Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Render Unto Caesar

I never agree with Barry Lynn. So it was surprising to me when I found myself on the same side of the fence as he on a recent legal matter. You see, Barry is the Executive Director of the organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and since I want a lot less separation between these two entities, you can see how we would differ.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for a theocracy in America. When Jesus is running it, hey, sign me up! Short of that, I'll pass. It's just that I think it's OK for a teacher to lead an after school Bible study, or to actually call a Christmas party a Christmas party and not a "Winter Festival".

However on Sunday, a group of pastors decided to openly violate their obligation as a tax-exempt organization to preach political partisanship from the pulpit.

I checked the IRS website for the exact ruling on this. It states:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

Basically, if you are serving the community, a church is granted special tax exemption so that the church can better use those tax dollars for the good of that community. To become openly partisan and begin politically campaigning, a church violates a truckload of really good laws.

Thats just what this group of pastors did on Sunday. 33 churches, and perhaps more to follow, have intentionally defied this law and are daring the IRS to bring action. Some have even sent transcripts of their sermons to the I.R.S.

Says their defense attorney, "Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment,” said senior legal counsel Erik Stanley for ADF, which promised to represent for free any pastor challenged by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). “No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.”

Who says they don't have the right to speak about biblical truths? They certainly do! They can even endorse a candidate if they wish...they just have to give up their tax-exempt status. See, privilages over time begin to be viewed as entitlements. Some churches begin to see their tax-exempt status, not as a blessing by a friendly government, but a right that they are owed without question.

Not one of these pastors has a real conviction on this matter. If they did, they would simply withdraw their tax-exept status, begin paying taxes like any other business (as many of them really are...who are they kidding?) and speak about anything from the pulpit they wish to.

As a Christian, and as one who wants to see Christ honored in America, I find it difficult to be on this side of the fence...but saddle up I.R.S., strip these churches of their tax status, and let them start rendering unto Caesar what is Caesars.


Redlefty said...


Andrew said...

I heard one of those Pastors say to the press that if he can tell people how to behave in the bedroom, he should be able to tell them how to vote. Sheesh!

I think the time is long overdue for tax exempt status for churches to go away. Perhaps the portions of their budgets that go directly to charitable and social programs can be deductible, but I think it is kind of hard to justify a tax exempt non-profit status while having buildings and staff perks that are the envy of most businesses.

I agree with what you said about their convictions... they are not there. This is an in-your-face move to a government they feel is the enemy .... I think in Jesus day they were called zealots and I don't think Jesus ever pointed to them as an example of how to be.

Barry said...

To this, I will also say "amen". Maybe we'll find a second point of agreement somewhere down the road.

Brook said...

I tend to have much greater respect for those Christian communities and ministries that follow Dorothy Day's example and refuse to have anything to do with Government help. As Maya Angelou says, "don't pick it up, and don't lay it down". If you take from them, you are indebted to them and also in some way controlled by them, rendering oneself unto Ceasar in the end.

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