Guest Author: Pastor Robert Hall, Calvary Chapel of Rio Rancho in New Mexico
Can we, as pastors and church members alike, remain silent while our nation goes to hell? No! We must speak “the truth in love” into the lives of those in our culture. We have believed Jesus’ injunction to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…” Matt. 5:13a, 14a. It is our ministry and calling to speak the Truth about the condition of our culture in the public square, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them,” (Eph. 5:11).
Pastors are called to be God’s spokesmen in every age – the prophetic voice of God calling men and women to repentance from evil. Throughout our first 150 years, there were “Election Sermons,” which would be preached to oppose or endorse candidates, by name, running for public office – based on their stance on moral issues. The Founding Fathers of this nation, even Jefferson – though not considered a Christian – never sought to silence pastors from speaking on relevant social issues of the day.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” ― Thomas Jefferson
Pastors were free (from oppression and taxation) in our nation and unafraid to speak the Truth from their pulpits until 1954. This is the year that Lyndon B. Johnson was hotly criticized during his reelection bid for being soft on communism by the two nonprofit organizations, Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government. After trying to silence them on a local level and failing, he went to Washington and offered an amendment to a Senate tax bill, creating a law to limit the participation of nonprofits in elections.
The bill stopped 501(c)3 corporations from printing or distributing literature opposing candidates running for political office: “Mr. President, this amendment seeks to extend the provisions of section 501 of the House Bill, denying tax exempt status to not only those people who influence legislation but also to those who intervene (including the publishing or distributing of statements) in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for any public office.” Unfortunately, his amendment also affected churches. LBJ didn’t follow his own advice:
“You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.” — Lyndon B. Johnson
The Internal Revenue Service has taken upon itself the authority to write regulations in response to this amendment in order to silence the pastors of our nation. These regulations not only address the use of money for political campaigns and the printing of political materials – but also seek to limit free speech in the pulpits of our land. The IRS states, “The regulations further provide that activities that constitute participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate include, but are not limited to, the publication or distribution of written statements or the making of oral statements on behalf of or in opposition to such a candidate.” If you carefully read the laws passed by Congress, there is no specific mention of oral statements or regulation of pastors’ sermons in regard to political candidates.
For a 501(c)3 church to openly speak out, or organize in opposition to, anything that the government declares “legal” – even if it is immoral (abortion, homosexual behavior, etc.) – that church will jeopardize its tax exempt status. Did the Church ever need to seek permission from the government to be exempt from taxes? Were churches taxable prior to 1954? No. Churches have never been taxable. To be taxable, a church would first need to be under the jurisdiction – and therefore under the taxing authority – of the government. The First Amendment clearly places churches outside the jurisdiction of the civil government, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
However, the government and the culture have sent a message to its conscience: “Be quiet! Stay in your churches and don’t address these political, legal, and social issues. These issues are not within the scope of religion!” As in Germany in the 1930s, one of the defense mechanisms of our culture to silence its conscience is to pull moral issues into the political and legal arena and then tell the Church that these issues are off limits. They immediately cry “separation of church and state” – a phrase authored by Herman Goering, which also came straight from the mind of Adolf Hitler, who often used the phrase in Nazi propaganda throughout the 1930s.
When Hitler took power in Germany, he immediately recognized that the major threat to his tyrannical designs would come from the Church. If he could neutralize the voice of the Church, he correctly reasoned, there would be no one else to stand in his way. Consequently, he immediately cranked up the Nazi propaganda machine to develop slogans designed to silence the voice of the Church – slogans which were then relentlessly hammered into the minds of gullible Germans and their pastors, who meekly complied.
Hitler crafted two slogans, in particular, and these became the bulldozers he used to push the Church to the margins of the culture and so squelch its freedom to speak Truth. But take note that these slogans do not come from the U. S. Constitution, or from Thomas Jefferson, or from the mind of the Founding Fathers. Here they are, straight from the mind of Adolf Hitler: “Politics do not belong in the Church,” and “The Church must be separate from the State.” If they sound eerily familiar, it will only be because you instinctively recognize in these words the voice of tyranny and repression. The objective of the Nazi regime was to contain the voice of the Church within the four walls of its buildings, turning them into nothing more than echo chambers, and punish any effort of church leaders to make their voices heard in the public square. And the rest, as they say, is history, as J.S. Conway describes in Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-45.
Just because a government legalizes immorality, it does not make it right. They say abortion is a legal and political issue – but as the conscience of our culture, we say, “No! Abortion is a moral issue. Murdering human beings made in the image of God is a capital offense in God’s sight.” They say that sexual orientation is a civil right, and marriage can mean anything anyone wants it to mean, but we as the conscience of this culture say, “No! Unnatural sexual behavior between people of the same sex is an abomination to God. It is a moral issue and making it legal does not make it right!” They say that the Church must remain silent on these moral issues and we say, “No! We have a constitutional right to speak the Truth from the pulpits of our land without interference from the government, as our Constitution tells us ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’”
So, let us all remember, acknowledge, and live out the following core principles in a nation grounded in the Bible:
-Our heritage in this country as pastors demands that we speak out on the moral issues of our day – the culture needs its conscience to speak.
-We have a constitutional right to speak the Truth from the pulpits of our nation. We do not give up our rights as citizens because we stand in a pulpit.
-We have a command from our Savior to be the salt of our culture and the light of our nation. If we don’t speak the Truth, then who will?