Evangelicals Fighting the Johnson Amendment are Missing the Point


It looks like Donald Trump will issue some kind of order later today that attempts to weaken the so-called Johnson Amendment, a provision in the federal tax code that forbids churches and other religious organizations from opposing or supporting political candidates.

Most evangelical pastors do not want to use their pulpits to endorse or oppose candidates, but there are many other conservative evangelicals who believe that the Johnson Amendment violates their freedom of speech and ultimately their religious liberty.

Today’s announcement will be part of a larger presidential statement about religious liberty.  Read more about how it will all go down in this New York Times report.

Here is a taste:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday will ease restrictions on political activity by churches and charities, White House officials said, but has backed away from a broader religious liberty order that would have allowed faith-based organizations and companies to avoid serving or hiring gay people.

Conservative religious leaders who were fierce supporters of Mr. Trump’s candidacy had pushed the president to provide faith organizations with much more sweeping relief from Obama-era regulations that protect gay men, lesbians and others from discrimination.

Instead, in an executive order, Mr. Trump will offer a vague promise to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.” He will also direct federal agencies to exempt some religious organizations from Affordable Care Act requirements that provide employees with health coverage for contraception.

By making those promises to mark the National Day of Prayer at the White House, Mr. Trump is offering a partial remedy to the anger inside some religious communities toward federal laws they believe require them to put aside beliefs about homosexuality, contraception or other issues.

Read the rest here.

Yesterday we asked whether Mike Pence or Ivanka/Kushner will ultimately win the day on these religious liberty issues.  So far it appears that Trump is trying to walk a tight-rope between Pence’s conservative evangelical views and Ivanka/Kushner’s more inclusive approach.

If The New York Times report is accurate, it looks as if Trump is going to do little more than tell the IRS, without any authority beyond his bully pulpit (no pun intended), to stop investigating the political activism of clergy.  This will not fully satisfy many conservative evangelicals, but I am sure some of them will spin it to their favor simply because they believe Trump has been anointed by God for such a time as this.

As I have now argued multiple times at this blog and elsewhere, clergy who oppose the Johnson Amendment because they want to speak politically from their pulpits seem to be more concerned about freedom of speech than they are about the way this kind of political partisanship undermines their Gospel witness.  Good evangelical pastors should really care less about this whole Johnson Amendment debate.  Why? Because they know that if you mix horse manure and ice cream it doesn’t do much to the manure, but it sure does ruin the ice cream.”

When the government starts telling evangelical pastors what they can and cannot preach in terms of theology, Biblical interpretation, or ethics (even sexual ethics), I think we have a problem.  The Johnson Amendment, which has been around since 1954, is not this kind of problem.

Here’s a thought:  Evangelicals might consider the Johnson Amendment as a useful reminder from an unlikely source about the dangers of using the pulpit to preach politics or the spiritual problems brought on by using the sanctuary as a campaign office.  In other words, evangelicals should embrace the Johnson Amendment as an IRS-enforced safeguard to make sure that they don’t fall into sin or idolatry.

Sometimes God watches over his church in interesting ways.  (Isaiah 55:8).


One thought on “Evangelicals Fighting the Johnson Amendment are Missing the Point

  1. Wait until they figure out this allows Catholics and Mormons to push candidates from a centralized power structure.


Comments are closed.