Scripture. Pastors have a right to speak about Biblical values from the pulpit without fear of government intrusion or punishment.

The focus of pulpit ministry should, indeed, be the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But many feel that the minister of the Gospel also has a responsibility to proclaim Scriptural truth on all matters, including social issues that may intersect with politics and candidates for office. Preachers of the Gospel have played a significant historical role in this regard concerning critical moral issues such as slavery, women's suffrage, child labor, prostitution, and so forth.

Pentecostals (especially those of the Apostolic variety) have not historically been a politically active group. This is not to say that Apostolic ministers and leaders are not concerned about issues that intersect with morality and the free exercise of worship and religious speech. But, it does appear that most Apostolics have played a respectively passive role with regards to political issues choosing, rather, to spend their efforts and energy on evangelism and the development of the church. There is nothing wrong with this choice.

However, there is also much at stake that impacts Apostolic churches directly. If the government - in conjunction with radical secular organizations bent on restricting and intimidating Christian churches and people - is successful in continuing its practice of censoring political speech in churches, what makes us think that the intrusion will stop here? There are already forces in motion attempting to require churches to pay property and other taxes. Furthermore, it does not require a stretch of imagination to predict the day in which the government may revoke tax-exempt status from churches and groups that speak unfavorably against homosexuality. These scenarios do not even take into account the already ongoing assault against the free exercise of Christian faith in every day American life including equal access to public facilities, prayer in schools and public venues, the public display of the Ten Commandments and other symbols of faith, and many others.

In the end, each Apostolic Pastor will need to decide whether or not participating in the 'Pulpit Initiative' and similar endeavors is right for his ministry and congregation. Such an enterprise does involve some risk. But, perhaps, the reward is worthy of the risk. Even if one decides not to directly participate, he should consider encouraging and supporting others who do. In any case, all American Christians should pray for the success of the 'Pulpit Initiative' and similar endeavors that advance the purpose of recapturing the rightful place of the Word of God, pastors, and churches in American life.

Links of interest:

Alliance Defense Fund information about 'The Pulpit Initiative'
AP article about 'The Pulpit Initiative' on The Christian Post
CitizenLink (Focus on the Family) article on 'The Pulpit Initiative'

Informational Video (courtesy of the Alliance Defense Fund)

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