For 54 years the first amendment of the US Constitution has been suspended for a very specific cultural demographic. That group has been singled out to be effectively gagged because many group members had a voice that corrupt politicians found too difficult to overcome in election races. So the grafters cooked up a way to silence their critics in the most effective way possible. By threatening their cash flow. The crooked politicians created a clause in the tax code that required members of this special group remain silent in political matters or to lose both their own tax-exempt status and the deductibility of any donations made to them. The group whose freedom of speech has been so obviously violated is the Church. The politician who led the effort to strip churches of their right to be heard on political matters was Senator, later President, Lyndon Johnson. This information about who did this to the Church and why it was done is a well known matter of historical fact. To everyone, that is, except the Columbus Dispatch editorial writers.
Their editorial for Wednesday September 10, 2008 titled Preaching Politics; Churches that want to be partisan should give up tax exemption displays either gross historical ignorance, a terrible naivete regarding politically motivated abuses of the tax code or a blatant disingenuousness designed to hide political partisanship. Or maybe it’s a combination of all three.
The subject of the editorial in question is the Alliance Defense Fund’s (ADF) Pulpit Freedom Sunday event on Sunday Sept, 28, 2008. The Dispatch editors begin their political speech restriction rationalization tour de force with this gem-
The idea behind a 1954 IRS rule that bars tax-exempt organizations from direct involvement in partisan politics couldn’t be clearer: Tax exemption is a privilege for those organizations whose work benefits society and is nonpartisan. It preserves the resources of these groups for the good works they do, and that includes churches.
It is difficult to believe that supposedly savvy newspaper editors could be this politically naive. It is as if they allowed a high school journalism class write this section of the editorial. The idea behind the change in the tax code was to shut the mouths of pastors who were making it clear that politicians like Lyndon Johnson were crooks and unworthy of their congregations’ votes- for biblical reasons.
What is easier to grasp is that the Dispatch editors do not understand that churches are not just exempted from taxes they are immune from them. This is a key point that is being overlooked by Christians, many of whom will loudly insist that their pastor shouldn’t endorse or disparage candidates from the pulpit. Churches are immune from taxation because the Church and the state are separate and co-equal realms of Christ’s Kingdom each with a distinct non-overlapping authority sphere. The civil realm is the realm of justice while the Church is the realm of grace.
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (emphasis added)- Matthew 28:18
And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”- Matthew 22:20, 21
As committed secularists, the editors deny that the Church has any authority whatsoever. This declaration in light of Christ’s proclamation above is futile and meaningless, like an angry man that shakes his fist at and curses the wind in a storm. Hence the false notion that tax exemption is a “privilege for those organizations whose work benefits society and is nonpartisan.” The Church is tax exempt because the state has no authority over it. The Church needs no “privileges” from the state. The Church answers to Christ alone (note that this does not mean that churches can violate civil law at will and expect no consequences).
The editors go on to proclaim from on high
…every political season, the false complaint rises anew: Pastors are being denied freedom of speech and religion because IRS rules forbid them from preaching for or against candidates from the pulpit.
Imagine it! These pastors actually believe that their freedom of speech, not to mention the free exercise of religion have been violated just because they (and their parishoners) will be punished by the IRS for endorsing candidates! This is the height of hypocrisy from a profession that proclaims itself the guardians of freedom of speech, press, expression, etc. But this pretzel logic gets worse.
The rule doesn’t prohibit members of the clergy or anyone else from espousing personal political views away from the pulpit. It doesn’t prevent any organized group from supporting or opposing a political candidate. It simply says a group engaging in partisan politics has to pay taxes.
In other words, keep the fact that a candidate is anti-Christian or a corrupt grafter to yourself or face the wrath of the federal tax authorities.
So let’s look at this from a different perspective. Lets say Congress tires of dealing with pesky newspaper editors who constantly point out the pecadillos of politicians. The politicians pass an amendment to the tax code which taxes a media outlet whenever they express an opinion about a sitting government representative or a candidate for office. It’s not really an infringement of freedom of the press because no one is prohibited from printing anything. They just have to pay the tax. How long do you suppose it would take for the Dispatch and other news outlets to begin civil disobedience under these circumstances? Instantly, perhaps?
Realizing that the case is exceedingly weak the Dispatch editors try to appeal to the Christian sense of propriety.
Politics, as anyone can see today, often is a hateful and divisive business, while churches traditionally have been devoted to peacemaking, healing and reconciliation.
Politics is a dirty business. You nice Christians need to stay out of it and leave it to us grizzled news types. This is a thinly veiled and cynical attempt to maintain the main stream media’s tenuous control of public opinion and therefore policy.
The truth is that Christians have a bad habit of bringing Christian ethics to bear when they become involved in something. Truly Christian ethics are based on absolutes; truth, right and wrong for instance. Humanistic politics often deals in situational ethics and “gray areas.” This allows opinion manipulators to often act as brokers in shady political deal making and to do this means that concessions must often be made regarding what is and isn’t true. Politics has become dirty precisely because Christians have withdrawn from it for so long. A strong Christian political ethic preached from a well-informed pulpit threatens the status quo and therefore the entrenched power structure, including the compromised media. That’s right. Well informed pastors willing to speak truth about corruption in the civil realm is dangerous!
The Dispatch editors then wander off to a sort of journalistic fantasyland where tax-exempt organizations flex their new found political muscle and dive into the deep end of the political pool, actually endorsing candidates! Apple carts might be upset! Groups could demand the freedom of speech, press and assembly that other entities have! Why, they might lose donors! People might stop giving blood! They can’t believe anyone would risk donors!
More important, if churches are released from this obligation, other tax-exempt organizations, too, could rightfully challenge the law, upsetting even more apple carts. Donations to tax-exempt organizations could rise or fall based on donors’ feelings about a group’s political activities, or simply because donors might not know a group’s viewpoint and don’t want to risk supporting a view they might oppose. Think about the complications if the Red Cross endorsed politicians. Does anyone want politics to enter into the decision of whether or not to donate blood?
This is nothing more or less than a desperate attempt to appeal to the tax-exempt groups’ pocket books and, in reality, is a thinly veiled threat. And again we see the insistence that Christ’s Church bow to Caesar, as if that was biblically required. Of course, the Church answers only to God.
The editors wrap-up with a complete misstatement of the argument.
Tax-exempt charitable organizations are given a tax break because they do good works that transcend politics. The Alliance Defense Fund’s initiative would put this fine system in jeopardy.
Of course, this statement is debatable for non-church entities which are accountable to the state, though the “transcendence of politics” statement is high-sounding but meaningless drivel. But as for Christ’s Church, it must, like Peter and the Apostles “…obey God not men”-Acts 5:29. And when there is no jurisdiction, there can be no taxes.