We’ve hit a couple of them already, but there was one other item coming out of the GOP platform committee which is causing a bit of a fuss and I wanted to touch on this topic before the actual convention begins. The subject in question is the amendment calling for the reform of the so called Johnson Amendment, the more than sixty year old law prohibiting churches and other tax exempt groups from political organizing activities and the endorsement of candidates. This was apparently something which Donald Trump was pushing for personally and it’s pleasing the evangelical base no end, which I’m sure is purely coincidental. (Time Magazine)
Early Wednesday morning, Donald Trump called Jerry Falwell Jr. and woke him up with news the Liberty University president has long been waiting to hear. The new Republican platform, the GOP nominee told Falwell, calls for the repeal of a half-century-old tax law prohibiting churches and tax-exempt institutions from political organizing.
“He was so excited,” Falwell says. “After 30 years of the so-called conservative leaders who have been elected by evangelicals, none of them thought to advocate for the repeal of the Johnson amendment, giving evangelical leaders political free speech. … He thinks it is going to be a revolution in the Christian world.”
While this is one of those topics where I generally run pretty far afield from most of my Republican friends, I wanted to highlight this movement and express my opposition to it. I understand that it’s difficult to argue against a proposal where the general perception is that it’s almost entirely “your side” which benefits from it, but there are larger issues in play here. It’s true that many of the churches where a desire to be more actively involved in the political process is seen are largely attended by conservatives and would likely endorse popular candidates. But I would first note that this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of churches, particularly in urban areas, with significant liberal Democratic congregations and they would inherit the same benefit.
But far more to the point is my belief that preaching politics from the pulpit and using that platform to encourage the election of any candidate from either party is simply wrong. We give churches tax exempt status for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that they are outside of the political and governmental body of the nation. Further, a preacher telling you to vote for Candidate A over Candidate B isn’t just appealing to your intelligence and general sensibilities. They are speaking with the authority of the Almighty and providing you with guidance as to the maintenance of your immortal soul. This provides them with a position of vastly undue influence over your choices. It’s a parallel to the reason we don’t allow doctors to engage in sexual relations with their patients… they simply hold too much influence over them from positions of assumed trust.
As I said at the top, I do understand the appeal of a proposal such as this, but it’s an unwise position to take. Be careful what you wish for, and keep the shepherding of the flock separate from the conversion of the voters.