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chuch with parsonage

Recently, a federal judge in Wisconsin declared unconstitutional the minister’s housing allowance that has been in the tax code for well over 100 years.  This decision is on hold while it is appealed, and Alliance Defending Freedom and our allies are helping defend the constitutionality of the housing allowance.

The district court judge who struck down the housing allowance was appointed by a President, who was elected by the people and confirmed by United States Senators, who were likewise elected.  The ruling brings into sharp focus the truth that elections have consequences.

America’s pastors know all too well the impact on themselves and their families if the housing allowance were struck down for good.  One pastor, in an earlier case challenging the minister’s housing allowance, told his personal story of pastoring a small church in central California.  The church was in a financially depressed area of town with a high unemployment rate that was hit hard by the national recession.  The church of 40 was struggling to get by and needed a pastor.  A housing allowance was the only form of compensation that this church could offer to secure a pastor and this pastor graciously agreed to serve this small, needy population, receiving only a housing allowance as compensation.

If you’re a pastor of a small church, you can probably identify with this story.  Listen to what pastors said when they were asked what impact the removal of the housing allowance would have on them, their families, and their ministries:

  • “The removal of the clergy housing allowance would hamper a pastor’s ability to serve the poor, the weak and the forgotten; we serve where others do not serve or where others refuse to serve.  We alleviate the suffering of the people in our community and we relieve the government of much social work it would have to provide if we pastors were not here in poor communities.  Don’t cripple the healers.”

- Pastor Bill Devlin, Infinity Bible Church, The South Bronx, New York City

  • “If the minister’s housing allowance exemption is struck down it would be catastrophic, and I would no longer be able to provide for my family and continue in the ministry as I do now.”

 - Father Josiah Trenham, St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Riverside, California.

  • “It is shortsighted of the court to know that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 churches in America of which 50% are less than 80 members who are working with the poor, the needy, the hungry and the broken; yet the United States judiciary has effectively said, ‘Let the pastors do it with even less resource at their disposal.’”

- Pastor Kevin Baird, Legacy Church, Charleston, South Carolina

  •  “In losing my ministerial housing allowance, due to the increased tax burden it’s quite likely that I’d be forced to re-enter the secular workforce (where I worked the 1st 8 yrs. of this church’s history) where my focus and attention on tending to the spiritual needs of this fellowship would be greatly diminished.”

- Pastor Andy Fine, Calvary Chapel, Farmington, New Mexico

  • “The tax advantages that our country affords the ministry are similar to the military, both protect our country (spiritually and physically).  Taking away those advantages would make it harder financially for those called to protect our great nation.”

                        - Pastor Gus Booth, Warroad Community Church, Warroad, Minnesota

  •  “A loss of the minister’s housing allowance would add a great burden to small churches which can hardly afford to support their pastors with a fair salary.”

- Dr. Darryl DelHousaye, President of Phoenix Seminary

 

The potential loss of the minister’s housing allowance is just one example of the need for America’s pastors to give Biblical guidance on the vital issue of the election of leaders who set our national policy – because that policy has consequences for America’s churches.

Pastor, commit to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 5, 2014.  Your flock needs to hear from you on the vital decisions they’ll make at the polls.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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Proverbs 29:2 says: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”  When the Israelites were sent into exile in Babylon, God told them, through the prophet Jeremiah, to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7. Elections have consequences. Scripture supports this principle, and so does history.

Examples abound of despotic rulers who have persecuted the Church and forced it underground, thereby restricting the proclamation of the Gospel and the ability of Christians to live out their faith.  Even in our own lifetime we see persecution in countries like North Korea, India, and many other places around the world.  The rulers in charge in those countries who set and enforce policy impose sometimes severe consequences on Christians who simply want to exercise their faith and worship God.

Here in the United States, “elections have consequences” may seem more abstract, but in reality the democratic process means it is truer here than many other countries.  Americans enjoy the ability to select their national, state, and local leaders.  This is a privilege not enjoyed by many of our brothers and sisters around the world.

So why then are our churches generally silent when it comes to elections and the selection of those who will lead our country, states, and our cities? Every election cycle, we select leaders who set policies that can either be benevolent or hostile to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the ability of believers to live out their faith in the public square.

For example, we have seen a recent rise in cases attempting to apply so-called “non-discrimination” laws to people to faith such as photographers, florists, cake-makers, and t-shirt printers.  These “non-discrimination” laws were passed by elected representatives and their application is having a severe negative effect on Christians who only want to peacefully exercise their religion in the public square.

Or consider the Wisconsin federal district court’s recent ruling striking down the minister’s housing allowance in the Tax Code.  That case was brought before a federal judge who was appointed by a President, who was elected by the people and confirmed by United States Senators, who also were elected by the people.  Yet this one ruling has the potential to remove the minister’s housing allowance for thousands of ministers.  As pastors well know, this would have a devastating impact on the ability of pastors to stay in ministry and to focus exclusively on the spiritual need of their churches, as well as conduct outreach ministries to the local community.

America’s pastors must speak out and offer biblical guidance and instruction on the selection of those men and women who lead the people.  To neglect giving such Biblical guidance sends the false message that elections do not have consequences that matter to the Church or its people.

On October 5, 2014, pastors have an opportunity to stand together and preach an election sermon, as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a movement of pastors to engage once again in the election process.  The only requirement for participation is to preach an election sermon.

It can be as specific or as general as each pastor decides.  A sermon that discusses the election generally would be consistent with IRS regulations.  A sermon that specifically addresses the stated positions of the candidates and supports or opposes those candidates may run afoul of the Johnson Amendment in the tax code.  But Alliance Defending Freedom believes that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional.  That’s why we launched Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008 – to remove the unconstitutional restriction on a pastor speaking freely from the pulpit on the issue of candidates in an election. So if you’re challenged by the government, rest assured that we will support and defend you.

Sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday at www.PulpitFreedom.org.  Elections have consequences, and our congregations need to hear and apply Biblical truth to the selection of the leaders who will impose those consequences on the Church.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

PFSblogObjections2

When talking about Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I generally get two basic objections to the concept of Pulpit Freedom.  Yet these objections in some way are either misguided or just flat out wrong. I’ll discuss the second today:

    Pastors can favor or oppose candidates – they should just give up their tax exempt status if they want to do so.

Some have argued the Johnson Amendment, contained in 501(c)(3) of the tax code, is a good idea because it prevents tax-exempt charitable organizations from engaging in election activity.  In reality, though, there are 29 categories of organizations considered exempt from federal income taxes under section 501(c) of the tax code.  Yet only organizations that fall within section 501(c)(3) are subject to the speech restriction of the Johnson Amendment.  All of the other categories receive the benefit of exemption from income taxes and can endorse or oppose political candidates if they so choose.  Why?

Section 501(c)(3) organizations are only subject to this restriction because, while he was a United States Senator, Lyndon B. Johnson inserted this amendment into section 501(c)(3) in 1954 as a way of silencing two secular non-profit organizations that were opposing his reelection.  The amendment to section 501(c)(3) was not a reasoned approach – it was a revenge-motivated bill by a powerful senator bent on silencing his political opponents.

Additionally, tax exemption is not a matter of legislative grace for churches.  It is a constitutionally protected right.  The Supreme Court stated as far back as 1819 that the power to tax involves the power to destroy and that there is no surer way to destroy the free exercise of religion than to begin to tax it.

The Johnson Amendment forces upon churches an unconstitutional choice:  surrender your constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, or lose your tax exemption.  Clearly, though, the government is not allowed to condition tax exemption (which is something to which churches are constitutionally entitled) on the surrender of a constitutionally protected right.

To understand just how ridiculous this actually is, imagine a law that conditioned receipt of a tax exemption on a church giving up its constitutionally protected right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, or giving up its right against self-incrimination, or requiring a church to quarter troops in its pews if it receives a tax exemption.  That would be absurd.  Why then do we tolerate allowing the government to condition a tax exemption on a church giving up its precious rights protected by the First Amendment?

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is designed to protect a simple, but fundamental idea – that pastors have a right to speak freely from their pulpits and not be subject to government censorship or threat of punishment when they do so.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday is simply about pulpit freedom– no more, no less.  Because it is not the “free exercise of religion” in any meaningful sense of that phrase if the government is allowed to punish a pastor for something he says from the pulpit.

We want every pastor to sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014.  Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org to learn more and sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year which will be held the weekend of October 5, 2014.

Read part 1: Pastors and Politics, here.

Have you heard this objection before? What other objections have you heard (or have) to Pulpit Freedom Sunday? Let us know in the comments below.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

PFSBlogObjections1

Every time I mention Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I generally get two basic objections to the concept of Pulpit Freedom.  Yet these objections in some way are either misguided or just flat out wrong. I’ll discuss the first today:

  1. Pastors should not preach politics from the pulpit

This is a common objection to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, since an election sermon obviously involves the realm of politics.

The main problem with this objection is that the definition of “political” keeps changing.  Thirty years ago, a pastor could preach a sermon from Scripture that marriage was between one man and one woman and no one would have been concerned or would have even thought to complain to the IRS that the Church was violating the Johnson Amendment in the tax code by speaking politically.  Yet today, if a pastor were to stand in the pulpit and preach a sermon that says marriage is between one man and one woman, that sermon would be instantly deemed “political.”

Some of this is, of course, a function of the culture war over fundamental issues such as the definition of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious freedom.  As these issues are fought in the public square, they frequently become politicized by a culture that increasingly turns to the government to demand answers to these most fundamental questions.  Yet a pervasively darker consequence of these fundamental cultural conflicts is that the Church is frequently told that when culture deems an issue “political,” it somehow becomes off-limits for the Church to address without someone screaming that the Church has violated the Johnson Amendment and is endangering its tax-exempt status.

Ultimately, when people say that pastors should not preach about politics, they are making a theological argument.  No one can deny that Scripture has direct application to all of life, including the realm of politics.  What they really mean is that Scripture should not be specifically applied to the election or to the positions held by candidates or their parties.  That is, at base, a theological argument that Pulpit Freedom Sunday is not designed to address.  Rather, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is designed to answer the question of who gets to make that decision for churches.  Should it be the government or each individual church?

You see, when we allow the government to make that decision for churches, we are ceding control of what is God’s to “Caesar.”  That is a role the government is specifically prohibited from playing.  Even if people disagree over whether a pastor should preach an election sermon, everyone should at least agree that the decision should be left to the individual church and pastor to make.  We set a dangerous precedent when we allow the government to choose sides and pick a winner in an ongoing theological debate.  That’s not the free exercise of religion.

Read part two, Common Objections to Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Tax Exempt Status, next week.

We want every pastor to sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014.  Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org to learn more and sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, October 5, 2014.

Have you heard this objection before? What other objections have you heard (or have) to Pulpit Freedom Sunday? Let us know in the comments below. 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

557078_10151023030167653_1960289070_nSome time ago, I pondered the question, “Do 84% of Pastors believe the Pulpit Initiative is a bad idea?”  The reflection was due to a  survey conducted in 2011 of 1,000 protestant pastors by Lifeway Research that asked pastors whether they agreed with the statement, ”I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit.”  The survey reported that 84% of the surveyed pastors disagreed that a pastor should endorse political candidates from the pulpit.  Some bloggers picked up the results and trumpeted them, arguing that they proved that the Pulpit Initiative was wrong and that Alliance Defending Freedom should just give up and agree that it was on the wrong side of public opinion.

I responded to the research (and the critics of the Pulpit Initiative) by stating that Lifeway had asked the wrong question.  The Pulpit Initiative was never intended to answer the question whether a pastor should or should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit.  Rather, it was intended to answer the question of who should make that decision for churches.  Should the government make that decision for churches or should churches make that decision for themselves depending on their own church doctrine and beliefs?

I am happy to report that Lifeway Research conducted another poll of 1,000 pastors and asked the right question.  They asked the pastors whether they agreed with the statement that “The government should regulate sermons by revoking a church’s tax exemption if its pastor approves of or criticizes candidates based on the church’s moral beliefs or theology.”  86% of pastors disagreed with the statement.  That is almost 9 out of 10 pastors who disagreed with the idea that government should be allowed to regulate the content of a pastor’s sermon.  That’s good news.

In the end, the constitutional liberties of pastors and churches are not subject to polls and popular debate.  But the poll results are interesting and demonstrate that pastors “get it.”  They understand that it is not the job of the government to review the content of a pastor’s sermon to determine whether it violates some restriction and is worthy of punishment.  The very idea that some government official can determine whether to mete out punishment to a church based solely on what a pastor says from the pulpit is repugnant and offensive to these pastors.

And, in the end, that is the only question Pulpit Freedom Sunday is intended to answer.  The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is intended to stop the government from acting as the “orthodoxy police.”  As the Supreme Court stated way back in 1943, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in … religion.”

Pastor, if you have not signed up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 5, 2014, please sign up today.  Become part of the solution and stand with hundreds of other pastors across the country who are reclaiming their ability to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.

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Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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