A Second Factor Deterring Evangelical Churches from Political Engagement

My previous post asserted that many evangelicals refrain from political involvement because the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy led to the conclusion that church political engagement was a fruitless, liberal approach to changing society and that only spiritual ministry had value.

In addition to this theological reason for withdrawal from politics, evangelical churches have also refrained from political involvement for legal reasons. In 1954 Congress passed a law proposed by then Sen. Lyndon Johnson that prohibited those coming under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, which includes churches, from certain political activities such as endorsing candidates or other partisan political actions. It threatens those failing to comply with loss of tax-exempt status.

This bill is problematic because of its far-reaching implications. IRS guidelines state, “(V)oter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.” Consequently, sermons opposing abortion might be construed as favoring a pro-life candidate.

The Johnson Amendment has not only had a dampening effect on evangelical church political activity because of the threat of losing tax-exempt status, but because it has promoted the perception that it is inappropriate for pastors to address political issues. Laws are made to protect the public from wrongdoing. Therefore, the Johnson Amendment has conveyed to evangelicals that church engagement in politics is fundamentally immoral. It has imbued many pastors with the perspective that preaching on political issues is not only something that we legally cannot do, but it is also something we should not do.

Yet another factor, the topic for tomorrow, inhibits evangelical churches from engaging in politics.

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