How To Fix The Johnson Amendment

First Amendment says a pastor should determine his sermon, not the IRS

Pastors today may not remember a time when they could preach on political and social issues without fear of their church losing its tax-exempt, non-profit status.

But the current fear among pastors of preaching about candidates or an election was not always so pervasive.

Since the founding of our country, pastors enjoyed the freedom to speak boldly from their pulpit about the most crucial social and political issues of the day. In 1954, however, the carefully manipulated passage of one outrageous piece of legislation – the Johnson Amendment – profoundly undermined this crucial freedom.

Nearly 60 years later, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) convened a Commission to study, among other things, whether the Johnson Amendment should be amended or repealed.

The Commission was advised by panels of representatives from the non-profit sector, legal experts, and religious leaders.

After studying the issue, the Commission recommended amending the Johnson Amendment to restore the constitutional rights of free speech and free exercise of religion to churches and other non-profit organizations.

The Commission recommended amending the Johnson Amendment to allow:

1. Speech that would be no added cost or a very minimal cost to the organization (such as a sermon, not an expensive advertising campaign)
2. If the speech of the organization would cost more than that minimal amount, then the Johnson Amendment would only prohibit speech that clearly identifies candidates and directly calls for those candidates’ election or defeat.

This fix, if adopted, will relieve a great deal of pressure on churches and other non-profit organizations.  It will get the IRS out of the business of censoring what a pastor says from the pulpit and will go a long way to bringing clarity to the IRS’ enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.

ECFA’s proposal overrides the negative effects of the Johnson Amendment without even having to repeal it. It is a practical, realistic way to restore a fundamental right to churches and other non-profits that everyone, including Congress, can get behind.

Take Action

Shouldn’t pastors have the freedom to fearlessly speak Biblical truth on the political and social issues of the day?

That is exactly what this ECFA amendment seeks to do – restore the right of a pastor to decide what is said from the pulpit, not the IRS.

Today, there is a movement of pastors in the United States standing up for their free speech and free exercise of religion by signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday. This movement seeks to encourage Congress to consider and pass this reasonable amendment.

You can join them.

Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org to sign up. Then share this post on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word.

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Is Same-sex Parenting Better for Kids?

Posted on September 11th, 2014 Churches and Politics,Marriage | No Comments »

National Conference: the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage

By: Mark Regnerus

NOTE: Mark Regnerus will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014.

Imagine if evangelical sociologists set out to document how the children of evangelical Christian parents fare in life. Imagine that they begin their effort by recruiting parents of children who attend Sunday School classes at places like Wheaton Bible Church outside Chicago and Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, Calif.—both located in prosperous communities with above-average social capital and support for families, children, and faith. They choose this approach because churchgoing, self-identified evangelicals with children under age 18 comprise less than three percent of the population of American adults (this is true), and the researchers figure it will be easier to recruit participants than to evaluate those who might show up randomly in a population-based sample. They know a random sample is best, but they cite “cost constraints” and “difficult research constraints” in justifying their decision to use a convenience sample.

Then the scholars survey the parents, asking them questions about how their kids are faring. They compile the results and call it the American Christian Family Study. The study includes a comparison sample of other parents and children, pulled from a fine population-based survey so as to display what average children from average families look like. The evangelical kids compare well; they do better, actually, than the children from average families across the country. Their parents are more likely to report being married, educated, stable, and employed. The parents tell the researchers that the kids are faring well, too—they don’t have many emotional challenges, are doing well in school, and are generally getting along well in life. The study’s initial findings are published in a peer-reviewed social science journal, and they help to improve public perception of evangelical parents.

Would the social scientific community consider this study a solid one, employing high-quality sample selection methods and useful both for understanding the experience of Christian households in America and for comparing this group of children with other children? To put it mildly, it’s unlikely. And I would agree with them.

The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families

You will not, however, witness very many scholarly misgivings about a new published study analyzing data from the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS), even though I’ve just offered a close analogy of its sampling and comparative strategy. I do not bear ill will toward the research team; data collection is no simple task. I won’t impugn the motivations of the author and his collaborators. Those vary widely, and everyone has his own. I don’t care about the source of the funding. But the study deserves some critical commentary.

The authors declare that the “study aims to describe the physical, mental and social wellbeing of Australian children with same-sex attracted parents, and the impact that stigma has on them.” They conclude that “children with same-sex attracted parents score higher than population samples on a number of parent-reported measures of child health.” The study has generated headlines such as this one from the Washington Post: “Children of same-sex couples happier and healthier than peers, research shows.”

But we cannot learn this from the ACHESS study, because of these two sentences in the study’s methodology section:

The convenience sample was recruited using online and traditional recruitment techniques, accessing same-sex attracted parents through news media, community events and community groups. Three hundred and ninety eligible parents contacted the researchers…

The ACHESS’s interim report, issued just under two years ago, foreshadowed the positive conclusions of the recently-published article—in the same journal, no less—and had more to say about its sampling approach:

Initial recruitment will . . . include advertisements and media releases in gay and lesbian press, flyers at gay and lesbian social and support groups, and investigator attendance at gay and lesbian community events . . . Primarily recruitment will be through emails posted on gay and lesbian community email lists aimed at same-sex parenting. This will include, but not be limited to, Gay Dads Australia and the Rainbow Families Council of Victoria.

I don’t know if there’s any other way to say this than to suggest that—like my opening scenario—this is not the way to build a sense of average same-sex households with children. To compare the results from such an unusual sample with that of a population-based sample of everyone else is just suspect science. And I may be putting that too mildly.

Non-random samples and social desirability bias

It’s not the first time this approach has met with considerable publication and media success. The ACHESS study is a lot like the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), except that it’s larger and newer. I realize that 500 cases is not a number to scoff at, and that such populations are a small minority to begin with. But until social scientists decide to do the difficult, expensive work of locating same-sex attracted parents (however defined) through random, population-based sampling strategies—preferably ones that do not “give away” the primary research question(s) up front, as ACHESS did—we simply cannot know whether claims like “no differences” or “happier and healthier than” are true, valid, and on target. Why? Because this non-random sample reflects those who actively pursued participating in the study, personal and political motivations included. In such a charged environment, the public—including judges and media—would do well to demand better-quality research designs, not just results they approve of.

Snowball sampling doesn’t cut it. When I want to know who’s most apt to win the next election, I don’t ask my friends whom they support. Nor do I field a survey asking interested people to participate. No, I want a random sample of the sort often conducted by Gallup, NORC or Knowledge Networks.

Another reason for healthy skepticism is that the ACHESS participants—parents reporting about their children’s lives—are all well aware of the political import of the study topic, and an unknown number of them certainly signed up for that very reason. As a result, it seems unwise to trust their self-reports, given the high risk of “social desirability bias,” or the tendency to portray oneself (or here, one’s children) as better than they actually are. Again, it is impossible to know exactly how much of a problem such bias presents in this situation. But I think the temptation to report positive assessments could be elevated in this self-selected sample and on this sensitive topic. (In the end, the differences between the ACHESS parent reports and the population-based comparisons were more modest—about three to six percent—than I’d expect.)

Skepticism about the ACHESS sample is all the more reason to do a random study that doesn’t advertise its intentions beforehand. That’s exactly why the survey I oversaw, the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), elected to talk to the children after they had grown up, to skip the parents entirely to ensure a more independent assessment, not to broadcast our key research questions in the title or initial screener questionnaire, and to locate participants randomly in a large population-based sample. If you’ve been paying attention, however, you’ll know that my NFSS studies—which mapped 248 respondents who told us their mother or father had been in a same-sex relationship—came to rather different conclusions than the ACHESS study has.

New reproductive technologies

To be sure, the ACHESS study includes many children born in comparatively new ways—80 percent of those with a female parent(s) were born via home insemination or by assisted reproductive technology (ART), and 82 percent of those with a male parent(s) were born via surrogacy. The NFSS mapped an earlier generation in which ART and surrogacy were uncommon. But just how common ART and surrogacy are today in the average same-sex household remains unknown in most Western countries, including the US and Australia.

Indeed, most children born via ART and surrogacy are, from the start, set apart from the 99 percent of children who are not—even if the data were collected randomly—by the comparative expense involved in their conception and acquisition. This is not consonant with the average couple’s experience, whether that couple is an opposite-sex or same-sex pair. In other words, there were few unplanned pregnancies among the ACHESS parents. In this study, as in much of the same-sex marriage movement, the public is treated only to the lives and experiences of the LGBT elite. Those with more modest means are missing in action.

What do we really know about same-sex parenting?

It may appear to readers that most, if not all, studies in this domain are hopelessly flawed. It’s not true. Scholars can and do agree on a variety of conclusions when it comes to same-sex households and child outcomes. So what do we know with confidence?

Same-sex parenting is rare. Less than two percent of Americans fit the description. Among same-sex households that want children, the population most apt to use assisted reproduction—white, educated women—is actually the demographic group least interested in having children.

Children fare better in an environment of household stability. In the NFSS, stability was largely absent when an adult child reported a parental same-sex relationship. Hence, their life experiences were (on average) notably more challenging than those of their peers with married mothers and fathers. Some critics felt this was an “unfair” comparison. But if social reality is unfair, there’s not much that any sociologist can do about that.

It warms my heart that a byproduct of the war over the meaning of the NFSS data has been a unified admission that divorce and other household disruptions—like new partners—takes a toll on kids well into their adult years. That was not always a consensus among observers of marriage and family.

But will same-sex parents’ relationships be more or less stable in the future? On the one hand, we know that same-sex relationships in general—across multiple datasets—remain more fragile than opposite-sex ones (and to be fair, no group is performing all that well). We can argue about why this is so, but it is. Nevertheless, it’s too early to tell if this remains the case with same-sex marriages, given their comparatively small number and the pent-up demand (reflecting greater longevity) characteristic of the earliest marriages.

On the other hand, the “planned” nature of new forms of same-sex parenting (e.g., ART) no doubt reflects more deliberation (and more money) than most unplanned pregnancies, even though all such ART and surrogacy births reflect diminished kinship. That is, somebody’s not a biological parent of the child. In parenting studies, wealth and planning are beneficial resources, while diminished kinship is a risk.

Whether such “planned” parenthood is the new normal—the average—in same-sex relationships is unknown. I have my doubts. But there’s no doubt that this is the face of same-sex parenting: the well-adjusted, ART-generated child of a 30-something, upper-middle-class lesbian mother and her partner. It’s what scholars, judges, and the media demand as a comparison category today. The ACHESS certainly delivered on that. And yet the reality of same-sex relationships in parents’ lives—the average experience—has been something quite different, as the NFSS revealed.

This was brought home to me during a recent conversation with a University of Colorado professor. He shared with me that he and his family live next door to a woman—a mother—who’s been through three same-sex relationships in the past several years that they’ve been neighbors. The professor relayed that on numerous occasions he’d find himself in his back yard playing with his kids, only to notice the neighbor’s son peering over the fence, watching. The boy’s mother, aware of this, confessed to the professor, “I’m doing the best I can.”

If the NFSS’s accounts of household instability do not portend the future of gay parenting in America—and they may not—then you can expect stories like this to become rarer in reality as same-sex parenting arrangements indeed outperform their peers. But I know better than to expect social realities to change as rapidly as have attitudes about same-sex marriage.

I sometimes wonder why I even bother voicing such concerns. In my short legal career, I witnessed U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman dismiss my NFSS-based study and the analyses of U.S. and Canadian census data by my colleagues, preferring to appear hip at his dinner parties by throwing our evidence under the bus rather than responding to it. In a nation that seems to be rapidly devolving into one big junior high school, evidence no longer appears to matter. Only allegiances do.

Mark Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, research associate at its Population Research Center, and a senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Portions of this article were adapted from an earlier blog post and National Review Online post by the author.

http://erlc.com/article/is-same-sex-parenting-better-for-kids

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Political Sermons In American History

Posted on September 9th, 2014 Churches and Politics | No Comments »

POLITICAL sermons (1)

American pastors have historically addressed politics from the pulpit, offering Biblical context to the controversial political issues of the day. In fact, churches often served as a catalyst for change in America – playing a dominant role in the abolition of slavery, for example. It was also not uncommon for pastors to publicly oppose candidates they saw unfit for political office, including presidential candidates such as Thomas Jefferson, William Howard Taft, and Al Smith.

Pastors’ sermons, speeches, and writings on political subjects – such as the following – can be found throughout American history:

On Christians’ Role in Politics

[L]ook well to the characters and qualifications of those you elect and raise to office and places of trust… [L]et the wise counsel of Jethro… be your guide. Choose ye out from among you able men, such as fear God, men of truth and hating covetousness’ [Exodus 18:21] and set them to rule over you.  – Rev. Matthias Burnett, 1803, Keys to Good Government: According to the Founding Fathers (pg. 21)

The church must take right ground in regard to politics… Politics are a part of a religion is such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as part of their duty to God… [God] will bless or curse this nation according to the course [Christians] take [in politics].  – Rev. Charles G. Finney, 1835, Keys to Good Government: According to the Founding Fathers (pg. 41)

[T]he time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics… Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter. But the time has come when they must act differently… God cannot sustain this free and blessed country which we love and pray for unless the Church will take right ground… It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation are becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they think God does not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it, and He will bless or curse this nation according to the course [Christians] take. – Rev. Charles G. Finney, 1868, Keys to Good Government: According to the Founding Fathers (pg. 24)

On Women’s Rights

Having assembled to consult upon the interests of religion within the Commonwealth, we would now, as pastors and teachers, in accordance with the custom of this Association, address you on some of the subjects which at the present time appear to us to have an important bearing upon the cause of Christ… We invite your attention to the dangers which at present seem to threaten the female character, with wide spread and permanent injury. – Pastoral Letter from the General Association of Massachusetts, June 28, 1837, Women’s Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement 1830-1870 (pg. 119)

On The Civil War

Having protested against the evil of martial strife, and accepted it only as inevitable compromise with the pressures and frictions of selfish ambition for keeping the rightful framework of the Government in legitimate action, the second word needing to be said, when we look at our civil war from the pulpit, is, Let a careful guard be kept over the lower passions which such a crisis naturally evokes and stimulates. – William Rounseville Alger, 1861, Our Civil War, As Seen From the Pulpit

On Abraham Lincoln

Mr. Lincoln is quite a genuine representative of American prejudice and Negro hatred and far more concerned for the preservation of slavery, and the favor of the Border Slave States, than for any sentiment of magnanimity or principle of justice and humanity… Notwithstanding his repeated declarations that he considers slavery an evil, every step of his Presidential career relating to slavery proves him active, decided, and brave for its support, and passive, cowardly, and treacherous to the very cause of liberty to which he owes his election. – Frederick Douglass, 1862, The President and His Speeches

On Slavery

One of the reasons for the low state of religion at the present time is that many churches have taken the wrong side on the subject of slavery, have suffered prejudice to prevail over principle and have feared to call this abomination by its true name. –Rev. Charles G. Finney, 1868, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (pg. 18-19)

On William Taft’s Presidential Campaign

Such are the two great reasons why Taft should never be elected President—he has not the democratic spirit—he is the tool of privileged wealth… These conclusions concerning Taft are reached after years of careful study of our political conditions. I mean no carping criticism. I admit Mr. Taft’s many good personal qualities, but I affirm his general unfitness to guide this great nation in paths of justice and for the greatest good of the greatest number. – Rev. Robert E. Bisbee, 1908, Why Mr. Taft Should Be Defeated

Conclusion

The Church has a role to play in upholding morality and exalting righteousness in America.  But for the last 60 years, the American pulpit has fallen silent because of the Johnson Amendment, which threatens to take away a church’s tax-exempt status if preachers talk politics from the pulpit. Spiritual leaders are needed to change our culture. Are you up for the challenge?

Click here to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday

or visit www.PulpitFreedom.org to learn more.

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Atheist Lawsuit Results in IRS Promise to Audit Churches

Posted on September 2nd, 2014 Churches and Politics | No Comments »

Atheist Lawsuit

The fact that the IRS has a checkered history of enforcing the Johnson Amendment should not come as a surprise to anyone.  Over the years, the IRS has seemed to give favored churches and groups a pass on the Johnson Amendment while cracking down on others.  The IRS has also issued regulations enforcing the Johnson Amendment that are unclear and unhelpful to pastors seeking to understand what the law prohibits.  Attorneys argue over what churches and pastors can and cannot do when it comes to elections.  How are pastors supposed to know with clarity what they are allowed to do?

The latest chapter in the sad saga of the IRS’ enforcement of the Johnson Amendment comes as the result of an atheist lawsuit against the IRS.  The lawsuit stems from a 2008 federal court ruling that struck down the IRS’ policies for how it audits churches because they did not comply with the Church Audit Procedures Act passed by Congress in 1984.  That law was intended to protect churches from politically-motivated audits by requiring a high level IRS official to approve all church audits.  In response to the Judge’s 2008 decision, the IRS appeared to stop auditing churches altogether.

Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit claimed that the IRS was giving preferential treatment to churches because it wasn’t enforcing the Johnson Amendment against them even though it was against other non-profit organizations.

The atheist group recently announced a settlement of its lawsuit. In the announcement, FFRF claimed that the IRS had provided it with assurances that it was in fact auditing churches and that it had procedures in place to continue auditing churches.  FFRF claimed that the settlement was a victory to “end church electioneering.”

So what do churches need to know about all of this?  First, ADF firmly believes that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional when it is used to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit.  The IRS’ recent promise to FFRF that it will audit churches does not change the fact that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional.  Churches need to know that if the IRS does punish a church for something its pastor says from the pulpit, ADF will be there to defend the pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit and to argue that the Johnson Amendment should be declared unconstitutional.

Second, it is troubling that the IRS gave assurances to FFRF that it had procedures in place to audit churches in a way that complied with the Church Audit Procedures Act.  This is troubling because those procedures were never publicized and so we have no way of knowing if the procedures actually do comply with the law.  It is always troubling when a federal agency as powerful as the IRS operates in total secrecy.  That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom did a Freedom of Information Act request to the IRS to uncover the procedures the IRS says it has and bring them into the light of day.  America’s churches have a right to know they will be treated fairly by the IRS and the IRS cannot be allowed to follow secret procedures for auditing churches.

Overall, though, no pastor should ever fear the IRS when he stands in the pulpit to proclaim biblical truth.  That’s why it is important to sign up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  By participating, pastors across the country can stand united to tell the IRS that it has no business censoring a sermon.

If you are a pastor, you can go to www.pulpitfreedom.org.  There you will find different ways you can stand up to the IRS.  You can simply sign an agreement statement that the IRS should not censor a pastor’s sermon.  Or you can sign up to preach an election sermon along with hundreds of other pastors from across the country on October 5, 2014.

The IRS’ reign of intimidation and fear must come to an end.  And no atheist group should be able to use the IRS to further their purpose of pushing churches from the public square.  Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org and sign up to participate today.

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This October: Apply the Gospel to the Marriage Issues of Today

Posted on August 26th, 2014 Culture,Marriage | No Comments »

Perhaps you, like many pastors today, struggle with how to share the truth of God’s Word on sexuality and marriage and still clearly demonstrate the love of Christ.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) conference will provide you with the truth and the tools you need to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in your community, your family, and your church.

At “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and The Future of Marriage,” the speakers will address questions like:

    • How do we effectively minister to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?
    • How has the divorce culture impacted marriage in our communities and our churches?
    • How should a pastor counsel a same-sex couple that wants to join his church?
    • How can churches minister to those who are single, dating, divorced or celibate?

 

The list of speakers includes Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, David Platt, author of Radical, among many others over the three day schedule. Our own ADF attorneys Erik Stanley and Kristen Waggoner join the line-up, speaking on “Faith Under Fire: Protecting Your Church’s Religious Freedom.”

The conference will be held in Nashville at the Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014.

Ticket prices are $149 for a standard ticket, and Speak Up Church readers get an extra discount of 10% off! Use the discount soon, because the ticket price increases September 6th. Use the code: SPONSOR14 when checking out.

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Will you plan to attend the ERLC conference? Do you know someone who might also be interested? Share this post with those in your area of influence.

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