Does the fact that several churches use their pulpit to influence their patrons in political issues violate their tax exempt status? Many think so. Did you know churches who invite political candidates to speak to their congregation are violating federal law? Federal law prohibits any action by a tax-exempt nonprofit group that includes churches in “endorsing or opposing” any candidate for public office. Nonetheless, churches continue to do this and have done it since the founding of our nation.
The fear of losing their tax-exempt status doesn’t seem to inhibit countless church leaders from publicly discussing political issues or from inviting political candidates to speak to their followers. As it is, the IRS doesn’t seem at all interested and rarely prosecutes churches for violating such laws. Nevertheless, does it make it right?
Should a pastor, preacher or priest be allowed to use his religious platform to espouse his beliefs when it comes to political issues? Should they be allowed to talk about such political hot button issues like immigration, same-sex marriage, abortion or even Islam from their Sunday pulpit? Certainly these issues could have, by a pastor’s own interpretation, scriptural connotations. Whether it concerns religion or not, is it appropriate to do so from the pulpit? More important, specifically for Christians, is exercising political agendas from the pulpit what Christ intended for his church?
If Christ’s message was about love and forgiveness, why are so many churches focused on principles outside the bounds of that love? Lectures on abortion, gay marriage, immigration and Muslim influences in America have been generally approached with a serious degree of fear mongering. Christ’s message to his apostles was never to go out and incite fear to all nations but to spread the good news of God’s love. Aren’t the two approaches detached from one another?
Is it appropriate for someone to claim they represent God and Christ and the Bible then use that authority with political agendas? Worse then that, to “villainize” people and opposing agendas doesn’t seem to be very Christlike. As much as the religious leaders of the day hated, persecuted and ridiculed Jesus, he never went out and publicly addressed their shortcomings or proclaimed them as evil without being in direct dialog with them and giving them specific answers to their opposing questions.
To what degree do today’s churches have the right to be political? This question was addressed recently on the nationally syndicated “The Jesus Christ Show”. The show’s host, Neil Saavedra, made the comment that the church’s only obligation was to ensure the freedom of religious assembly. Beyond that, there should be no political agendas from churches whatsoever. Neither the bible nor Jesus himself called for his followers to be political. His call was to spread his message of love and forgiveness first and foremost.
Throughout our nation’s history, we have had countless political religious figures. From the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, from Jerry Farwell to Rick Warren, all have been very vocal about political issues. Only God can judge to what degree their agenda was acceptable. It’s a huge responsibility to lead a church and be that representation of God to a parish. One that all church leaders should use discriminately.
As observers, we need to stay attentive and hold our church leaders accountable to what they represent. If they step out of line, we are to correct them. Legally, churches are not permitted to endorse or oppose a political candidate or issue. Doing so violates their tax-exempt status with the federal government. The separation of church and state doesn’t just mean there should be limited influence of religion in government. It also means there should be limited politics in our churches.
CLICK HERE TO READ “IS YOUR PASTOR A BULLY” Part 1 in this serious on understanding the Religious Political Agendas of Churches.
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