The Johnson Amendment is in danger.
That’s the rule that states churches and pastors cannot endorse political candidates without endangering the church’s nonprofit status. There are those who believe it needs to go, that the Johnson Amendment is an infringement of rights of religious freedom.
Getting rid of it is, however, a slippery slope that will not bring good things to churches or to our society as Americans. Pres. Donald Trump told an audience of religious leaders in February that he plans to “destroy” the amendment. Now language that would trash it are in one of the budget proposals being batted about in Washington.
Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail.
There are those who argue for continuation of the Johnson Amendment by comparing it to other rights we have. People who want to drive a car have to take a test and demonstrate they actually can drive before obtaining a license. Opponents taking this angle point out churches and pastors are perfectly free to endorse candidates, they just may not be able to do so AND collect money donors can deduct on their taxes.
I take a more idealistic view. Politics is important. It governs our daily lives in many ways. Religious faith, however, is about something greater – our Creator, our codes of personal conduct, how we see the poor and needy.
When Jesus was faced with this question, He told critics to render to Caesar what is his and to God what is His. That tells me the two spheres are of different quality and have different levels of importance.
To bring the “Elect Sam” element into church is to tarnish and blemish the church’s mission.
Getting rid of the Johnson Amendment will turn church members against each other. In the most conservative church, some member in the pew is planning to vote for a Democrat, and in the most liberal denomination, there are diehard Republicans. It is good for us to be in church together, but that may become harder if the pastor is promoting specific candidates from the pulpit.
The thought that money I’ve put in the offering plate to share the Gospel or offer help to someone in need – or even to paint the fellowship hall – winds up buying someone’s campaign posters or paying for an “Elect Me” commercial – well, it makes my stomach churn.
Politicians are human. By necessity, they make deals. They compromise for the greater good. That’s how politics works.
Religious belief is about high, immovable standards – about Godly ideals. Mixing politics into the church will cheapen that faith, wedding it to political expediency. In a society where many people already see the church as an irrelevant anachronism, that is not the direction people of faith need to travel.
America, more than ever, needs the church to be prophetic. That’s hard to do if your members are going door-to-door asking people to elect Candidate X.
I’m saying a prayer for the Johnson Amendment. We need it.
Winston Skinner is the news editor of The Newnan Times-Herald.