Religious Liberty: Beaten to a Pulpit
Plenty of people have weighed in on the 2016 elections — and yesterday, that chorus included pastors! Clergy across the country preached loudly and proudly about the issues, the importance of voting, and even — yes — the political races in their areas. As part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, they dared the IRS to come after them for speaking out in direct defiance of the Johnson Amendment, which liberals have twisted into a license to intimidate and silence churches on the important topics of the day. As we have every year since 2008, FRC and our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) encouraged tens of thousands of pastors to freely use their voice as God intended it: as the moral conscience of their people.
Unfortunately for America’s faithful, the Johnson Amendment was never intended to be used as a weapon against the church — but, like many laws over the years, the interpretation of the 62-year-old language has changed. When the evangelical movement’s influence increased, so did the Left’s attacks. And as a result, some on the Left are using the law to intimidate pastors. Some pastors are shrinking back from their call to provide moral clarity — afraid of the government’s punishment to address our cultural chaos. That changes now, say conservatives like House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.). Hoping to harness the growing recognition of this blatant attack on religious liberty, the duo introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act two days before Pulpit Freedom Sunday kicked off.
« The IRS doesn’t feed the hungry. The IRS doesn’t comfort the hurting. And the IRS definitely doesn’t heal the broken, » ADF explains. « A pastor’s pulpit should be accountable to God alone, and the future of religious freedom in America depends on it. » Surely, Erik Stanley says, both sides can agree: the IRS has no business being the speech police! GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump certainly hasn’t left any doubts about where he stands on the amendment — most recently, at a forum that I moderated with retired military leaders today. (Listen here at 43:13.)
« It’s very unfair what they’re doing to religion in this country… We have the Johnson Amendment. You know Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s passed an amendment — because, supposedly, he was having a hard time with a church in Houston with a pastor. And he passed an amendment saying basically, if you’re a pastor, if you’re a religious person, you cannot get up and talk politics… So I started studying it, and I had a meeting a month later, and I said, ‘We’re going to get rid of the Johnson Amendment, because they’re stopping you [the pastors] and our great people from talking. And Tony, and others, these are the people we have to hear from. And we want to hear from. They’re stopping you from speaking, and yet your opposing views can speak, because they don’t have to worry about tax exempt things. So I think it’s very unfair. One of the things I will do very early in my administration is get rid of the Johnson Amendment so that our great pastors and ministers and rabbis and everybody can… participate in the process. »
As I told CNN, pastors have a biblical responsibility to speak to their congregation and help them understand the issues and how they line up with Scripture. All the church is doing is tackling biblical issues like life and human sexuality and marriage, explaining what the Bible has to say about them, and juxtaposing that with the candidates’ positions. Nothing more, nothing less. And if there’s one thing every pastor should know after yesterday, it’s that you don’t need a Pulpit Freedom Sunday to preach the truth! For resources on what your church can do before the elections, check out FRC’s resources — including sermon starters, PowerPoint presentations, party platform comparisons, and more — at WatchmenPastors.org/Pulpit. To see what I preached at my home church, Greenwell Springs Baptist, watch below.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid ofFR