Pastor and theologian Wayne Grudem defends the freedom that the church should not be prohibited from endorsing one candidate over another:
- This Sunday I have agreed to join nearly 1,500 pastors nationwide and participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday [PFS], sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom…This action is in violation of the 1954 "Johnson Amendment" to the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing any candidate by name. But in our nation, a higher law than the IRS code is the Constitution, which forbids laws "abridging freedom of speech" or "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion (First Amendment).
I agree with Grudem that this “Johnson Amendment” [JA] constitutes a violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees the free exercise of religion. JA needlessly limits the freedom to speak from the pulpit. I was therefore surprised that many Christians disagreed with Grudem in the comment section. Here are two typical responses:
- If you are to lose your tax exempt status, let it be for preaching the Gospel instead of breaking a law that has nothing to do with it.
- As a pastor I preach the Gospel at church. It isn't that I'm afraid to go to jail or lose our church's tax exemption. It’s that if I'm going to go to jail, I want it to be for preaching Christ crucified and risen again for the forgiveness of sins.
Because these objections are so frequently cited, I thought it important to facilitate the dialogue with my defense of PFS:
- The JA violates our First Amendment guarantee against governmental encroachment.
- The JA sets a dangerous precedent. If it stands, it declares that the government has the right to limit the freedom of the church to preach as it would.
- These comments draw a sharp and questionable distinction between preaching the Gospel and opposing a political candidate. Such a distinction would prevent the church from preaching against a Stalin or a Hitler – two people who silenced the Gospel and slaughtered Christians.
- Perhaps we have a truncated understanding of the Gospel. Instead, I think that we glorify the Gospel when we demonstrate its relevance to all areas of life – feeding the poor, slavery, segregation, and various forms of injustice, including threats to the freedom of religion.
- When we fail to apply the Gospel to the ills of society, we show its irrelevance, and bring down contempt upon the church. While atheists deplore our involvement in the political process, they also castigate the church for not being more involved – think segregation or the rise of National Socialism.
- Our tax-exempt status shouldn’t be regarded as a privilege but a right. The State has no right taxing the church. Once the State has this power, there remains nothing to limit how much the State could tax the church. It could even tax the church out of its property.
We live at a time when many of our rights are being challenged. I therefore think that we have to get on with our discussion!