A few years ago a group of churches organized themselves to break a law here in the USA. The law they chose to break forbids non-profits (including churches who choose to be tax exempt) from endorsing political candidates. They argued that the law was unjust because it violated their rights to free speech. Thus on a particular Sunday, they all endorsed political candidates in defiance of the law. The issue of how the church should deal with political issues is always a difficult one. Here are some of my ideas on the situation.
First, Free Speech Is Important. I agree with the churches that we should have as much free speech as possible. In a fallen world the state will try to take the place of God and bind the conscience of individuals. One check on this is to allow people to express their opinions even if they disagree with the interests of the state. It always makes me wary when a government tries to silence any faction of society. Thus I have great sympathies with the concerns of these churches.
Secondly, Tax Exempt Status Is Not Necessary. The law did not forbid churches to endorse political candidates. It only forbade tax exempt organizations from doing so. All these churches had to do was to drop their tax exempt status, and they could endorse candidates without any difficulty at all. Tax exempt status is not something the Bible says churches have to have. Christians should give to the church out of love for God, not for tax purposes. If a church feels called to endorse politicians, it should give up its tax exempt status in order to follow God. If churches who believe they should endorse politicians are not doing so because they are afraid of losing donations if their tax exempt status is taken away, then we have a much greater problem— enslavement to money.
Let me make it clear that I do not believe churches having tax exempt status is wrong nor is taking a tax deduction for church donations wrong. But if the government tries to muzzle us from doing God’s will by threatening our non-profit status, we should just give up that status. There is no law in the USA that forbids churches from endorsing candidates. The law applies to non-profits. Churches don’t have to be non-profits.
Thirdly, Work within The System. This is a law. All you need to do is have Congress revoke the law. Why don’t good Christians in Congress, Democrat and Republican, work to just change the law through legislation? Since this a good and honored option, why provoke a fight in the courts through organized law breaking? Why not use all that energy to gather enough votes to change the law within the system?
Fourth, Churches Should Not Organize Themselves to Break the Law. Churches organizing themselves to break the law makes the church into a political organization, not a spiritual one. We are called to preach the gospel. Just preach the gospel instead of being worried about challenging laws. If the state comes down on you for preaching the gospel, then defy them, but don’t make it your job to defy the state. This smacks to me of pastors who would rather be politicians than ministers of the gospel.
The church is constantly being seduced by governments and politicians to give up what Christ has called us to do: to preach the gospel. They want us to become the high priests of their political agendas, assuring our members that God is on the side of their party. Whenever this has happened in history, I believe it has been destructive to the church which is supposed to love people from all political parties. Jesus said his kingdom is not a part of this world and that is why his disciples don’t take up material weapons to spread his kingdom. Therefore I believe the church should not get involved in the political process because it damages us. Yes, where the Bible calls us to speak to something morally or spiritually that might have political implications, we have to keep saying what the Bible says even if we are persecuted for it. But we are not called to get involved in the mechanics of politics.
I should make it clear that I am talking about the church as an organization. Of course, individual Christians should be involved in politics to the glory of God, staying faithful to God in how they engage in that process. I am saying the church as an institution should not take sides politically remembering what the angel of the Lord said when Joshua asked him whose side he was on : “I am not on anybodies side but my own.” God is the judge over all governments, political parties and philosophies which all fall short of his glory and all deserve his wrath. There is no salvation in politics.
As a point of clarification, I am not in favor of churches endorsing candidates at all for the reasons I listed above. For the sake of argument, I said that IF a church believed they should do so, they shouldn’t let fears about losing tax exempt status keep them from doing so.